While “productivity” is not exclusive of “quality,” as “productivity” can, indeed, refer to the quality of output as well as the quantity of items produced or services performed, for purposes of discussion there is a simple distinction between the two concepts.
“Productivity” refers to the volume of items manufactured or the number of service contracts executed. The more productive an assembly line, for example, the more units are being produced. Additionally, the phrase refers to the balance between resources invested in the enterprise in question and the volume of output. The more accurate the match between components purchased and completed items produced, the greater the level of productivity. The more efficient the enterprise in question, the higher the level of productivity. “Quality,” however, is sort of a tautological concept in that it is difficult to define without inclusion of the word itself in the definition. Suffice to say that “quality” refers to the perfection, or lack thereof, of the products produced or services performed. The closer to perfection, the greater the quality.
“Productivity” and “quality” are used as reference points in academic discussions with the two usually treated as distinct measures of performance. As suggested above, however, “productivity” can also refer to the quality of the product or service, as it would be illogical to suggest that an operation or organization is very productive in terms of volume despite the fact that the quality of the product or service is substandard.
Understanding that “productivity” may inherently include a measure of “quality,” businesses in general set as their mission the greatest volume of the highest quality of good or service. A productive organization, such as on an assembly line or other type of manufacturing operation, is producing the requisite amount of goods that meet the qualitative expectations or standards of the customer, preferably without generating excessive overhead costs, such as underutilized manufacturing facilities. Here is where the two concepts might diverge: Generating sales without regard to qualitative considerations or determining the proper ratio of components or manufactured items for the identified market are measures of “productivity” irrespective of qualitative measures. Quality might take a back seat to volume if the business is simply out to make a buck without regard to customer satisfaction. Most businesses, however, operate with the understanding that longevity and profitability demand high levels of both productivity and quality. Unscrupulous business owners may disregard quality in the hopes of generating a lot of sales—quantity or productivity—with no expectation of being around later to deal with the consequences of customer dissatisfaction because a quick and sizable profit followed by a long vacation in the Caribbean is the primary objective.