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The Fifth Fitness, a New Quality Dimension©


Arthur M. Schneiderman

What exactly is “Quality”?  Ask this question to a group of TQM practitioners and you're sure to trigger one of those endless and often heated debates.  Visit the misc.industry.quality newsgroup and give it a try.  You may be accused of "trolling," but it will provide you with all of the proof you need.  It's not that it's a bad question, but one for which we have no agreed upon answer.  The problem is that the definition is not static, it depends on where you are in the Quality journey. 

A good place to look for the answer is in Japan where this notion has continuously evolved over the past 50 years. There it is defined in terms of the “4-fitnesses.”*  


The first is fitness to specification.  That means that the product (or service) does exactly what the specification sheet says it will do.  I sometimes refer to this as "little q" quality.  


The second, is fitness for use.  Here, we move above the first requirement to assure that the product not only performs to specification but also satisfies the customer’s need for any reasonable use.  My favorite, although somewhat extreme, example of this is the Japanese dish washing machine manufacturer who noted a high concentration of field failures in a particular geographical area.  Further investigation showed that local potato farmers were using the washing machines to wash their crop of newly harvested potatoes.  When challenged by the field engineers with "You can't use them for that," the farmers responded "Show us where it says that in the manual."  One solution would be to change the wording in the manual to specifically prohibit that kind of use.  A second was to redesign the washer so that it could be used for that purpose.  The manufacturer chose the latter; thus creating fitness for use.


The third fitness is fitness for cost.  This concept is tightly linked to a central dynamic of competition: all other things being equal (i.e. the first two fitnesses are met), the lower the cost, the better.  


The final one, the 4th fitness, is called fitness for latent needs.  It recognizes the opportunity to innovate, with all its rewards, by producing a product that meets a previously unidentified customer need.

The 4-fitnesses mirror the historical evolution of quality in post-war Japan.  They contain a repeated pattern of movement between a product (1 and 3) and a market (2 and 4) focus.  In today’s world, where many consumers take fitnesses 1 thru 3 as a given, real profit can only be found in the short window of life of a latent need.  But, what about the future?

Today we hear thought leaders in Japan talking about “fitness for the environment” and “fitness for future generations”.  Here, the product and market merge and are expanded in both time and space.  Out of this is emerging a 5th fitness or quality dimension: fitness for society.

The 5th-fitness is reflective of a growing worldwide concern over the effect of what we do today, not only on our environment, but also on the people who will come after us.  For the first time in history, we have the power to knowingly or unknowingly make irreversible changes in our physical environment.  Too few companies worry today about the impact of their factories on global warming or the recyclability of their products.  Even service organizations, such as consumer credit companies, don't appear to worry about their impact on the long-term financial viability of their customer's economies.  Instead, it is left to government regulators.  But just as excellence in the 4-fitnesses has proven profitable when companies “own” them, so it will likely be when they embrace the 5th fitness.  And when the 5th fitness does become a strategic imperative, we will begin to see evidence of its presence in an organization's non-financial performance measurement and on their truly Balanced Scorecards.

*See for example Shiba, Graham and Walden, page 27.

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Last modified: August 13, 2006