Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 18 June, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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core definition

Perfection is an approach to quality that emphasises the need to eliminate errors.

explanatory context

The perfection approach is also referred to as zero defects. This is described briefly by Managers-Net (undated) as:

Zero Defects, pioneered by Philip Crosby, is a business practice which aims to reduce and minimise the number of defects and errors in a process and to do things right the first time. The ultimate aim will be to reduce the level of defects to zero. However, this may not be possible and in practice and what it means is that everything possible will be done to eliminate the likelihood of errors or defects occurring. The overall effect of achieving zero defects is the maximisation of profitability

analytical review

Harvey (1995) states:

Quality as perfection sees quality as a consistent or flawless outcome. In a sense it ‘democratises’ the notion of quality and if consistency can be achieved then quality can be attained by all.

Harvey (1999) explained how perfection relates to different concepts of standards: viz, academic standards, standards of competence, service standards and organisational standards:

Academic standards: Meaningless, except for an idealistic notion that peer scrutiny of standards or quality will be undertaken in a consistent manner.

Standards of competence: Expectation of a minimum prescribed level of professional competence. Problem in assessing for ‘zero defects’.

Service standards: Primary relevance in ensuring service-standard based quality — mainly in relation to administrative processes (accuracy and reliability of record keeping, timetables, coursework arrangements, etc.)

Organisational standards: Right first time. Document procedures, regulations and good practice. Obtain ISO9000 certification.

Watty (2003, p. 215) summarises perfection thus:

Perfection: zero defects, getting things right the first time (focus on process as opposed to inputs and outputs.

Dahlgaard et al. (1998, p. 14) summarises perfection thus:

Quality as 'consistency' and 'quality as fitness for purpose' ... are brought togethe to create quality as perfection within the ontet of quality culture.

associated issues

Some commentators object to the idea of quality as perfection (or 'zero defects') in the context of higher education. Watty (2003, p. 215), for example, suggests that the dimension of quality as perfection can be removed, since higher education does not aim to produce defect-free graduates. Stamelos and Kavasakalis (2011) state:

It has to be mentioned that Harvey and Green identify a fifth aspect of quality (quality as perfection) which refers to the flawless consistency of a product or service but it is better understood in other than higher education settings.

However, that ignores other aspects of higher education activities. Kristensen argued that it did apply to, for example, administrative processes, which conributed to the delivery of institutional quality. Most institutions, for example, strive for error free data bases, examination processes and, ultimately, published research findings:

In a CBS context, the notion of quality as perfection refers to the strategic development as a learning university. It is important to CBS that the staff, academic and administrative have the competences to manage their job in a perfect way and are enabled and encouraged to keep improving the effectiveness of their professional effort. The stakeholders are: academic staff, administrative staff and students (Kristensen and Harvey, 2010).


From another perspective, Kunz (2010), appears to bemoan the dispensing with perfection:

Yesterday I spoke to the STC Technical Editing SIG about how trends like agile and Web 2.0 are changing the editor's job. I mentioned the problem of reconciling agile's "good enough to ship" mindset with the traditional editor's view that everything should be completely error free. Agile doesn't require perfection; instead, it gives priority to meeting the customers' perceived needs. Or, put another way, agile redefines perfection in terms of satisfying user stories rather than being error free. That prompted a participant to say: "I have the apparently outdated and old-fashioned understanding of quality as perfection of both content and style of a document—-the entire product being, if you will, an art form. [I equate] good-enough edits and less-than completeness with sloppiness and an embarrassing, mediocre product. The idea that I must now accept mediocre work as quality totally confounds me."

I know that this editor speaks for many people in our profession. We've been steeped in the idea that writing is craftsmanship and that quality equals perfection. Those are hard things to unlearn, and they don't feel like something we'd ever even want to unlearn. Yet quality is something other than artistic perfection. Even the artist, deep down, aims not for intrinsic perfection but to evoke a response in the people who behold his work. To many of us, anything less than stylistic perfection is mediocre. Yet to the people who sign our paychecks, the product isn't mediocre if it generates revenue and wins the customers' approval. The businessman has a different standard for quality.

related areas

See also



Dahlgaard, J.J, Kristensen, K. and Gopal, K.K., Fundamentals of Total Quality Management: Process Analysis and Improvement, London. Taylor and Francis.

Harvey, L., 1995, ‘Editorial: The quality agenda’, Quality in Higher Education, 1(1), pp. 5–12.

Harvey, L., 1999, 'Quality in higher education', paper at the Swedish Quality Conference, Goteborg, November 1999, available here.

Kunz, L. 2010, Redefining perfection? available at, posted posted 24 September 2010, accessed 6 September 2012, page not available available 8 January 2017.

Kristensen, B. and Harvey, L., 2010, ‘Initiative-based quality development and the role of distributed leadership, in Nair, C.S., Webster, L. and Mertova, P. (Eds.) 2010, Leadership and Management of Quality in Higher Education, Cambridge, Woodhead.

Managers-Net, undated, Zero Defects, available at, accessed 6 September 2012, still available 28 June 2019.

Stamelos, G. and Kavasakalis, A., 2011, 'The public debate on a quality assurance system for Greek universities', Quality in HIgher Education, 17(3), pp. 353–68.

Watty, K., 2003, When will Academics Learn about Quality?, Quality in Higher Education, 9(3)

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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