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Philip Crosby: Zero Defects

What level of quality should we be expecting in our manufacturing processes? Philip Crosby, a quality manager and consultant, had an answer that was as simple as it was uncompromising: 100 per cent conformity… zero defects.

Philip Crosby


Short Biography

Philip Crosby was born in West Virginia, in 1926. He gained an undergraduate degree from the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine after serving in the US Navy in the Second World War. He also served in Korea, before a series of roles in industry. 1957, he started working for Martin-Mariettta on the Pershing Missile project. It was here that he developed his concept of ‘zero defects’ and reduced waste material costs by 30 per cent.

In 1965, he became Director of Quality at ITT, where he stayed until 1979. This was the year that his book, Quality is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain, was published. It was big success, so he left ITT to found Philip Crosby Associates, inc. From then on, Crosby was a much in demand consultant, floating his company in 1985, for $30 million.

He continued to write, producing Quality Without Tears in 1984, and twelve other management books up to his retirement in 1991. At this point, he quickly un-retired and founded a new business, Career IV, inc, which provided lectures and seminars for senior executives. He died in 2001.

The Zero Defects Philosophy

Crosby was adept at framing his ideas in simple lists. Let’s start with his Four Absolutes of Quality Management:

  • Quality means conformance to requirements, not goodness.
  • Quality is achieved by prevention, not appraisal.
  • Quality has a performance standard of Zero Defects, not acceptable quality levels.
  • Quality is measured by the Price of Nonconformance, not indexes.

In Quality is Free, Crosby set out fourteen steps to creating quality:

  1. Management commitment to quality improvement.
  2. Quality improvement team with representatives from each department or function.
  3. Quality measurement to determine the status of quality throughout the company.
  4. Determine the cost of quality to discover where action  to correct a defect will result in greater profitability.
  5. Quality awareness for all employees, about the cost of defects to the company.
  6. Corrective action should become a habit.
  7. Establish an ad-hoc committee for the Zero Defects Programme to communicate and that everyone should do things right first time.
  8. Supervisor training on the 14 steps.
  9. Zero Defects Day – when supervisors explain the programme to their people and make a lasting impression.
  10. Goal setting – usually, 30, 60, and 90-day goals.
  11. Remove the causes of error.
  12. Recognise those who meet their goals or perform outstanding acts with a non-financial prize or award.
  13. Quality Councils: regular meetings of quality professionals and team-leaders, to discuss improvements.
  14. Do it over again: During a typical 12-18 month programme, much of the learning will dissipate. So re-start the programme afresh with a new  Zero Defects Day.

Quality without Tears

Crosby went further. In his 1984 book, Quality without Tears, he mooted the idea of a ‘quality vaccination serum’ – a culture of quality, built on:

  • Integrity – from the CEO down
  • Systems – to measure conformance, educate  employees and suppliers, enact corrective action, and make defect prevention into a routine.
  • Communications – of problems, progress, and  achievement.
  • Operations – to test and demonstrate procedures, products and systems before they are implemented, and then continual re-evaluation.
  • Policies – clear, unambiguous policies that put quality first.

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