What Does "Critical to Quality" Mean?

Malcolm Tatum

Critical to quality is a type of assessment used by customers to determine if the attributes associated with the goods or services offered by a particular vendor include characteristics that those customers consider essential. The idea behind this type of measurement or assessment is to determine if purchasing those products are likely to result in an adequate level of satisfaction on the part of the customer. In order to manage this type of assessment, the customer may use what is known as a critical to quality tree to make sure that the product in question does meet necessary needs and is a good choice for the intended purpose.

Tools are tested for strength during quality control checks, because customers require tools that can withstand normal use.
Tools are tested for strength during quality control checks, because customers require tools that can withstand normal use.

As the name implies, the attributes of a given good or service are evaluated in terms of how the customer perceives those characteristics as being important or critical to the consumption of those goods or services by that customer. In this sense, a critical to quality analysis is somewhat subjective, in that attributes considered necessary or critical by one consumer may be of relatively little importance to another. While there may be some variance in how customers perceive the importance of different qualities or features of the product, manufacturers can often research the responses of consumers and identify a limited range of attributes that tend to be very high on the priority lists of a significant number of clients.

Identifying the range and type of characteristics associated with the product is often made easier with the use of a tool known as a critical to quality tree. When used by a supplier or provider, the tree makes it easier to organize datand develop a visual tool that identifies the features that consumers give priority to when evaluating the product for use. For example, the collected data may show that consumers who evaluate a specific model of desktop computer may consider the smaller hard drive a critical characteristic that encourages the consumer to look closer at the unit. From there, other characteristics may be considered important, such as the ability to add memory with ease, an abundance of USB ports, and an operating system that is stable and reliable.

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Consumers can also use the concept of a critical to quality tree when considering various purchases. The idea is to identify what attributes are absolutely necessary before the consumer will consider the purchase of a given product. For example, a consumer who wishes to purchase a new car may develop a tree that includes the critical features of being a hybrid capable of operating with the use of electricity as well as gasoline, provide ample leg room, and include GPS technology. Any vehicles that do not include these three critical attributes are automatically excluded from consideration, making it easier for the consumer to focus attention on cars that will meet his or her critical needs.

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