Definition of Quality

Everyone, it seems, has a definition for quality – whose definition is “right”? Should we always default to the customer’s definition of quality? What if the customer’s expectations of quality are unrealistic? Should we default to legislation with respect to quality? What if current legislation is of less quality than the customer demands? We may meet the law but never sell the product! These types of questions should illustrate that difficulty of attempting to narrow the definition of quality unless there are some underlying assumptions. These assumptions must be particular to the current and future customer expectations, technology, market demands, et al.

Now that is not to say that there have not been attempts to define quality. For example:

  • Webster’s defines quality as that which makes something what it is – a characteristic element of the product or service
  • The American Society of Quality defines quality as the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bears on its ability to satisfy given needs
  • Our text, The Management and Control of Quality, states the quality of a product or service, as judged by the end user, is the final criterion for measuring success. Our text also states that the American view of quality has traditionally been that if a customer receives a product or service that conforms to (engineering) specifications they have received a quality product or service
  • Juran defined quality as fitness for use (based on availability, reliability, and maintainability) for the customer
  • Philip Crosby defined quality as conformance to requirements, caused by prevention, with one standard of defects (no defects), and that which is best measured by the price of non-conformance

Here is another view of quality – espoused by Dr. Russell Roberson – one in which the organization (on the advice of strategic stakeholders) gets to sets the definition of quality:

Quality is achieved through the application of organizational knowledge; through the development of and delivery on a defined set of requirements that achieve value for both the correct customers and the correct stakeholders and the organization. Quality is what the organization defines it to be given a structure of extensive research and analysis under the premise of increasing stockholder value; which then translates into what the correct customer and the correct stakeholder finds of value.

Lots of opinions – hard to tell which definition of quality should be used as to guide the process of quality improvement within an organization – it will not be easy to develop a definition of quality that will please everyone – but this actually makes our job easier – as we really only care about a definition of quality that pleases the correct stakeholders – not all stakeholders – and this makes the job of defining quality much easier.

Traits of Quality

  • Transcendent / Judgmental Quality – Quality is recognized through learning and experience, is absolute and universally recognizable – an example would be a BMW automobile, a Rolex watch, service at Disney.
  • Product Based Quality – Quality is precise and measurable; it can be ranked on various attributes and is an inherent part of the product or service. An example would be the number of stitches in a shirt, the number of cylinders in a car, or more memory in a computer.
  • User Based Quality – Quality reflects personal, idiosyncratic view; quality is the ideal combination of attributes maximizing consumer satisfaction (fitness for use). An example would be family cars versus sports cars or a luxury hotel room versus an economy hotel room.
  • Manufacturing Based Quality – Quality reflects engineering and manufacturing practices, quality is defined as conformance to requirements, reducing deviations reduces costs. An example would be products and services with tolerance limits.
  • Value Based Quality – Quality is defined as performance or conformance at an acceptable cost; this is the notion of affordable excellence. An example would be a brand name product or service versus generic named product or service.

The value trait of quality is a very important concept – this trait implies that products and services that are fairly priced have equal quality given that both products / services have meet 100% of their requirements.  For example, a $5 shirt at Walmart may only last 1 year, the customer may not have much individual service from sales associates, the checkout lines may be long – but the shirt only cost $5 – the shirt meets the requirements for a $5 shirt.  Another shirt at a fancy store may cost $100 – and the thread count may be more, the service of the sales associate may be focused on the customer, and the checkout may be quick – but you paid $100 for the shirt – the expectations of the $100 shirt are more than the expectations of the $5 shirt.  Yet – both shirts met their requirements and per the value trait they are of equal quality!  This is a very important point – quality is all around us – and is dependent on meeting the properly set requirements for a product or service.

