Zero Defects

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This article is about the quality management program. For the American hardcore punk band, see 0DFx.

Zero Defects (or ZD) was a management-led program to eliminate defects in industrial production that enjoyed brief popularity in American industry from 1964[1] to the early 1970s. Quality expert Philip Crosby later incorporated it into his "Absolutes of Quality Management" and it enjoyed a renaissance in the American automobile industry—as a performance goal more than as a program—in the 1990s. Although applicable to any type of enterprise, it has been primarily adopted within supply chains wherever large volumes of components are being purchased (common items such as nuts and bolts are good examples).


"[...] Zero Defects is a management tool aimed at the reduction of defects through prevention. It is directed at motivating people to prevent mistakes by developing a constant, conscious desire to do their job right the first time."[2]:viiZero Defects: A New Dimension in Quality Assurance

Zero Defects seeks to directly reverse the attitude that the amount of mistakes a worker makes doesn't matter since inspectors will catch them before they reach the customer.[2]:4 This stands in contrast to activities that affect the worker directly, such as receiving a paycheck in the correct amount. Zero Defects involves reconditioning the worker "to take a personal interest in everything he does[,] by convincing him that his job is just as important as the task of the doctor or the dentist."[2]:4


The development of Zero Defects is credited to Philip B. Crosby, a quality control department manager on the Pershing missile program at the Martin Company,[3] though at least one contemporary reference credits a small, unnamed group of Martin employees.[4]

Zero Defects is not the first application of motivational techniques to production: During World War II, the War Department's "E for Excellence" program sought to boost production and minimize waste.[5][6][7]

The Cold War resulted in increased spending on the development of defense technology in the 1950s and 1960s. Because of the safety-critical nature of such technology, particularly weapons systems, the government and defense firms came to employ hundreds of thousands of people in inspection and monitoring of highly-complex products assembled from hundreds of thousands of individual parts.[2]:10 This activity routinely uncovered defects in design, manufacture, and assembly and resulted in an expensive, drawn out cycle of inspection, rework, reinspection, and retest.[2]:12 Additionally, reports of spectacular missile failures appearing in the press[note 1] heightened the pressure to eliminate defects.

In 1961, the Martin Company's Orlando Florida facility embarked on an effort to increase quality awareness and specifically launched a program to drive down the number of defects in the Pershing missile to one half of the acceptable quality level in half a year's time.[2]:12 Subsequently, the Army asked that the missile be delivered a month earlier than the contract date in 1962. Martin marshaled all of its resources to meet this challenge and delivered the system with no discrepancies in hardware and documentation and were able to demonstrate operation within a day of the start of setup.[2]:14¡V15 After reviewing how Martin was able to overachieve, its management came to the conclusion that while it had not insisted on perfection in the past, it had in this instance, and that was all that was needed to attain outstanding product quality.[2]:15

Management commissioned a team to examine the phenomenon and come up with an action plan, which became the organizing, motivating, and initiating elements of Zero Defects.[2]:15 The Department of Defense also took notice and in 1964, began to actively encourage its vendors to adopt Zero Defects programs.[8][9] Interest in the program from outside firms, including Litton Industries, Thiokol, Westinghouse, and Bendix Corporation,[2]:16 was keen and many made visits to Martin to learn about it.[2]:16 Their feedback was incorporated and rounded out the program. In particular, General Electric suggested that error cause removal be included in the program.[2]:16

Martin claimed a 54% defect reduction in defects in hardware under government audit during the first two years of the program. General Electric reported a $2 million reduction in rework and scrap costs, RCA reported 75% of its departments in one division were achieving Zero Defects, and Sperry Corporation reported a 54% defect reduction over a single year.[2]:17

During its heyday, it was adopted by General Electric, ITT Corporation, Montgomery Ward, Rolls-Royce Limited, and the United States Army among other organizations.[10]

While Zero Defects began in the aerospace and defense industry, thirty years later it was regenerated in the automotive world. During the 1990s, large companies in the automotive industry tried to cut costs by reducing their quality inspection processes and demanding that their suppliers dramatically improve the quality of their supplies. This eventually resulted in demands for the "Zero Defects" standard. It is implemented all over the world.

