Overview: What Is Big ‘Q’?

It is a strategic approach to quality improvement that focuses on the entire business rather than only seeking to improve the product itself. This management method asks every level of management to focus on exceeding customer expectations to produce global changes in how it meets market needs.

Conversely, little ‘q’ concentrates on reducing product defects and improving processes directly related to manufacturing goods.

Four Benefits (Or Drawbacks) of Big ‘Q’ Thinking

1. Can Lead To Enduring Market Advantage

Exceeding customer expectations can inspire brand loyalty that endures for many product cycles. Whereas meeting expectations with consistent quality often creates short-term market advantages.

2. Increased Profit Margins

Highly competitive markets tend toward narrow profit margins. Exceeding customer expectations can substantially increase product demand, allowing firms to charge more for their products.

3. Focuses On Improvements Customers Want

Too often, quality managers concentrate improvement efforts on internal processes and the product itself. Since they regularly interact with their internal bureaucracy and the production floor inside their factory, they can forget to consider the customer’s needs. It does little good to build a more durable phone if users want a longer-lasting battery.

4. Paralysis By Analysis

One downside is that Big ‘Q’ can encourage a firm to spend too much effort on looking for a strategic advantage rather than taking action to implement an achievable incremental improvement.

Why Is Big ‘Q’ Important to Understand?

Directs All Levels of Firm Toward Pleasing the Customer

The ultimate purpose of a business is to sell products. A strategic ‘Q’ approach directs every level to consider customer needs instead of internal goals. Quality isn’t just the job of the production floor in a firm that understands big picture thinking. C-level managers also must consider quality as a factor in their decision-making. This common purpose integrates the firm’s improvement efforts and prevents departments from working at cross-purposes.

Reduces Waste At the Strategic Level

It takes a lot of time and effort to produce meaningful change in any large organization. Large ‘Q’ thinking prevents squandering resources by directing those efforts toward product improvements that impact buying decisions. Managers can squander enormous resources by making changes that don’t lead to increased customer demand for the firm’s products.

Prevents Fixation on Little ‘q’

Reducing defects and production processes is an important part of achieving continuous improvement but can lead managers to miss more beneficial gains by adjusting to shifting customer demands. A firm’s products and services compete in a dynamic market, and how customers use them can change over time. For example, changing mobile technology created a need for car stereo systems to sync with smart phones.

An Industry Example of Big ‘Q’

Apple’s transition from a computer manufacturer to a consumer electronics firm is a classic example of strategic ‘Q’ thinking. Rather than focusing on building more reliable and better-performing computers, CEO Steve Jobs instead understood that computer software combined with digital sound technology could blow away portable music players using analog media.

In short, Apple found a way to build small computers that exceeded the expectations of people who wanted portable music players.

After introducing the iPod in 2001, Apple launched more innovative consumer electronics products such as the iPhone, iPad, and the Apple Watch. Today, over 70% of Apple’s sales come from consumer electronics and only 30% from computers. This transformation took Apple from a computer manufacturer with a declining stock price to an electronics company with the largest market cap in the world.

Best Practices When Thinking About Big ‘Q’

Define Quality As Ability to Meet Customer Needs

Many firms focus on the Six Sigma goal of eliminating product defects. However, a perfect product is useless if it doesn’t meet the customer’s needs. Focusing on satisfying the customer ensures that changes provide value.

Remember Customers State Needs in Their Own Language

Suppliers must understand the customer’s real needs behind their stated needs, and translate them into language that communicates to the supplier’s internal bureaucracy.

Do Not Stop Improvement Efforts At Data Collection

Building internal tools to measure processes and obtain feedback from customers isn’t an end goal. Performing those tasks without translating them into product changes to meet customer needs doesn’t increase value to the consumer.

Frequently Asked Questions About Big ‘Q’

What Is the Difference Between Big ‘Q’ and Little ‘q’?

Large ‘Q’ involves seeing the big picture behind all of the processes, products, and services provided by the organization. Little ‘q’ focuses on a small part of the organization that is directly related to producing products. Many times, failing to look at strategic front-end business processes prevents effective little ‘q’ manufacturing and quality control solutions.

How Does ‘Q’ Thinking Relate to Lean Six Sigma?

A six sigma management culture is a managerial method to reduce product defects to an exceptionally low level. This term often correlates to little ‘q’ and quality control management. Lean management focuses on eliminating waste from the production system.

Strategic ‘Q’ thinking limits waste by only making changes that provide value to the customer instead of perfecting a product with features that the customer doesn’t really want. Sound strategy helps fuse lean management with exceptional quality control to produce a complete lean six sigma culture that pervades the entire organization.

Doesn’t Continuous Improvement Contradict Eliminating Defects?

Constant tinkering with production processes does prevent production-level employees from developing the task efficiency needed to achieve six sigma defect elimination. However, preventing change from becoming “constant tinkering” is where strategic ‘Q’ analysis benefits an organization.

Part of large ‘Q’ management is creating a hierarchy of customer needs. Changing complex production processes is difficult. In practice, focusing improvement efforts on the customers’ top needs will prevent changes from becoming “constant tinkering” with production processes.

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