Introduction to the special issue on quality

Flynn, Barbara B

The question arises: why another special issue on quality? While there have been several special issues on this subject in the past few years, quality is still a vibrant area of research and requires new thinking and ideas. This special issue addresses some important aspects of quality that have not been well studied in the past including: service quality, human implications of quality, and strategic aspects of quality management.

We start with a special guest editorial on “Safety and Security: Critical Qualities Call for Refocusing POM” by Martin Starr. He describes how things have changed, including the possible effects on POM and quality, after the attack on the United States of September 11, 2001. This is a thoughtful and provoking editorial on how our field is changing in these times.

The first paper in this special issue by Erick, Stephens and Evans provides a comprehensive review of doctoral dissertation research in quality management. As such it provides an important point of departure for current and future research in the field. The authors analyze the literature published since 1981, categorize the research, examine shifts in major research themes and discuss general trends in research on quality. The analysis indicates a shift toward more rigorous research methodologies and the use of theories from several disciplines leading to a more mature body of research on quality.

The second paper by Sousa and Voss empirically questions the universal applicability of quality management practices to all situations. Drawing on structural contingency theory they posit that quality is dependent on a plant’s manufacturing strategy. Their findings show that different manufacturing strategies require different sets of quality practices. This study is critical in increasing our understanding of how quality practices should be selected and implemented.

Following this introductory set of papers is a group of two papers on service quality management-a sorely lagging area of research on quality. The first paper in this set by Hayes and Hill addresses the question of a service guarantee and its relationship to quality. Based on empirical evidence they conclude that service guarantees do have a positive effect on employee motivation and subsequently on service quality. This important study sheds new light on how service guarantees work in actual practice.

The second service paper by Devaraj, Matta and Conlon investigates the simultaneous effect of product and service quality on consumers’ intentions to purchase an automobile. Several hypotheses are examined on the relationships among service quality, service satisfaction, product quality, and customer loyalty. This paper nicely integrates service quality with product quality and consumer effects.

Another area of quality that has been only lightly researched to date is the human implications of quality management. The first paper in this group of two papers is by Stewart and Grout who address the human side of mistake proofing. This important and novel contribution studies Poka-yoke (mistake proofing), which has been largely ignored as a topic of serious research. Their paper provides an underpinning to the largely anecdotal poka-yoke literature, by drawing from psychology and cognitive science concerning human error. Several promising areas for future research are identified.

The second paper in this group by Kathuria and Davis deals with quality and work force practices. They examine what work force practices might be important when quality is highly emphasized. From their empirical research they determine that certain work force management practices – consulting, supporting, mentoring, inspiring, recognizing, planning, informing and clarifying – seem to play an important role in enhancing managerial performance in manufacturing settings.

The final group of three papers deals with strategic and performance dimensions of quality. The first paper by Dostaler compares the tradeoff theory of operations to the cumulative or synergies theory. Two cases are examined to determine how these theories operate in practice. The cases help us understand why companies achieve cumulative manufacturing performance in industrial sectors where competition is high.

The second paper in this group by Fynes and Voss addresses the role of design quality among other criteria for quality performance. This study of 200 suppliers in the electronics sector of Ireland tests the relationships among various dimensions of quality using a rigorous empirical approach. The paper adds to the previously anecdotal literature that has been available on the relationship among quality dimensions.

The last paper in this special issue by Narasimhan and Mendez investigates the relationship between aspects of quality and long-run profitability and growth of the firm. This study builds on previous literature by examining the dynamic relationships among quality, and the market related measures of sales response and profitability. The paper determines whether a stable relationship exists between price, aspects of quality and the sales rate by examining equilibrium conditions. The paper then develops insights into the strategic nature of “quality durability”, pricing and quality related decisions. They examine the quality based strategic options that a firm must consider to ensure long-run growth and profitability.

We believe this special issue adds to our expanding knowledge about quality. The papers provide some interesting insights that not only add to our theoretical understanding, but have practical implications as well. As we go forward, new research is needed to understand important issues and fill gaps in the literature. This special issue will hopefully spawn further studies in the quality area.


Babcock Graduate School of Management, P.O. Box 7659, Reynolda Station, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC 27109, USA

Carlson School of Management, OMS 321 19th Avenue South University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA

Copyright Production and Operations Management Society Winter 2001

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