This article provides a practical explanation of the eight dimensions of quality by David A.Garvin. After reading, you’ll understand the basics of this powerful management tool.
Who defined the eight dimensions of quality?
The eight dimensions of quality were defined by David A. Garvin, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 64. Garvin was a Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business school and his publications on quality were based on his research on U.S. manufacturers. On the 4th of March, 2018, he was also honoured with the prestigious award for his contribution to the Case of Method.
What are the eight dimensions of quality?
A quality product is a product that meets the expectations of the customers. The eight dimensions of quality help producers to meet these expectations. It is a strategic management tool that can be used as a framework to analyse characteristics of quality. The eight dimensions are performance, features, reliability, conformance, durability, serviceability, aesthetics, and perceived quality.
Performance has to do with the expected operating characteristics of a product or service. Does a service or product do what it’s supposed to do? The primary operating characteristics involve measurable elements, which makes it easier to objectively measure the performance. Some of the performance requirements are related to subjective preferences, but when they are the preference of almost every consumer they become as powerful as an objective requirement.
What the dimension ‘performance’ doesn’t focus on are the features, the characteristics that decide how appealing a product or service is to the consumer. Such features are the extras of a product or service and complement its basic functioning. This means that the ones designing a product or service should be familiar with the end-users and should be updated on developments in consumer preferences. Often it’s difficult to see a clear line between primary performance attributes and additional features.
An example of features in service is offering free drinks on a plane. An example of features in products is adding a drink cooler in the car.
Reliability is usually closely related to performance. The focus of the dimension reliability is more on how long a product will perform consistently according to the specifications of that product. This is important to customers who need the product to work without any errors and contributes to a brand or company’s image. The dimension reliability shows the probability of the product having signs of error within a specific time of period. For measuring reliability you should measure the time to the first failure, how much time there is between failures, and the failure rate per a specific time of period. These measures are usually applied to products that are expected to last for a longer time and not so much for products that are meant to be used directly and for a shorter time period. Usually when the costs for maintenance or downtime increase, reliability as a dimension of quality becomes more important to consumers.
For example, for parents with children who depend on a car, the reliability of the car becomes an important element. Also for most farmers, reliability is a key attribute. This group of consumers is sensitive to downtime, especially during the shorter harvest seasons. For a farmer, reliable equipment can be crucial in preventing spoiled crops. Also, the reliability of computers is key for many consumers.
This dimension is closely related to the dimensions performance and features. The dimension of conformance is about to what extent the product or service conforms to the specifications. Does it function and have all the features as specified? Every product and service has some sort of specifications that comes with it. For example, the materials used or the dimensions of a product can be specified and set as a target specification for the product. Something that can also be defined in the specification is the tolerance, which states how much a product is allowed to deviate from the target. Problematic with this approach is that it makes it easier for producers to focus less on if the specifications have been met as long as they’ve met the tolerance limits.
When it comes to service businesses, conformance is measured by focussing on the accuracy, the number of processing errors, unexpected delays and other common mistakes.
Out of the eight dimensions of quality, the dimension durability is about how long a product will last or perform and under what conditions it will perform. Estimating the length of a product’s life becomes complicated when it’s possible to repair the product. For such products, the durability will be counted until it is no longer economically beneficial to use it. This is when the repairs and the costs of repairing increase. Customers then must weigh the costs for future repairs against the costs of investing in a new one together with its operating expenses. In other cases, durability is measured by the amount someone can use a product before it stops working and repair is impossible. This, for example, is the case when a light bulb burns up and must be replaced by a new one. In this case, repairing it is impossible.
Serviceability is one of the eight dimensions of quality that reflects on if the product is relatively easy to maintain and repair. This becomes important for consumers who are more focused on the total cost of ownership as criteria for selecting a product. Serviceability reflects on how easy it is for the consumer to obtain repair service, how responsive the service personnel is, and how reliable the service is. It also focuses on the speed with which a product can be repaired and also the competence and behaviour of the personnel.