Later developments[edit]

In 1979, Crosby penned Quality Is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain which preserved the idea of Zero Defects in a 14-step quality improvement program and in the concept of the "Absolutes of Quality Management".[11] The quality improvement program incorporated ideas developed or popularized by others (for example, cost of quality (step 4), employee education (step 8), and quality councils (step 13)) with the core motivation techniques of booklets, films, posters, speeches, and the "ZD Day" centerpiece.[12]

Absolutes of Quality Management[edit]

According to Crosby, there are four Absolutes:

1. Quality is conformance to requirements[edit]

Every product or service has a requirement: a description of what the customer needs. When a particular product meets that requirement, it has achieved quality, provided that the requirement accurately describes what the enterprise and the customer actually need. This technical sense should not be confused with more common usages that indicate weight or goodness or precious materials or some absolute idealized standard. In common parlance, an inexpensive disposable pen is a lower-quality item than a gold-plated fountain pen. In the technical sense of Zero Defects, the inexpensive disposable pen is a quality product if it meets requirements: it writes, does not skip or clog under normal use, and lasts the time specified.

2. Defect prevention is preferable to quality inspection and correction[edit]

The second principle is based on the observation that it is nearly always less troublesome, more certain and less expensive to prevent defects than to discover and correct them. It saves a lot of human power and cost of inspection and correction. For example, if a person changes the poor condition brake shoes of his bike before next riding then it will save a lot of the rider's energy and reduce the risk of accident on the road, not to mention the generation of new defects in the bike due to poorly conditioned brake shoes which when observed later will have a higher cost of repair.[13]

3. Zero Defects is the quality standard[edit]

The third is based on the normative nature of requirements: if a requirement expresses what is genuinely needed, then any unit that does not meet requirements will not satisfy the need and is no good. If units that do not meet requirements actually do satisfy the need, then the requirement should be changed to reflect reality.

Further, the idea that mistakes are inevitable is rejected out of hand. Just as the CEO wouldn't accept 'mistakenly' not getting paid occasionally, his/her chauffeur 'mistakenly' driving them to the wrong business, or their spouse 'mistakenly' sleeping with someone else, so the company shouldn't take the attitude that they'll 'inevitably' fail to deliver what was promised from time to time. Aiming at an "acceptable" defect level encourages and causes defects.

4. Quality is measured in monetary terms – the Price of Nonconformance (PONC)[edit]

The fourth principle is key to the methodology. Phil Crosby believes that every defect represents a cost, which is often hidden. These costs include inspection time, rework, wasted material and labor, lost revenue and the cost of customer dissatisfaction. When properly identified and accounted for, the magnitude of these costs can be made apparent, which has three advantages. First, it provides a cost-justification for steps to improve quality. The title of the book, "Quality is Free," expresses the belief that improvements in quality will return savings more than equal to the costs. Second, it provides a way to measure progress, which is essential to maintaining management commitment and to rewarding employees. Third, by making the goal measurable, actions can be made concrete and decisions can be made on the basis of relative return.


Criticism of "Zero Defects" frequently centers around allegations of extreme cost in meeting the standard. Proponents say that it is an entirely reachable ideal and that claims of extreme cost result from misapplication of the principles.

Point 10 of Deming's 14 points ("Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity.") is clearly aimed at ZD.[14][15] Joseph M. Juran was also critical of ZD.[16]