Dimensions of Quality

David Garvin, in his text Managing Quality, identified eight separate dimensions of product quality:

  1. Performance: primary operating characteristics
  2. Features: “bells and whistles” of the product or service
  3. Reliability: probability that a product or service surviving for a given time period
  4. Conformance: design and operating excellence
  5. Durability: amount of time or use before product quality deteriorates
  6. Serviceability: speed, courtesy, competence
  7. Aesthetics: subjective assessment of the product
  8. Perceived Quality: brand name, image, indirect measures

The dimensions of service quality are:

  1. Time: time the customer waits for the service
  2. Timeliness: will the service meet time commitments
  3. Completeness: were all commitments met?
  4. Courtesy: was the user treated with respect?
  5. Consistency: are services delivered in the same manner regardless of environmental conditions?
  6. Accessibility and Convenience: was the service easy to obtain?
  7. Responsiveness: were unexpected problems handled appropriately
  8. Accuracy: was the service performed correctly?

In the research conducted by Dr. Roberson relative to the dimensions of quality a startling discovery happened – customers do not always known their own truths – or they do not always tell the truth.  Specifically, three sets of stakeholders were identified by Dr. Roberson – 1) those who purchased a product or service, 2) those who did not purchase a product or service but who significantly used a product or service, and 3) quality experts who clearly understood the dimensions of quality listed above.

In Dr. Roberson’s research, participants were asked to rank order the importance of the dimensions of quality listed above relative to specific products and services (e.g. cars, restaurants, etc.).  Then each group was asked to rank order specific entities within each group relative to customer satisfaction (e.g. which car of a group of cars presented was of the highest quality – which was the lowest in quality).  What Dr. Roberson found was that (generally) for the first two groups (customers and significant users) that the entities ranked as highest in quality was inversely proportional to how the group rank ordered the dimensions of quality – e.g. the customer / user may say that reliability is the most important quality aspect when purchasing a car – but the car selected by the customer / user as highest in quality was, in reality, the lowest in reliability.  Not surprisingly – this did NOT happen with the quality experts.  In the case of the quality experts the results of the ranked order dimensions of quality matched nicely to the rankings of quality in each product entity.  One reason for this, noted by Dr. Roberson, is that the quality experts actually took the time to examine the product and service specification sheets provided in the study – so this group was making data based decisions – not preference based decisions.  On the other hand, the customers / users rarely took the time to read the product and service specification sheets provided – using their past history or impressions to guide the decision making process – this group use preference base decision rather than data based decisions.

  1. Edwards Deming
  2. Edwards Demingworked as a mathematical physicist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). At the USDA, Deming was responsible for developing and teaching courses in math and statistics at the Graduate School of the USDA. From the USDA Deming moved to the Bureau of the Census where he was an adviser in sampling for the 1940 census. In 1942, Deming was retained as a consultant to the Secretary of War for the purpose of developing ideas on ways to aid the war effort. Deming suggested a course in Shewhart methods to teach the basics of applied statistics to engineers. The idea was adopted and the first course was held in the summer of 1942. Because of his work at the USDA and his expertise in statistics, Deming was sent to Japan in 1946 by the War Department to study agricultural production in Japan. Deming returned to Japan in 1948 to conduct more studies for the War Department. During these trips, Deming convinced Kenichi Koyanagi, one of the founding members of the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE), of the potential of statistical methods in the rebuilding of Japanese industry. Koyanagi was instrumental in setting up seminars that allowed Deming to teach courses in statistical methods to the Japanese industry. In 1950, under the authority of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, Deming began to teach his philosophy of quality management to the Japanese. Deming retains the image of a national folk hero in Japan; a statement supported by the placement of Deming’s portrait in the boardrooms of many Japanese organizations. In recognition of Deming’s efforts in Japan, JUSE created the Deming Prize in 1951. The Deming prize is awarded each year to a statistician for contributions to statistical theory and to an organization for improved use of statistical theory in consumer research and the design of product and production systems. The Deming prize examines organizational policies, operations, education, information gathering, communication, utilization, analysis, standardization, quality assurance, effects, and future plans. In 1960, Emperor Hirohito awarded Deming the Second Order Medal of the Sacred Treasure.