Customer’s concerns are mainly about the product getting defects, but also how long it takes for the product to be repaired. It is not only important if a product can be fixed, but also how satisfied the customer is about the company’s complaint handling procedures. This can affect how the customer evaluates the service quality and eventually the company’s reputation. Each company has a different way of dealing with complaint handling and not every company attaches the same level of importance to serviceability. For example, there are companies that do their best to resolve the complaints they receive, while others don’t offer any service when it comes to complaints. An example of improving a company’s serviceability is by installing a cost-free phone number to reach the helplines.
The aesthetics dimension is all about the way a product looks and contributes to the company’s identity or a brand. Aesthetics is not only about how a product looks but also about how it feels, tastes, smells or sounds. This is clearly determined by individual preference and personal judgement, however, there is a way to measure this dimension. There are some clear patterns found in the way consumers rank products based on personal taste. Still, the aesthetics of a product is not as universal as the dimension ‘performance’. Not all people prefer the same taste or smell, which makes it impossible to please every single customer. For this reason, companies end up searching for a niche.
The perception of something is not always reality. Meaning that a product or service can have high scores on each of the seven dimensions of quality, but still receive a bad rating from customers as a result of negative perceptions from customers or the public. Customers sometimes lack information about a service or product and for comparing brands will rely on indirect reviews. This is usually the case when it comes to a product’s durability because in most cases it can’t be observed directly. Also, reputation plays a significant role when it comes to perceived quality. It’s easier for a customer to trust the quality of a company’s new product when the established products received positive reviews.
Competing on the Eight Dimensions of Quality
For a company to apply all eight dimensions at the same time is not always possible. Some dimensions can reinforce one another, while others can’t. An improvement in one dimension can result in a decline in the other dimension. Another reason why it’s not always possible to pursue all dimensions is because of the costs of investment, which could lead to unreasonable prices for the customer. Therefore, understanding which trade-offs among the eight dimensions are preferred by the customers can lead to a competitive advantage.
As a strategic management tool the eight dimensions of quality, as defined by David A. Garvin, help producers to meet the expectations of its customers. This tool can be applied to products and services and consists of the following eight dimensions. The first one is performance and refers to the primary operating characteristics of a product or service. The second one, features, focusses on additional elements of a product or service that improve the customers appeal to it.
Measuring quality along the lines of reliability is the third dimension. The fourth dimension, conformance, measures to what extent the product or service meets the standards that are specified. Also measuring the length of a product’s life determines the quality of a product and falls under the dimension durability. The sixth dimension, serviceability, is all about the service provided after a product breaks down. For this dimension, quality will be measured by the speed of the service, the competence and the behaviour of the service providers.
Aesthetics is the most subjective dimension of the eight and focuses on the individual’s preference. The last dimension is about the quality ranking that has been given for a product or service as a result of indirect measures. Using the eight dimensions of quality while understanding the preferences of the customer can lead to a competitive advantage.
Now it’s your turn
What do you think? Do you recognise the explanation of Garvin’s Eight Dimensions of Quality? Which of the eight dimensions are you familiar with? Have you ever applied one or more dimensions when buying or selling a product? Which of the eight dimensions do you find most important to determine the quality? Do you think more dimensions should be added to measure the quality of a product or service? Which one would you add and why? Do you have any tips or additional comments?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Flynn, B. B., Schroeder, R. G., & Sakakibara, S. (1995). The impact of quality management practices on performance and competitive advantage. Decision Sciences, 26(5), 659-691.
- Garvin, D. A. (1987). Competing on the eight dimensions of quality.
- Kang, J. M., & Park, Y. T. (1998). Extending the Eight Dimensions of Quality. In Proceedings of the Korean Society for Quality Management Conference (pp. 301-308). The Korean Society for Quality Management.
- Sebastianelli, R., & Tamimi, N. (2002). How product quality dimensions relate to defining quality. International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management.
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