“Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristic of quality” – Robert M. Pirsig in ‘Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance’.
At Vecta Labs, the pursuit of quality is core to our business. Recently, we launched Vecta Sure quality assurance which promises a product has been tested rigorously, through our independent test processes.
When discussing Vecta Sure and how we define quality, we determined that we don’t often highlight exactly what we mean by quality, nor do many businesses – we offer quality assurances, we are audited against international standards including ISO 17025, 9001 and 14001, but what exactly is quality?
In this piece we want to try to define quality as Vecta Labs sees it.
What is quality?
Our pursuit to define quality began when Vecta Labs, General Manager, Darren Webster recalled reading the 1974 fictionalized autobiography of Robert M. Pirsig, ‘Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance’*.
In this book, Pirsig tells the semi-autobiographical story of a father and son as they journey across America’s northwest, riding motorcycles. The story, as stories tend to do, digs deeper, and throughout their exploration of the northwest, the father and son –discuss philosophy, fear, quality of life and the impacts of mental illness (it isn’t always light reading).
Beyond the story, in the book Pirsig explores the meaning of quality, and how to improve quality in life, in motorcycle maintenance and in relationships.
Quality became a core topic of Pirsig’s book and subsequent texts.
*Darren highly recommends you find a copy of and read ‘Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance’.
Vecta Labs Definition #1:
Now, for those reading this piece who know Vecta Labs and our work, you might be asking, what has a story about a dad and his son riding motorcycles got to do with telecommunications, network quality and PIM testing?
The answer to that question is: very little.
However, the underlying story theme around the pursuit of and improvement of quality has everything to do with our business. Quality to us means through our work we ensure our clients network performance, access and use is improved, and is generally better than what it was prior to our partnerships.
This led us to our first definition of quality.
“Quality is improvement. It is delivering something better than what was previously delivered, removing “noise”, and resolving previously experienced network problems in a sustainable and ongoing manner.”
We have a definition, but why on earth did we bother to try and define quality?
After landing on this first definition, we met together to discuss. It was in this meeting that a good question was raised.
So, now we have a definition for quality, what’s the point?
Why did we bother?
Determined to find an answer this question, we decided to seek the wisdom of an extremely educated expert to answer this.
Being 2023, we turned to ChatGPT, a natural language processing tool driven by AI technology, and input the question, “Why should I bother defining quality?”
In a somewhat unexpected turn of events, ChatGPT did provide us with a fairly wise response.
It stated that there are several reasons why you should bother about quality:
- Satisfaction: Ensuring quality can lead to greater satisfaction with the product or service you are offering. This can help build a positive reputation for your brand and lead to repeat customers.
- Efficiency: By focusing on quality, you can improve efficiency and reduce costs associated with rework, defects, and customer complaints. This can lead to increased profitability and competitiveness in the marketplace.
- Reputation: Consistently delivering high-quality products or services can help establish a strong reputation for your business, which can attract more customers and lead to business growth.
In short, prioritizing quality is essential for the success and growth of any business, as it can lead to increased customer satisfaction, efficiency and profitability.
A little sheepishly we thanked the machine – its response left us a little freaked out. It replied, “No need to thank me, and call me Skynet.”
What does everyone else define quality as?
Happy with our definition and armed with this new clarity of purpose around defining quality, we decided to explore a little and see how other businesses define quality – here are a few notable definitions:
Quality as defined by Apple Founder, Steve Jobs:
In a 1991 interview with Quality Guru, Dr. Joseph Juran, founder of Apple, Steve Jobs asked questions around quality, identifying several takeaways around what quality is. Some of the core definitions of quality from the conversation that Jobs carried into his business life included:
Quality as defined by customers:
“[Customers] don’t form their opinions on Quality from marketing or from who won the Deming award or the Baldrige award. They form their opinions on quality from their own experiences with the products or the services.
Quality as innovation:
“Knowing where the market is going and having innovative products is as much a part of quality as the quality of the construction of the product when you have it”.
Find the interview between Steve Jobs and Dr. Joseph Juran HERE.
Quality as defined by 19th century Philosopher, John Ruskin:
Speaking in the 19th century, Ruskin, a philosopher, and art critic defined quality quite succinctly. He said, “Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.”