Deming had several methods in which he expounded his theory of quality management. The most well-known of these methods is his classical fourteen points, his theory of profound knowledge, his deadly diseases, and his chain reaction. Deming’s fourteen points (paraphrased) are:

  • Create consistency of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs
  • Adopt the new philosophy. Western management must awaken to the challenge, learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.
  • Cease reliance on mass inspection to improve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.
  • End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tags. Instead, minimize total cost. Move towards a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.
  • Improve consistently and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
  • Institute training on the job.
  • Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.
  • Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company. Deming, in later years, modified this point to focus on the elimination of Taylor management systems.
  • Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team.
  • Eliminate slogans, exhortation, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Exhortations only create adversarial relationships since 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.
  • Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor, eliminate management by objectives, and eliminate management by numbers and numerical goals. Substitute leadership.
  • Remove barriers that rob hourly employees, management, and engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. Abolish the annual review or merit rating and management by objectives. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from mere numbers to quality.
  • Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
  • Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.

In essence, Deming advocated the removal of the element of fear from the organization. His thoughts were that everyone is part of the quality management process, so they must feel free to openly communicate. In order for this to happen – there must be a leadership style and culture that encourages employees who are not afraid to offer their opinions and maybe even challenge management decisions. Employees must also be able to learn from their mistakes. If they are not able to do this and have a fear of retribution from management, open and honest communication will not happen. For employees under the influence of fear, the usual response would be to “clam up” and not disclose issues that may be crucial to the integrity of quality.

In many circles today, Deming’s approach is outdated (at best) and incorrect (at worst).  Deming certainly did not account for (nor should he) of the impact of the information revolution or the global environment in which organizations function that we are seeing in the 21st century – if he were alive today perhaps he would m modify his 14 points to accommodate for these developments.  His view on “fear” is a also outdated – remember Deming developed his 14 points in the 1950’s – based his experience with scientific management – laws and regulations are in place today that have greatly reduced the impact relative to “fear” that Dr. Deming espoused in the 1950s.

Deming’s elements of profound knowledge are:

  • Appreciation of a system where a system is a set of functions or activities within and external to a firm (customers, employees, suppliers, community). All components of the system must work together, management must optimize the total system, and every system must have a purpose.
  • Understanding variation can be separated into common cause (uncontrollable, e.g. inherent in the design and structure of the system) and special cause (assignable and controllable). Failure to understand variation increases variation.
  • Theory of knowledge espouses that information is not by itself knowledge. Knowledge is not possible without an understanding of theory from which experience alone does not provide. Knowledge provides for the analysis of cause and effect relationship that can be used for prediction.
  • Psychology seeks to understand how people work in systems with the caveat that neither fear nor pay is a motivator of individuals.

If there is a tenet of Dr. Deming that has long term applicability his elements of profound knowledge are it – especially the point regarding the “theory of knowledge”.  Examples of the theory of knowledge include, but are not limited to, training customer service representatives on human psychology linked to how customers act with respect to the purchasing experience (e.g. how to handle a disappointed customer, how to handle an irate customer, etc.) as opposed to training that is experienced based only (e.g. on-the-job training).  In a product, the “theory of knowledge” might include helping employees understand the science of their work (e.g. how a product is used and misused by the user) and the purpose of the final product (e.g. how does a MRI actually work).





Joseph Juran

Juran advocated is keeping score – this makes sense because if we do not measure our progress, how do we know if we are winning the game?  Keeping score would require that leadership set up a measurement process focused on the key areas of quality success. Just setting up the process, however, is only a small part. Leadership would also have to develop and support an organizational culture that is focused on practicing diligence in securing the measurements and developing and implementing corrective action plans to improve quality.

The Juran strategy includes:

  • Build awareness for the need and opportunity for improvement
  • Set goals for improvement
  • Organize people to reach the goals
  • Provide training throughout the organization
  • Carry out projects to solve the problems
  • Report progress
  • Give recognition
  • Communicate results
  • Keep score
  • Maintain momentum by making annual improvement part of the regular systems and processes of the company

Juran also developed a Quality Trilogy, that includes:

Quality Planning

  • identify the customer – both internal and external
  • determine customer needs
  • develop product features that respond to customer needs
  • establish quality goals that meet the needs of customers and suppliers alike, and do so a minimum combined cost
  • develop a process that can produce the needed product features
  • prove process capability

