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ISO, an international body for formulating standards, has defined quality as:

“Degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfils requirements”.

Degree: refers to a level to which a product or service satisfies. So, depending upon the level of satisfaction, a product may be termed as excellent, good or poor quality product.

Inherent characteristics: those features that are a part of the product and are responsible to achieve satisfaction.


  • refer to the needs of customer, needs of organization & those of other interested parties (e.g. regulatory bodies, suppliers, employees, community & environment).
  • the expectations that may be stated, generally implied or obligatory.

Some examples of inherent product characteristics that will fulfill requirements are:

Product / Service Requirement Inherent Characteristics
Ceiling Fan Air delivery Size & shape of blades

Motor rating

Car Acceleration & speed Engine capacity

Engine torque & rpm

Safety Air bags

Anti-brake Locking system

Internet service Fast connectivity Bandwidth
Hotel Comfort Room size

Furniture & layout



ISO definition provides a much broader & comprehensive concept on Quality as it not only refers to meeting the customer needs but also takes care of the needs of other stakeholders involved in different stages of realizing the product. The satisfaction of owners, employees, suppliers, community & environment is also considered important in this definition.

Further, it also distinguishes between excellent, good or bad quality products.

Use of the term ‘inherent characteristics’ makes sure that parameters appropriate to customer needs are identified & provided for in the product. This includes the right designing of product and meeting the designed specifications.

Another interesting feature of this definition is that the word product has not been used here. It implies that the definition is applicable for all entities, may it be a product, a service or a combination of both.

Three Important Components of Quality

All products & services need to have the following three components to satisfy the quality requirements. In other words, the following three components describe the three main categories of customer needs:

  • Product or service features
  • Cost
  • Time

Product features are the inherent characteristics that will make the product functional, usable, valuable, and may provide aesthetics.

Cost is the price that customer pays to obtain that product. The less a customer pays or more the features he gets as compared to the cost, the happier he shall be.

Timely availability of the product or service is also an important factor for customer satisfaction. Sometimes the timely delivery is so important to the customer that a late delivery is no longer of any value to him, e.g. a late delivery of train ticket by an agent after the train has left.

The challenge for a product or service provider is to understand customer needs & expectations in terms of the above 3 components and deliver them in such a manner that they not only meet but exceed their expectations.

Quality in different areas of society

The table below lists several different areas in our society and indicates some the above 3 components that might be considered to be related to quality in each.

Airlines On-time, comfortable, low-cost service.
Health Care Correct diagnoses, minimum wait time, low cost, security.
Food Services Good Taste, free from contamination, fast delivery, good environment.
Postal Service Fast delivery, correct delivery, cost containment.
Academia Proper preparation for future, on-time knowledge delivery.
Consumer Products Properly made, defect-free, cost effective.
Insurance Payoff on time, reasonable cost.
Military Rapid deployment, decreased wages, no graft.
Automotive Defect-free.
Communications Clearer, faster, cheaper service.

Have a look at some of the designer posters with motivating slogans on quality at the following links:

Learn more about quality through distance learning courses:

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