Another criticism was that Zero Defects was a motivational program aimed at encouraging employees to do better. Crosby denied ever having said any such thing under any circumstances. He stated repeatedly that defects occur because of management actions and attitudes.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ A Guide to Zero Defects: Quality and Reliability Assurance Handbook. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower Installations and Logistics). 1965. p. 3. OCLC 7188673. 4155.12-H. Retrieved 2014-05-29. Early in 1964 the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Installations and Logistics) invited the attention of the Military Departments and the Defense Supply Agency to the potential of Zero Defects. This gave the program substantial impetus. Since that time Zero Defects has been adopted by numerous industrial and Department of Defense activities. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Halpin, James F. (1966). Zero Defects: A New Dimension in Quality Assurance. New York: McGraw-Hill. OCLC 567983091. 
  3. ^ Harwood, William B. (1993). "27: "Zero Defects" Was Invented Here". Raise Heaven and Earth: The Story of Martin Marietta People and Their Pioneering Achievements. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 350. ISBN 9780671749989. OCLC 28710737. Zero Defects was the brainchild of a gifted and articulate young engineer named Philip Crosby, who conceived it while working as quality control manager on Pershing. 
  4. ^ Halpin, James F. (1966). Zero Defects: A New Dimension in Quality Assurance. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 11. OCLC 567983091. Whenever the subject of Zero Defects comes up, it invariably prompts the question: "Exactly how did it all start?" The fact that it did start in the defense industry on an Army-Martin missile system is testimony to the dedication of a relatively small group of people. 
  5. ^ Pettebone, E. R. (1968). Riordan, John J., ed. Zero Defects: the Quest for Quality. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense. p. 46. OCLC 3396301. Technical Report TR9. Retrieved 2014-05-29. While Zero Defects programs might appear on the surface to be a re-hash of worker motivation programs that appeared during World War II, there is a more clearly defined methodology and technique emerging in today's programs. 
  6. ^ "More Bang Per Buck: 'Zero Defects' Plans Cut Contractor Costs". The Wall Street Journal. New York. 1965-04-06. p. 1. ISSN 0099-9660. It reminds me of the E (for excellence) program during World War II. 
  7. ^ "Revivalist zeal in the drive for perfect parts". Business Week. New York. 1965-05-08. p. 159. ISSN 0007-7135. OCLC 1537921. So the company turned to a propaganda approach, a peacetime equivalent of patriotic campaigns waged in defense plants during World War II. 
  8. ^ "Zero Defects Campaign Gets DOD Impetus". Aviation Week & Space Technology. New York. 1964-11-30. pp. 63–65. ISSN 0005-2175. 
  9. ^ "More ZD reports". Quality Assurance. Wheaton, Illinois: Hitchcock Pub. Co. August 1965. OCLC 2449963. 
  10. ^ Harwood, William B. (1993). Raise Heaven and Earth: The Story of Martin Marietta People and Their Pioneering Achievements. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 350. ISBN 9780671749989. OCLC 28710737. 
  11. ^ Crosby, Philip B. (1979). "8: Quality Improvement Program". Quality Is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 127–139. ISBN 9780070145122. OCLC 3843884. 
  12. ^ Crosby, Philip B. (1984). Quality Without Tears: The Art of Hassle-free Management. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 97–120. ISBN 9780070145306. OCLC 10277859. 
  13. ^ Sharma, Narender (2011-12-16). "Shakehand with Life: Philip Crosby's : Do It Right First Time and Zero Defects". Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  14. ^ Deming, W. Edwards. "The Fourteen Points For The Transformation Of Management". Palos Verdes Estates, California: The W. Edwards Deming Institute. Retrieved 2013-11-24. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.  External link in |website= (help)
  15. ^ Salsburg, David (2001), The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century, New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, pp. 250–251, ISBN 0805071342, OCLC 45129162, retrieved 2013-02-23, He was scathingly critical of the fads of management that would sweep through American industry. In the 1970s, the fad was called "zero defect." They would have no defects in their product—a condition that Deming knew was completely impossible. 
  16. ^ Juran, Joseph M., ed. (1995), A History of Managing for Quality: The Evolution, Trends, and Future Directions of Managing for Quality, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The American Society for Quality Control, pp. 584–585, ISBN 9780873893411, OCLC 32394752, Some consultants proposed a sweeping solution by exhorting the workforce to make no mistakes—"Do it right the first time." This simplistic approach was persuasive to those managers, who, at the time, believed that the primary cause of their company's quality problems was the carelessness and indifference of the workforce. The facts were that the bulk of the quality problems had their origin in the managerial and technical processes. In due course this approach was abandoned, but not before a lot of divisiveness had been generated. 

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