Quality Control

  • choose control subjects
  • choose units of measurement
  • establish measurement
  • establish standards of performance
  • measure actual performance
  • interpret the difference (actual vs. standard)
  • take action on the difference

Quality Improvement

  • prove the need for improvement
  • identify specific projects for improvement
  • organize to guide the projects
  • organize for diagnosis – for discovery of causes
  • find the causes
  • provide remedies
  • prove that the remedies are effective under operating conditions
  • provide control mechanisms to hold the gains

Juran was proponent of setting stretch goals. Stretch goals cannot be met unless the pace of the learning curve is increased dramatically. In order to meet stretch goals Juran believed:

  • Clear ownership of multifunctional processes must be assigned
  • An infrastructure for improvement must be created (high-level quality council, teaching employees to works teams)
  • A lot of work is required
  • Upper managers must personally lead the efforts
  • The Taylor system must be replaced
  • Quality goals must be incorporated into the business plan


Phillip Crosby

Crosby’s philosophy espouses leadership commitment as a very important step to quality management.  In order for upper management to be committed, they have to thoroughly understand what the desired direction is, and then they would have to model the organizational behaviors to meet the goals and objectives espoused the agreed upon direction of the organization.

  • Quality means conformance to requirements, not elegance. Crosby saw requirements as being ironclad; they are communication devices which must be clearly stated so that they cannot be misunderstood. Once this is done, a company can take measurements to determine conformance to those requirements.
  • Crosby maintained there is no such thing as a quality problem. Problems must be identified by those individuals or departments that cause them, so there are accounting problems, manufacturing problems, logic problems, algebra problems, etc.
  • There is no such thing as the economics of quality; it is always cheaper to do the job right the first time. Most of us will remember this one as a frequent and rather annoying axiom, used by our mothers’ every time we had to perform some complicated chore, such as changing a light bulb or filling an ice tray. Crosby supports the premise that “economics of quality” has no meaning. Quality is free. What costs money are all actions that involve not doing jobs right the first time.
  • The only performance measurement is the cost of quality. The cost of quality is the expense of nonconformance. Crosby’s program calls for measuring and publicizing the cost of poor quality.
  • The only performance standard is “Zero Defects.” Zero Defects is a performance standard, NOT a motivational program. The idea behind ZD is to do it right the first time, to concentrate on preventing defects rather than just finding and fixing them.

Crosby also had a 14-point program that included:

  1. Management Commitment
  2. Quality Improvement Teams
  3. Quality Measurement
  4. Cost of Quality Evaluation
  5. Quality Awareness
  6. Corrective Action
  7. Ad Hoc Committee for the Zero Defects Program
  8. Supervisor Training
  9. Zero Defects Day
  10. Goal Setting
  11. Error Cause Removal
  12. Recognition
  13. Quality Councils
  14. Do It All Over Again

Crosby took quite a few “jabs” relative to his ZD approach – but mostly from those that failed to fully understand the ZD concept.  ZD is about 3 focal areas – 1) setting requirements, 2) establishing processes, and 3) believing perfection is possible.  ZD starts with the definition of requirements and the establishment of processes – as a function of the value trait and as a function of the importance of the failure.  For example – 1) we do not expect a $5 shirt to last forever – the requirement is for the $5 shirt to last for one year – and if it does then we have had a ZD experience, and 2) we certainly do not expect critical equipment to function perfectly (e.g. an aircraft engine or a deoxygenater used during open heart surgery) so we plan for failure – so we have back-up in place (airplanes can fly on a solo engine, deoxygenaters have parallel paths in that the blood flow can follow) – if the back-ups systems work then we have a ZD experience – if they do not than we do NOT have a ZD experience (e.g. the backflow preventer in the BP oil spill).  Finally, we must believe that achieving ZD is possible – if we believe we are going to fail – we will fail.  Crosby knew the achievement of quality was both a technical and a human approach.

Arthur Feigenbaum – Feigenbaum proposed that organizations focus on and utilize employee involvement as a major factor in quality management.  The old styles of “silo” management, where there are a lot of hierarchical levels in the decision-making process, would not work in Feigenbaum’s approach. Rather, the organizational structure would have to be focused on allowing the employees to make rapid decisions without consulting the managers. This would also require a specific culture to support the concept of employee involvement.

