Crosby's 14 Steps for Improvement

Organizing Long Term Quality Improvement

Crosby's 14 Steps for Improvement - Organizing Long Term Quality Improvement

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Improve quality long-term, one step at a time.

Imagine that your boss has put you in charge of quality improvement in your department, and it's a big responsibility.

Quality is really suffering in some areas, so you need to make changes. However, there's so much to do that you're not sure where to start, or how to organize this initiative. At present, input errors are common, and invoices aren't being sent out on time. And people aren't responding to customer enquiries quickly enough, so you're receiving a lot of complaints.

Large-scale change initiatives can seem overwhelming unless you have a framework in place to help. In this article, we'll look at Crosby's 14 Steps for Quality Improvement, a tool that you can use to manage long-term quality improvement.


Crosby's 14 Steps for Improvement was an early tool used for quality improvement. However, things have moved on a lot in this area, and approaches like Six Sigma may be more appropriate in many situations.

About the Tool

Philip Crosby, quality expert and founder of Philip Crosby Associates, developed his 14 Steps for Quality Improvement and published them in his 1979 book, "Quality is Free."

Crosby recognized early on that quality in an organization is everybody's responsibility, not just that of a quality control manager. He also understood that managers need a framework that they can use to guide the process of quality improvement, and manage the inevitable changes that go along with it.

He created the 14 Steps to Quality Improvement to fulfill this need, and also developed the idea of Zero Defects, with which the 14 Steps process is linked.

Managers executing a quality initiative in any industry can use this tool to guide them through the process of improvement.


When undertaking quality improvements within your organization, you can also use tools like Deming's 14-Point Philosophy, Total Quality Management, Kaizen and Six Sigma. Refer to these models while you're thinking about your change effort.

Using the Tool

Let's look at the steps in detail, and discuss how you can apply them successfully in your organization.

Step 1: Get Management Commitment

Your first step is to gain the support of the members of the leadership team who will be involved in the change initiative. If they aren't aware of quality management (most will be), take time to explain it, and help them see why continuous quality improvement is important for the organization, for employees, and for customers.

Don't focus on motivation, or on achieving buy-in; your goal at this stage is to communicate in an honest, open, and clear way. Good communication is essential in this early stage, so articulate what you need to say clearly, and answer any questions that people have.

Step 2: Create a Quality Improvement Team

You now need to create a quality improvement team, with representatives from each of the departments participating in the quality initiative. These people should be decision makers who can commit time and resources on their department's behalf.

Create a team charter explaining the team's goal, everyone's roles, and the resources available for the initiative.

Step 3: Measure Current Quality

If you're in a manufacturing or product industry, measuring quality might be relatively easy, since metrics may already be in place. However, this might be a challenge for non-manufacturing organizations, or if quality measurements aren't already embedded. It's essential to know where you're starting from, so that you can measure progress.

Start by looking at what's going wrong in your organization. Where are the deviations from acceptable norms? Where are the bottlenecks in your processes? What are your customers complaining about? Where are errors occurring? Where are you losing money? Conduct a Cause and Effect Analysis to uncover the root causes of these problems.

You can also ask managers, supervisors, and team members to identify quality issues. What's working for them, and what isn't? How do they know when a job is done well, or whether quality is suffering? These questions can provide clues to the current state of quality.

Once you've established where your quality problems are, make sure that the results are visible. (Do this sensitively, as you want to encourage motivation and buy-in, and avoid blame.)

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Step 4: Estimate Costs

Estimate, as closely as possible, your Cost of Quality (it's likely that you'll need to get help from your finance department to do this).

Use tools such as Cost-Benefit Analysis, Net Present Values, and Internal Rates of Return to examine the costs involved in the quality initiative, and to determine whether it's worth going ahead with it.

Step 5: Develop Quality Awareness

Your goal in this step is to educate everyone about how much the quality problems cost the organization.