Side note: While quite short and something that might make for a nice quote on a bumper sticker, at Vecta Labs, we agree with Ruskin. We believe that intelligent, considered effort, problem solving, and improvement all play a role in quality. We don’t believe that quality can be achieved without intelligent, applied effort.
Quality as defined by food safety and quality assurance professional, Ole Dosland:
In one of his last articles, written for Quality Assurance Magazine in 2019, the year he passed away, 48-year veteran of the food safety and quality assurance industries, Ole Dosland identified and defined quality in just six words, quality is something that “meets requirements and exceeds customer expectations.”
He explained, “Wisdom is the ability to determine what is significant, and discipline is the ability to do what needs to be done. Quality is sustainable when one uses wisdom and discipline to meet requirements and exceed customer expectations..”
Like Jobs’, Dosland understood quality as something determined by the end user – the customer.
Vecta Labs Definition #2 (refined):
Sitting down together to discuss the definitions outlined above, we recognised our first definition only captured one part of what quality really is.
Further, the more we read, the more we realised there are hundreds of ways to define quality but considering our first definition and the definitions we’ve come across from Jobs’, Ruskin, and Dosland, we came up with a second definition of quality.
“Beyond being an improvement that delivers something better than what was previously delivered, removing “noise”, and resolving previously experienced network problems in a sustainable and ongoing manner, the client’s customer quality of experience will be improved through fast, superior network access that is rarely (if ever) interrupted.”
Okay, so while not a definition in the traditional sense of the word, quality to Vecta Labs is inherent. It is a desire that through our work, we help our clients deliver an improved network quality to their customers, not only today and not only once, but through continuous improvement. We work every day to find and create technologies that will improve network quality, simplify tower construction, and genuinely deliver above and beyond any expectations set by past experiences of mobile network quality.
Some words from the experts:
Before we conclude, we wanted to share a few definitions of quality from the Vecta Labs leadership team, which you can check out here:
Mike Symes, Director and Founding Member, Vecta Labs
Sometimes, the quality world’s safe harbour of ‘fitness for purpose’ is not enough, because scraping past a notional quality threshold in a perfect test environment, by a wafer-thin margin, using every trick in the book, is not good enough. Firstly, knowing enough about the ‘purpose’ is easier at the onset, but purposes change as systems evolve. ‘Purpose’ gives no comfort for degradation arising from real operating environments, and Vecta has plenty of data to substantiate this. My calling of Vecta Labs is to extend the well-versed notion of exceeding customer expectations through ‘fitness for unintended purpose’. This is where our professional, skilled judgement must anticipate that for any product we touch, knowing its vulnerabilities and risks, also knowing the intended application, what sensible adjustment (headroom) could be applied to ensure what we do is not just ok quality, but ‘very good quality’, as measured in the longer term. We can’t and won’t deal with quality on the margins.
Vecta Sure is about the customer/ user being satisfied with our validation of any product or service, now and into the future. It not just fit for purpose, but it is fit for unintended purpose.
As we dig into this modern thinking of quality, let’s reflect back 100 or so years to the Titanic. Conceptualised, designed, built and launched as the epitome of indulgence, safety, reliability and fitting as the star of the world-leading shipping line. Unsinkable they confidently said. There was nothing better. Did those who brought the Titanic into reality see it as high quality, fit for purpose? We all know it’s fate on its maiden voyage and looking back, was it good quality? Was it fit for unintended purpose?
General Manager, Darren Webster:
“At Vecta Labs we want quality to improve our customer’s business, their client experience and to drive the industry forward. We want our work to be the industry benchmark. If we can succeed in challenging the telecommunications industry to up its game, drive technological improvements and push forward, we are delivering what we’ve defined as quality.”
President, Vecta Labs LLC, USA, Ben Cardwell:
We are programmed to think of quality being achieved through added steps of inspection and screening, when these steps are generally put in place to compensate for a lack of quality. True quality is the result of a predictable formula that is designed and proven to automatically yield perfection every time. As this applies to Vecta Labs, the training, technology, and processes and we put into place will inherently yield the deployment of the world’s best performing networks – first time.