Defining Quality: A Dept. of Commerce Case Study

Defining Quality: A Dept. of Commerce Case Study

What is the definition of “quality?” Well, that’s a question the Department of Commerce had as well. The following is a quick case study on how better defining the meaning of a word changed the name of a well-known award.


The Malcom Baldrige National Quality Award was created in 1987 by the Department of Commerce to recognize businesses in the U.S. who embodied superior quality. Over the years, the definition of quality had expanded, prompting the organization to re-evaluate the name of the award to keep it current and aligned with the strategic changes that have been made in the award’s criteria and in professional organizations.


Optimization Group conducted a two-phased study to help the Baldrige program define a new name. First, Optimization Group conducted online brainstorming sessions across US-based companies asking participants a series of questions on defining quality, what defines a well-run organization and the value of receiving recognition from the Baldrige program. The result of that research suggested that three factors are most associated with quality…

  • Performance Excellence
  • Exceeding Expectations
  • Organizational Integrity

Based on these findings, the Baldrige program created a number of names and key messaging options. Optimization Group utilized a proprietary conjoint study called IdeaMap® to test these new elements. As part of the research, Optimization Group also conducted a Brand Impact Analysis to determine if there were any positive interactive effects as a result of combining each name candidate with the key messages.


As a result of this research, the award name was changed to the Malcolm Baldrige Performance Excellence Award…a name that was approved by Congress in 2009.

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