Is Quality and "Do It Right the First Time" Obsolete?


Beware the product death cycle | CNET

This article raises some interesting questions about the role of quality in today's marketplace. It argues that quality standards have definitely gone downhill, at least in consumer products, but the market is almost rewarding that.

“Chinese manufacturers have shown that you don't have to offer quality to compete if you can slash prices enough. ‘I see no evidence of the managers and workers at these facilities having the slightest concept of quality,' says John Dowd, an American quality expert who has visited dozens of Chinese factories. ‘They will comply with customer requirements when they are monitored closely, but left alone, it's strictly: ‘Get it out the door.””

Do factories other than those in China emphasize “get it out the door?” While lean preaches (and my division's quality policy, for what it's worth) says “Do it right the first time.” The “conventional” lean wisdom is to build quality in to the product and the process, by doing it right the first time. However, one opinion in the article says:

Not only is it easier for them to make goods that aren't durable, manufacturers can now profitably “double dip.” This means when they receive a failed device, they can replace its broken parts and sell it again, not as “preowned” or refurbished, but as new. Brue, the Six Sigma consultant, says of one computer peripherals company that he works with, “They have more revenue coming from processing extended warranties, refurbishing the returned units, and sending them back out than they do in getting the product right the first time.”

Is this right, taking products, repairing them, and selling them again as “new”? This might be profit maximizing in the short term, but is it really the best strategy for the long term? I don't recall seeing numbers that say Toyota's quality has dropped…. What do you think about this? Click “comments” below to chime in.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I agree, consumer product quality has gone down. And no consumer seems to care. Go to Wal-mart, you can’t even find a high quality product there, if you wanted to buy one. Meanwhile in the industrial market place, all you hear about is quality, and do it right the first time. There is an obvious disconnect between industry and the end user, it’s very frustrating. You begin to wonder why your industrial customer demends quality, when they don’t deliver the same to their customers.

  2. I bought a cheap $99 portable DVD player with screen for a trip when my wife didn’t want to drag a laptop along.

    The thing worked the first time we put a disc in to test it out (being dubious of the quality). It worked fine. Until we played a disc a second time.

    The brand on this player was, ironically enough, “Initial”, as in “it works initially” I guess.

    Now we knew what we were probably getting into with a $99 DVD player, we wouldn’t have bought one for $300. But still, the way the market (or the retailers) are screaming for “cheap, cheap, cheap” is strange.

  3. My company manufactures components that go into a multitude of electronic products. Historically, we were able to command premium prices because of the high quality of products that we offered to the market. However, we’re now running up against a philosophy where our customers are now taking a “good enough as long as it’s cheap” attitude. This is most prevalent in the Chinese marketplace.


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