Crosby is a graduate of the Western Reserve University. After naval service in the Korean war, he cut his teeth on a variety of quality control jobs starting as line inspector. One early experience was as a quality manager on the first Pershing missile programme. He worked his way up within ITT and for fourteen years he was a Corporate Vice President and Quality Director of ITT, with world-wide responsibilities for quality. In 1979 he published Quality is Free, which became a best-seller.

He subsequently published his other best-seller Quality Without Tears. On the basis of the success of his first book Philip Crosby left ITT and set up Philip Crosby Associates and the Quality College in Florida.  Crosby‘s Message Crosby’s name is perhaps best known in relation to the concepts of Do It Right First Time and Zero Defects. Crosby defines quality as conformance to the requirements. He believes that since most companies allow a certain deviation from specifications, it is necessary for manufacturing companies to spend around 20% of revenues doing things wrong and doing them over again.

According to Crosby this can be 35% for service companies. He does not believe that workers should take prime responsibility for poor quality; the reality, he says, is that you have to get management straight. In the Crosby scheme of things, management sets the tone on quality and workers follow their example; whilst employees are consulted on manufacturing difficulties, the initiative comes from the top. What zero defects means is not that people never make mistakes, he says, but that the company does not start out expecting to make mistakes.

Views from implementing companies are varied. For example, according to Frank Calan: In the 1960s we tried Zero Defects programs under a number of names. The technique called for each employee to commit himself or herself to producing nothing but good work, identifying for management’s action those conditions not within his or her control. In a few cases the results were substantial and lasting. In all other cases there was an immediate positive reaction by virtually everyone followed sooner or later by a collapse of the program and a feeling by the participants that they had been betrayed.

The reason for the demise of the program is readily apparent; management failed to follow through on its explicit or implicit promise to remove the causes for quality problems once the employees identified them. You see, it got to be a little tough for management to do this because it turned out that management had about 85% of the problems to solve.

They had leaped into this program on the assumption that the employees were to blame for all of the problems, rather than 15% of them.  (Quality Progress, February 1985)