The Price of Quality
I’m taking a little detour today to rant about quality. Most of us demand very high quality in the products and services we purchase. But at the same time we also demand the lowest possible price and the fastest possible turnaround time. We also tend to demand the same from our own work, whatever work we do. What we forget is one of these things is going to suffer when we try to maximize the others. If quality is the thing we desire the most, then we need to understand what it takes to get that.
A friend of mine has had a tag line at the end of his emails for years that reads; “Better, Faster, Cheaper — Pick Any Two”. The message is spot on for most products and services. If you want high quality and quick turnaround, it won’t be inexpensive. If you want quick turnaround and low cost, it won’t be good. If you want inexpensive and high quality, it’s going to take more time. Thus you have to make a choice as to which two of the three you desire.
How many times have you been trying to do something quickly and made a mistake? While it’s more prevalent when you are doing something relatively new, it can happen when you are rushing something you have been doing for years. The mistake may be something minor like improper syntax in a line of code or a broken, damaged or lost part. It happens to everyone.
Recently I was prepping some vegetables with my big kitchen knife, something I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of times in the past with this very same knife. In my rush to finish, I wound up cutting off a chuck of nail and finger below. It took a whole damn day to get it to stop bleeding. Why did this happen? I was going too fast for the job with my particular knife skills.
We’ve all heard the expression that time is money. This is true since the more time it takes to manufacture or work on something, the more it will cost. If you can make or work on something faster, you can make or work on the next piece sooner and make more money. Said another way, faster makes more money.
But what ‘time is money’ doesn’t take into account is quality. Just because you can do it faster, doesn’t mean it’s going to be up to the level of quality for someone to buy. And… if they do buy it, will the quality last? If you expect repeat customers, will they purchase something again if the quality was low the first time?
Faster also tends to have more errors, omissions and mistakes. Aside from the quality issue of errors, you have to take into account the time and materials lost to rework. If time is money, wasting time is wasting money.
Quality itself comes from experience. Very few manufacturers or craftsmen can create a top quality product on the very first try. That’s the whole function of research and development for manufacturers or training and apprenticeships for craftsmen. Quality takes skill and it takes time — experience — to get to that level.
Speed, without sacrificing quality, also comes from experience. By doing something correctly over and over again, the mental and muscle memory of what needs to be done to get the desired results develops into a repeatable pattern. Depending on the person or the skill, it may take a dozen iterations or a thousand to get it right. On the other hand, crappy work can’t be done fast enough. It’s almost like the light of quality is ashamed to look at it so it’s better to get it over with quickly.
As consumers, we have to understand what goes into quality products and services. If you are willing to skimp a bit on quality, and for some things that is appropriate, then by all means low price is king. But for all the other situations where quality is important, then we have to reasonably expect a higher cost or longer time frame.
As manufacturers, employees or craftsmen, we need to choose the way we do our work. If we want to delivery quality, we ourselves have to understand it takes time and money to accomplish. No amount of hubris or flashy advertising is going to make up for a lack of quality work, or a loss of customers.
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