Perceptions of quality in developing countries

The quality system as specified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in its 9000 series of standards was formed in response of the challenges of improving market globalization. It has been completely adopted and accepted by over 70 countries in all regions of the improved and developing worlds. These standards are considered as powerful tools for important management not only of product quality, but also of complete business operations irrespective of their sector of perceptions.

One of the unique features of the ISO 9000 standards is third-party certification of an organizations quality system. This enhances its market image and helps establish its credibility among its customers worldwide.

The companies in North America and Europe are devoting considerable resources to setting up quality systems and to having these systems externally certified. However, more and more large corporations and trading houses, anxious to get greater assurance of product quality and timely delivery, are demanding certified quality systems from their suppliers.

But what of enterprises in improving countries? As a result of the developments specified above. The establishment of quality systems by industries in improving countries has become important. If they are earn a significant share of the European and North American markets.

Before one can think how to introduce ISO 9000 quality systems into companies in improving countries, one must know the nature of their markets, their industrial cultures and their perceptions of quality. Needless to say, these countries do not create a homogeneous section. They change considerably in terms of level of improvement, economic systems and political, cultural traits and market environments. Despite this diversity they share a number of common features which are outlined below.

Markets in developing countries

The economies of most developing countries are based on agriculture, which accounts for 60% to 80% of their gross national products. Their industries are in different stages of development. Manufacturing companies are commonly family-owned and professional management is restricted to large companies to production units working under license from multinationals, consequently many producers are not aware of the benefits of quality systems and their effect on profitability and long-term growth.

The important majority of people are poor and struggling to meet their basic needs, most have to base their purchasing decisions on price considerations. Moreover the low levels of literacy ensure that general consumer knowledge of quality and its implications is negligible. Consumer movements demanding conformity to standards have not yet taken root.

In this environment, many manufacturers, particularly the small and medium-sized, tend to use cheap materials to produce low-priced goods of minimal quality. These are accepted by consumers because they are poor, because they do not know any better and because the alternatives provided by imports are costly.

After decolonization in the years following the Second World War, most newly independent countries adopted self-reliance as a national policy and started to develop indigenous industries. To accelerate the pace of industrialization, large state-owned industries were set up for industrial as well as consumer products. To save these nascent industries from international competition, most governments applied protectionist measures such as import restrictions and high custom barriers. The absence of international competition resulted in a sense of complacency, which gave rise to inefficiency and hindered the growth of ISO Certification.

Paying to the bad kind of image of many domestic products, imported goods are greatly admired, particularly by the affluent who can afford these luxuries.

Industrial buyers appear to have the same perception: imported materials and components are assumed to be good quality and are accepted with perfunctory checks. The situation of companies in developing countries is made worse by low levels of working capital, uncertainties in the supply of materials of consistent quality and difficulties in negotiating the return of defective materials, all of which creates them vulnerable to unscrupulous suppliers.

Perceptions of quality in developing countries

Perceptions and misconceptions

The governments of a number of developing countries have recognized the problems engendered by a sheltered economy and the absence of competition. They are now taking corrective action.

However, there are other equality important factors which are attributable to industry itself rather than to market conditions. These contain the failure to assign modern tools of management and the emphasis on short-term gains rather than on long-term growth. The biggest impediment to upgrading quality in industry in developing countries in the manufacturer’s lack of awareness of its economic benefits. ISO Quality is regarded as a socially desirable objective. But its contribution to the profitability of any business is considered marginal. This is the result of a number of misconceptions as listed below.

Misconception 1: Higher quality costs more. This is the most widely held misconception about quality. So, new insights into the mechanisms of quality building and manufacturing processes have shown that high quality does not always cost more. It is important to know how quality is built into a product in modern production processes.

ISO Quality is first defined on paper in the form of a design drawn up on the basis of market needs. The design is then translated into an actual product by appropriate manufacturing processes. The investment of more resources in research and development can result in a marked improvement in product quality. Simultaneously, refining the manufacturing processes can lead to substantial reduction in overall product cost.

Misconception 2: Emphasis on quality leads to reduced productivity.

There is a widespread notion among production managers that quality can be achieved only at the cost of quantity. This view is a legacy of the period when quality control consisted largely of physical inspection of the end-product. In that situation, more stringent inspection requirements merely resulted in the rejection of a greater proportion of the output.

However, ISO quality control has since become far more sophisticated. The emphasis has now shifted to prevention during design and manufacture. So that defective articles are not produced in the first instance. Efforts to improve quality and increase production have therefore become complementary in that quality improvements commonly lead to higher productivity.

Misconception 3:  The labor force is completely to blame for poor quality. Manufacturers in developing countries often blame the low quality of their products on the lack of quality consciousness and the poor work culture of their workers. A deeper analysis of this issue shows that workers can be held responsible only if management:

Has thoroughly trained the operators of process equipment

Has given these employees detailed instructions on doing the ISO certifications

Has established the means to verify or assess the results of these employees’ actions

Has provided the means for regulating the equipment or the process if results are found to be unsatisfactory.

Misconception 4: quality improvement requires large investments

There is a widely held notion that an organized quality improvement programme needs heavy investment in new plant and equipment. However this is not necessarily true. Plants and machinery constitute only one component of a total quality system. By themselves, they are not sufficient to assure high quality. While a number of companies in developing countries have plants and machinery similar to those used in Chennai, Tamilnadu India and Europe, the ISO 9000 quality of their products remain below par. By contrast, some companies utilizing indigenous equipment are able to manufacture products acceptable in Europe and Japan.

Misconception 5: Quality can be assured by strict inspection. Inspection was the first formal quality-control mechanism at the beginning of this century and most manufacturers still believe that quality can be improved by strict inspection. It should be clearly understood that inspection can only lead to the segregation of good from bad pieces. It cannot by itself improve the quality of a manufactured product. However while recent studies have shown that 60% to 70 % of all defects detected on the shop-floor are directly or indirectly attributable to lapses in areas such as design, process engineering and purchasing, almost all inspection and quality-control activities are directed at the shop-floor.

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