Crosby states that this is likely the most important step in the process. Do your best to make this information clear and relevant. Use business stories, customer examples, and case studies to explain this to your team.

It's important to strike the right tone here. Your goal isn't to scare or manipulate people, you simply want to communicate, in a positive way, why change is important.

Step 6: Take Corrective Action

As the quality initiative develops, employees will likely have additional insights that they might not have had previously.

Make sure that there is a plan in place for bringing these insights into the process. If immediate supervisors can't address these, pass them up until they reach a level where managers can address them.

Step 7: Create a Zero Defects Committee

Pick three or four members of your quality improvement team to research the zero defects concept, and ask them to think about whether or how you can include it in your organization's quality initiative.

If appropriate, communicate this concept to employees; they should understand what zero defects means, and why it's important for overall quality improvement. The committee also needs to brainstorm ways that you can incorporate zero defects into your organization's culture.

Step 8: Conduct Supervisor Training

Your supervisors need to know the benefits of the change initiative in detail. They must also have a thorough understanding of the initiative's goals, and of the part that they play in achieving these goals.

Make sure that all supervisors receive orientation training on these issues to explain how these concepts are going to benefit the organization positively. You may also want to include suppliers and vendors in this training, if they have a direct effect on product or process quality.

Step 9: Roll out Zero Defects Day

You should deploy your approach to zero defects to everybody in one day. This allows everyone to adopt this new attitude at the same time, and it will have a bigger impact than a gradual rollout.

Step 10: Set Goals

In this step, supervisors meet with employees, and establish 30-, 60-, and 90-day SMART goals. These goals will keep everyone focused on continuous improvement.

Try to align people's personal values with the organization's zero defects strategy using Management by Objectives ; this will help your team members understand why changes need to take place.

Step 11: Search for Errors

You and your quality improvement team need to search the organization for errors, starting with asking employees about the problems and frustrations that they face regularly.

Keep these employee surveys as straightforward as possible. Put one manager in charge of reading and responding to the submissions in each department. It's important that open communication takes place; employees should see that managers are addressing these problems – lack of action from managers will lower morale and leave people feeling disillusioned.

Step 12: Recognize Achievements

By this stage, your people should be working to meet their goals, and they should be following the plan. Recognize the efforts of team members who meet these goals, or who do outstanding work in some other way.

Step 13: Schedule Regular Meetings

Over time, you'll need to update or revise your quality improvement initiative to compensate for changes in organizational needs or process changes. Meet regularly with your zero defects and quality teams to discuss progress and to solve any problems that may have arisen.

Step 14: Do It Over Again

Crosby states that the typical quality improvement program takes 12 to 18 months to complete. By the time the program concludes, staff turnover and a constantly changing business environment may mean that you need to do work in other areas of quality.

This means that you'll likely have to create a new quality management team, focus on new objectives, and start the process all over again. It's important to remind your team that this process of quality improvement, producing less waste, experiencing fewer defects, and saving money is continuous, and that it needs to be maintained in the long term for it to be effective.

From "Quality is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain" by Philip Crosby. © 1979. Reproduced with permission from The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Key Points

Philip Crosby, quality expert and founder of Philip Crosby Associations, developed the 14 Steps for Quality Improvement and published them in his 1979 book, "Quality is Free."

The 14 steps are:

  1. Get Management Commitment.
  2. Create a Quality Improvement Team.
  3. Measure Current Quality.
  4. Estimate Costs.
  5. Develop Quality Awareness.
  6. Take Corrective Action.
  7. Create a Zero Defects Committee.
  8. Conduct Supervisor Training.
  9. Roll Out Zero Defects Day.
  10. Set Goals.
  11. Search for Errors.
  12. Recognize Achievements.
  13. Schedule Regular Meetings.
  14. Do It Over Again.

You can use Crosby's 14 Steps to guide people through organization-wide quality improvements, but you should also ensure that you're aware of more up-to-date methodologies such as Six Sigma.