There are many more steps to each of the above quality management philosophers and there are also many more philosophers to review. Enjoy the text readings on them.

Feigenbaum had a three-point plan for quality:

  • Quality Leadership: management must maintain a continuous focus and lead the quality effort, reaction management must be minimized
  • Modern Quality Technology: total employee involvement is required to solve quality problems
  • Organizational Commitment: continuous training is the key to continuous quality success


  • Quality begins with and ends with education.
  • The first step in quality is to know the requirements of the customer.
  • The ideal state of quality control is when inspection is no longer necessary.
  • Remove the root causes, not the symptoms.
  • Quality is the responsibility of all workers and all divisions.
  • Do not confuse the means with the objectives.
  • Put quality first and set your sights on long-term profits.
  • Marketing is the entrance and exit of quality.
  • Top management must not show anger when subordinates present facts.
  • Ninety-five percent of problems in a company can be solved with simple tools for analysis and problem solving.
  • Data without dispersion information are false data.

Shingo focused on mistake proofing in his quality approach. The four elements of mistake proofing:

  • Elimination – the elimination of the defect from occuring. For example, ATMs that do not allow one to insert their ATM card – in effect it is impossible to have the defect of leaving the ATM card in the machine
  • Facilitation – the use of a guidance document to help prevent defects from occuring. For example, a checklist or a standard operating procedure.
  • Flagging – the detection of a defect before it reaches the customer. For example, an on-line bar code scanner to detect the application of a product label after the label has been applied in manufacturing but before the product is delivered to the customer.
  • Mitigation – the acknowledgement that the defect cannot be prevented to which mitigation is needed. For examples, the seatbelts in your car are mitigation devices – the accident cannot be prevented but the potential harm to the customer can be mitigated.

Roberson – Roberson developed the Wisdom to Tradition (W2T) model – which shows that change happens as a function of organizational tradition (the dependent variable) as supported by four (series) independent variables (wisdom, strategy, action, and accountability).





Tradition:  This is the starting point of the Wisdom to Tradition model.  Every organization has traditions; traditions which embody the culture of the organization.  Tradition has many indicators – from the way an organization designs, builds, distributes and services their products and services to how the organization treats their stakeholders.  It is critical that the traditions of the organization be understood, at a deep level, before any attempt is made to deploy the Wisdom to Tradition Model.


Wisdom:  Every individual and organization has some level of wisdom based upon historical knowledge and experience.  Wisdom can either be purchased (by hiring from outside, using consultants, through external training and more) or it can be developed internal to the organization.  It is critical that the organization attract and develop the proper wisdom at the proper internal to external ratio.


Strategy:  A top level strategy (goals, objectives, long-term planning, etc.) should be developed using the collective wisdom of the organization.  The better the wisdom of the organization, the better the strategy will be.


Action:  Strategy drives action; which in the Wisdom to Tradition model is defined as the tactical plans developed to support the strategy.  Tactical plans must be specific in nature; detailed actions with timelines and with individuals assigned as accountable.


Accountability:  Actions require accountability – accountability is the achievement of the plan; on schedule, in a detailed and defensible manner.  Accountability only works when achieving the plan is rewarded; and failure to achieve the plan is punished.


Tradition:  Understanding the tradition of the organization, and then utilizing the steps of wisdom, strategy, action and accountability helps transform the traditions of the organization.  At first the transformation may be small; yet any movement as a designed function of the Wisdom to Tradition model is good – eventually leading to an organization tradition structure that is sustainable – that provides a competitive advantage for the organization.  The next step in the model, wisdom, is affected by the traditions of the firm – and the model repeats itself over and over again.




