Years ago, I read a book — a 1979 business classic — called Quality is Free, in which author Philip B. Crosby said that the solution to a quality crisis is just “doing it right the first time.”

I always liked the simple sound of that. I was thinking about Crosby’s book recently after one of our clients told us how appreciative they were that we able to deliver on a pretty difficult project for them. And I say that not because I’m tooting our own horn, but because it made me look out at today’s marketplace, at how other companies get things done and what I deal with on a day-to-day basis…and realize that not everything is the highest quality it could be. Sometimes, far from it. Now if forty years ago, millions of businessmen and women had a book on their shelf telling them that they could produce top-quality material for their clients for free — why haven’t they all done it?

Here are five reasons why I think quality isn’t consistently available, whether you’re ordering a large pizza just for yourself, or buying a new hybrid for the whole family.

  1. A lack of a clear mission for quality. Quality needs to be a top priority, plain and simple. At the end of the day, nothing brings clients and customers back more reliably than having their needs met. When businesses let that fall to the wayside in favor of another priority — like saving money — they suffer for it.
  2. Improper checks and balances. Spell check is your friend. Okay — obviously that’s a minor example. But not an inaccurate or unimportant one. Commas and colons in the right place make for strong, professional written materials, while wipers and windshields designed to the sleekest perfection make for an outstanding car. If work isn’t being double, triple, and quadruple checked, quality will deteriorate — fats. Sorry — fast.
  3. Poor communication with the client or customer. If you don’t know what you’re making, you don’t know how to make it great. Whatever service you’re providing, you need to know exactly what’s required — not wanted, but needed — by whoever you’re providing it for. Lose track of the vision, skip ahead until you’re not on the same page, and you’re going to end up with an unsatisfactory result — neither party benefits.
  4. Shoddy work ethic. Thinking about the bigger picture of how your company runs can distract from smaller, devilish details on the ground level: laziness and carelessness. It may seem to go without saying, but without a person-to-person dedication to top-tier work, the smallest mediocrities bring overall quality down.
  5. Unwillingness to invest in quality. One of the key points of Crosby’s book is that obviously quality is not literally free. Managing, perfecting, and investing in quality so as to get everything right the first time (saving money) and creating a result that is sure to to impress (building lasting relationships with clients and customers) is how spending a little extra on resources to ensure quality ultimately leads to spectacular return on investment. Being stingy when it comes to creating a great product is just one step forward, three steps back.

But enough negativity. Knowing what to avoid isn’t so productive as having an active plan to improve. Here are five things I find really work to make quality happen.

  1. Focus on quality in every project. You can include quality in everything! Operational expert Rebecca A. Morgan says, “Constancy of purpose means that quality decisions are not situational.” From graphic design (which is what we work on) to a new MRI machine for a hospital, it doesn’t matter whether the result needs to be safe, fast, pretty, or pink — attention to making it the best it can be will always make for a strong return on investment.
  2. Encourage effective leadership. A strong, competent, and invested leader is beneficial for improving a number of areas. Good leaders facilitate communication, have high expectations for the work being done, recognize the individual strengths of their staff, and overall catalyze productivity and quality.
  3. Make quality charts. Your definition of “quality” can’t be vague. Visualize it in distinct categories: production process, workforce, adherence to requirements — pay due attention to each individual facet of what makes the larger clockwork of quality run. Keep track of shortcomings, and what is in place to correct them. Make your mission for quality precise, deliberate, and targeted. And make your charts colorful! Honestly, nothing boosts morale like a colorful pie chart.
  4. Provide strong after-sales service. Sometimes you get your wifi router to work. Sometimes you don’t, and the times when you don’t are when the guy in the Netflix rom-com you’re watching is about to propose, and the site starts to buffer. It’s not always the product’s fault — with technical products, not every user is a tech whiz. Providing a high-quality service is one thing, but continuing to be available for assistance long after the transaction is made builds customer trust and extended quality assurance.
  5. Listen to feedback. Don’t let the office become an echo chamber. Even after you’ve followed a client’s requirements to a T, double and triple-checked your work, and put your heart and soul into a quality result, it’s still to an extent based on your own standards. For well-rounded results, feedback is an excellent tool. This can vary from business to business — for tech enterprises, it can roll out in the form of beta and test products. But whatever shape it takes, feedback provides fresh perspective on how to improve quality in ways you’d never thought of.

So, if Quality is Free…why isn’t there more of it? You can never stop revisiting quality. It’s something we believe is an utmost priority at CMW, and there is always more you can do to make it one of your own company’s strengths. Crosby said it before, and it rings true: produce great work, and you’ll get great results. You, and the people you serve, deserve nothing less!

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