There are at least three ways we use the word ‘quality’ at work:
Quality as defined by Deming and Crosby: Meeting spec.
If you can reliably, and without drama, deliver precisely what you have promised, this is quality. This is what happens when a car, regardless of price, has doors that don’t squeak. Or when a website doesn’t go down. Or when your dry cleaning is ready on the day it’s promised, and your clothes are clean.
When six sigma professionals talk about quality, this is what they mean. Meeting spec.
Quality as defined by Ralph Lauren or Tiffany: The quality of deluxeness.
This is when the clarity of the diamond or the nap of the leather or the speed of the jet is something that most others can’t match. This is not just, “you get what you pay for,” but also, “you paid a lot.”
And finally, there’s the quality of right effort, of “I did my best,” of the sweat and vulnerability that happens when a human has given it her all.
That TV show or that software that you love: what do you love about it? What about the calculus you put into shopping for a car or a school for your kids?
A $100 million-dollar movie might have more spectacular special effects or be more carefully edited, but it might not have the quality that you find in an indie film.
When you’re doing your work, when you’re creating an offering, there’s no more important question to answer then, “what sort of quality are we seeking here?”