  1. must never lose sight that quality is part of the organization; quality is not the sole reason for the organization to exist
  2. must establish a quality system that the organization can understand and implement
  3. must understand the rules that govern how the organization must behave
  4. must know the products and services that the organization provides; both their use and misuse
  5. must not make decisions on over-simplified information
  6. must take proper actions in a timely manner
  7. gets other leaders to be an active part of the quality systems of the organization
  8. must look for signs of change in the organization before the organization experiences the change; then takes the necessary actions to prevent any unwanted anticipated change from damaging the organization
  9. understands the organization’s quality intelligence and maturity and the relative impact on the quality systems of the organization
  10. establishes quality as a career growth path in the organization

Dr. Roberson believes that quality management is a process based approach (W2T) that focuses on changing the traditions of organizations to match the current organizational environment – driven by strategy and actions set by the proper wisdom of the organization and enforced through a strong accountability process.  His views on the responsibilities of quality leaders embody the independent variables of the W2T model.


The Malcolm Baldrige (MB) Award Criteria was established to improve competitiveness of US Businesses.  In the second term of President Obama, the funding for the MB award was eliminated – the future of the MB award will depend on private funding from participating organizations.

The primary purposes of the MB award are to:

  • Help stimulate American companies to improve quality and productivity for the pride of recognition while obtaining a competitive edge through increased profits.
  • Recognize the achievements of those companies that improve the quality of their goods and services and provide an example to others.
  • Establish guidelines and criteria that can be used by business, industrial, governmental, and other enterprises in evaluating their own quality improvement efforts.
  • Provide specific guidance for other American enterprises that wish to learn how to manage for high quality by making available detailed information on how winning enterprises were able to change their cultures and achieve eminence.

The MB Award scoring system is a rigorous, multi-stage process, whereby up to 15 examiners review and score each application, commenting on strengths and weaknesses of each examination item. Each examination item is evaluated on approach / deployment and / or results. Approach refers to the methods a company uses to achieve the requirements addressed in each category.  Deployment refers to the extent to which approaches are applied to all relevant areas.

Following the scoring process, the examiners come to consensus and provide the report to judges so that they can determine the companies that go into the next stage, which is a site visit. During the site visit, the examiners spend up to five days to verify and validate what was scored in the application.  This is an intense process.  At the end the site visit the examiners prepare a site visit summary report which will be used by the MB judges to select the winners. Each examiner is a volunteer who spends roughly about 100 -120 hours a year on the MB effort.

There are various other awards that exist at local and state level as well as at international level.  Most state award programs utilize the MB Criteria.  No matter what the award structure is, a key focus every organization should consider is that these award criteria allow for self-assessment and continuous improvement; which ultimately leads to customer satisfaction.


The quality award concept can be very helpful to organizations – the quality award concept is more widely used than most people think – as organizations will often use the quality award criteria to establish their own internal quality awards.

Here are some points relative to quality awards that you might find interesting:

  • Most state awards use a leveled approach (i.e. where there are 3 levels that are recognized; e.g. governor’s level, etc.). This allows a firm to see progression in their quality journey. The MB does not do this as they allow only 3 winners (maximum) in each category a year. Yet, the MB has no problem with getting applicants – whereas state quality awards typically see about 15 – 50 applicants a year (depending on the state size).
  • The cost of applying for a quality award is relatively low (for the application) yet the time invested the first year can be high (time taken to prepare the report). Yet, after the first year the cost minimizes as the next year’s report can be utilized as a base. If a firm does a representative job (by this I mean they have fairly represented their firm but not put in all the detail that would have taken significant extra time), the reward is the feedback provided by the award committee.
  • Typically, at the state level, an organization can request a site visit and pay only for the travel of the quality award committee (so the labor is free!). Another great gift — a chance to have professionals on site who have experience in the business community to offer insight on the organization.
  • Another way to use the quality award process is to pick out a quality award where the organization needs to improve; e.g. if an organization wants to improve in mistake proofing, the Shingo award is a great way to improve. So, by using the tenets of the Shingo mistake proofing award a firm can improve using a tested and proven process, then they can judge their performance using the Shingo award process. This same argument would hold true for other awards.
  • Benchmarking — each award publishes their results and many hold conferences. This is a great way to learn how others have used the award process to improve. Relative to the MB award, a firm can purchase (for less than $100) the applications of the winners (with competitive information removed) and a DVD with examples of the best practices of the winners — a great way to benchmark for very little cost!



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