Quality is Free

This idea was first introduced in 1979 by well known American ‘quality guru’ Philip Crosby in his bestselling book ‘Quality is Free’.

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Crosby who had worked his way up to become the Director of Quality at ITT Corporation wrote the book to lay out his own theories at a time when the quality movement was a rising, innovative force in business and manufacturing.

His book was so successful that he went on to launch his own consultancy company, becoming one of the worlds leading quality consultants with his company responsible in the 1980’s for advising 40% of the Fortune 500 companies on quality management.

Zero Defects

Crosby was the first to come up with the concept ‘zero defects’. The story goes that Crosby was on the factory floor one day when his boss told him that he wanted to completely eliminate defects. Crosby argued that it wasn’t possible to have zero defects however his boss told him that “somewhere in the world there’s a quality director who can give me zero defects. That can be you, or that can be someone else.” Crosby had no choice but do his best to make it happen and this is how he became famous.

Crosby believed that the ultimate goal for any organisation should always be zero defects and that measures should be put in place to prevent any defects instead of waiting for problems to happen before you fix them.

His motto that he used to guide his success was “Doing it right the first time is free”.

His zero defects concept doesn’t mean people never make mistakes, but that companies should not begin with mistakes as an in-built expectation.

Having systems in place that allow things to go wrong – so that those things have to be done again – can cost organisations between 20% and 35% of their revenues, in Crosby’s estimation.

So doing it right first time can have a huge impact on the continued success of the organisation.

The 14 Steps

In his book ‘Quality is Free’ Crosby laid out his 14 step framework for delivering ‘zero defects’.

Step 1: Management Commitment.

The need for quality improvement must be recognised and adopted by management, with an emphasis on the need for defect prevention. Quality improvement is equated with profit improvement. A quality policy is needed which states that ‘… each individual is expected to perform exactly like the requirement or cause the requirement to be officially changed to what we and the customer really need.’

Step 2: Quality improvement team.

Representatives from each department or function should be brought together to form a quality improvement team. These should be people who have sufficient authority to commit the area they represent to action.

Step 3: Quality measurement.

The status of quality should be determined throughout the company. This means establishing quality measures for each area of activity that are recorded to show where improvement is possible, and where corrective action is necessary. Crosby advocates delegation of this task to the people who actually do the job, so setting the stage for defect prevention on the job, where it really counts.

Step 4: Cost of quality evaluation

The cost of quality is not an absolute performance measurement, but an indication of where the action necessary to correct a defect will result in greater profitability.

Step 5: Quality Awareness

This involves, through training and the provision of visible evidence of the concern for quality improvement, making employees aware of the cost to the company of defects. Crosby stresses that this sharing process is a – or even the – key step in his view of quality.

(For details of quality management training we can help with click here.)

Step 6: Corrective Action.

Discussion about problems will bring solutions to light and also raise other elements for improvement. People need to see that problems are being resolved on a regular basis. Corrective action should then become a habit.

Step 7: Establish an ad-hoc committee for the Zero Defects Programme.

Zero Defects is not a motivation programme – its purpose is to communicate and instil the notion that everyone should do things right first time.

Step 8: Supervisor Training.

All managers should undergo formal training on the 14 steps before they are implemented. A manager should understand each of the 14 steps well enough to be able to explain them to his or her people.

Step 9: Zero Defects Day.

It is important that the commitment to Zero Defects as the performance standard of the company makes an impact, and that everyone gets the same message in the same way. Zero Defects Day, when supervisors explain the programme to their people, should make a lasting impression as a ‘new attitude’ day.

Step 10: Goal Setting.

Each supervisor gets his or her people to establish specific, measurable goals to strive for. Usually, these comprise 30-, 60-, and 90-day goals.

Step 11: Error cause removal.

Employees are asked to describe, on a simple, one-page form, any problems that prevent them from carrying out error-free work. Problems should be acknowledged within twenty-four hours by the function or unit to which the problem is addressed. This constitutes a key step in building up trust, as people will begin to grow more confident that their problems will be addressed and dealt with.

Step 12: Recruitment.

It is important to recognise those who meet their goals or perform outstanding acts with a prize or award, although this should not be in financial form. The act of recognition is what is important.

Step 13: Quality Councils.

The quality professionals and team-leaders should meet regularly to discuss improvements and upgrades to the quality programme.

Step 13: Do it Over Again.

During the course of a typical programme, lasting from 12 to18 months, turnover and change will dissipate much of the educational process.It is important to set up a new team of representatives and begin the programme over again, starting with Zero Defects day. This ‘starting over again’ helps quality to become ingrained in the organisation.


Crosby had a major impact on the quality industry and you can still see his approach in every continuous improvement program being used today.  Do you use his zero defects concept in your organisation?  Or live by the same motto of ‘Quality is free’, to make sure you get it right first time, every time?