Zero defects sounds like a great thing for your organization to achieve. But, is it practical? While many will argue it is not achievable, it should still be a goal to strive for. Let’s examine this in more detail and see how it could work in your organization.

Overview: What is zero defects? 

The development of the zero defects concept is credited to Phillip Crosby, an author, consultant, and quality expert. 

In 1961, while at the Martin Company in Orlando, Florida, Crosby helped lead an effort to increase quality awareness and helped launch a program to drive down the number of defects in the manufacturing of the Pershing missile to one half of the acceptable quality level (AQL) in six months. They actually beat their goal, which energized management to institutionalize the concept of driving for zero defects in all their processes. Many companies followed suit after hearing about the success at Martin.

In 1979, Crosby wrote his popular book, Quality Is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain. In that book, he incorporated the idea of zero defects in a 14-step quality improvement program and introduced the concept of the Absolutes of Quality Management. Crosby included zero defects in a 1985 book entitled Absolutes of Quality Management.

The Absolutes of Quality Management are as follows:

  1. The definition of quality is conformance to requirements
  2. The system of quality is prevention
  3. The performance standard is zero defects
  4. The measurement of quality is the price of nonconformance

Crosby also developed his four principles of Zero Defects:

  1. Quality is a state of assurance to requirements 
  2. Right the first time 
  3. Quality is measured in financial terms 
  4. Performance should be judged by the accepted standards, as close to perfection as possible

After its heyday in the late 1960s, Zero Defects was supplanted by the push into Six Sigma in the 1980s. While Zero Defects focused on the motivational aspects of people striving for the removal of defects, Six Sigma was focused on a more practical methodology for continuous improvement. Six Sigma has defined the desired level of quality to be no more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO), which is not perfection but a worthy objective.

An industry example of zero defects 

A major banking organization saw an increasing amount of customer dissatisfaction with wait times at its banking center teller windows. While the regional vice president had heard of zero defects in manufacturing, she wasn’t sure how it might apply to her banking operations. She asked William, the bank’s Six Sigma Black Belt, if he could help find an application for zero defects.

After reviewing Crosby’s Absolutes of Quality Management and his Principles of Zero Defects, William realized the concept of zero defects could easily be applied to the bank. He helped put together a program emphasizing that long wait times (average of 12.5 minutes) at the teller window can be defined as a defect since it doesn’t meet the customer requirements or expectations of no more than 5 minutes as captured in a customer survey. 

Even if the wait time is occasionally less than 5 minutes, it is not done right the first time or every time. He helped stress there is a cost of non-conformance because customers can easily go down the street and take their business to one of two other neighboring banks. After a month of focusing on reducing wait times, a customer survey showed satisfaction increased and a reduction of wait time from 12.5 minutes to 7.9 minutes. This was a 37% improvement after only one month. The team continued working on reducing wait time, and after 3 months, they reduced it to the desired expectation of 5 minutes.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about zero defects

1. Who developed the concept of zero defects? 

Phillip Crosby is given the credit for helping develop and then promoting the concept of zero defects into many organizations. 

2. Can my organization really achieve zero defects in what we do? 

Probably not. Zero defects should be viewed as a goal and a management philosophy to help drive and motivate your organization to reduce defects and errors.

3. Can zero defects be used in non-manufacturing companies? 

Yes, of course. Whether you are talking about a defect in a motor or an error in an invoice, they are both defects in that they didn’t meet your customer’s requirements and weren’t done right the first time.

About the Author