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We study the quantum channel version of Shannon's zero-error capacity problem. Motivated by recent progress on this question, we propose to consider a certain linear space operators as the quantum generalisation of the adjacency matrix, in terms of which the plain, quantum and entanglement-assisted capacity can be formulated, and for which we show some new basic properties. Most importantly, we define a quantum version of Lovász' famous υ function, as the norm-completion (or stabilisation) of a “naive” generalisation of υ. We go on to show that this function upper bounds the number of entanglement-assisted zero-error messages, that it is given by a semidefinite programme, whose dual we write down explicitly, and that it is multiplicative with respect to the natural (strong) graph product. We explore various other properties of the new quantity, which reduces to Lovász' original υ in the classical case, give several applications, and propose to study the linear spaces of operators associated to channels as “non-commutative graphs”, using the language of operator systems and Hilbert modules.