- The 8 dimensions of quality are used at a strategic level to analyze the product or service quality characteristics. They were first described by Harvard Business School Professor David A. Garvin in 1987.
- Instead of defensive measures to pre-empt quality control, Garvin proposed that American companies take a more aggressive stance where quality itself would be the basis of product differentiation and a competitive strategy to secure market share.
- The 8 dimensions of quality are performance, features, reliability, conformance, durability, serviceability, aesthetics, and perceived quality. Some dimensions are mutually reinforcing, while others are not.
Understanding the 8 dimensions of quality
The 8 dimensions of quality were created by Harvard Business School Professor David A. Garvin.
In a November 1987 article published in the Harvard Business Review, Garvin noted that almost 50% of American consumers believed the quality of American products had dropped in the previous five years.
Garvin believed this was because too many industries were focused on defensive measures that identified and eliminated errors or defects ahead of time.
Instead of defensive measures that were too narrow in scope, Garvin proposed that U.S. companies take a more aggressive stance where quality itself would become a competitive linchpin used to gain and secure market share.
To achieve this today, business managers need to see quality as a business strategy and then break it down into smaller niches to determine markets where the company could realistically enter and compete.
Managers also need a detailed understanding of how their customers perceive product quality before determining which dimensions to target.
Garvin’s 8 dimensions of quality
Some of these dimensions are mutually reinforcing, while some products could score well for one dimension and poorly for another.
1 – Performance
Performance refers to the primary operating traits of a product that are specified by the manufacturer.
In a new vehicle, for example, performance may encompass top speed, cabin noise, and fuel economy.
Performance is a way to rank brands objectively using specific attributes. A car with no cabin noise will outperform one where the noise is louder. However, in some cases, performance is harder to define.
A 200W LED is more powerful than a 100W LED, but few consumers would equate the increase in brightness with extra quality.
2 – Features
Examples listed by Garvin in 1987 include free alcohol on an aircraft and the automatic tuner in a color television.
Like performance characteristics, features involve objective and measurable attributes.
3 – Reliability
This describes the ability of a product or service to perform as expected without instances of failure or malfunction.
Reliability tends to be measured by:
- The mean time to the first failure.
- The mean time between the first and subsequent failures, and
- The failure rate per unit of time.
Reliability tends to become more important to consumers as downtime and maintenance become more expensive.
4 – Conformance
These standards may relate to the purity of raw materials or whether a specific product’s features are as described.
In terms of quality, conformance means that products and services operate within a target specification range with a small deviation in quality to either side permitted.
5 – Durability
Durability is simple to measure in a product such as a light bulb because when the filament breaks, there is no prospect of it being repaired.
In products that can be repaired, however, durability is more difficult to measure.
Garvin posited that durability could be defined as “the amount of use one gets from a product before it breaks down and replacement is preferable to continued repair.”
6 – Serviceability
Serviceability describes the ease with which a product can be fixed. Is the process convenient?
Is the individual or company performing the repair competent and courteous? Do multiple calls or interactions need to occur before the problem is fixed?
Consumers will also judge serviceability on the time it takes for a product or service to be restored to its previous functionality.
7 – Aesthetics
The aesthetics of a product are one of the most subjective aspects of quality.
Many of us can remember a new vehicle we considered ugly which another person has just paid $50k for.
In addition to the look of a product, aesthetics also deals with other subjective factors such as how it feels, smells, tastes, or sounds.
In this dimension of quality, Garvin noted that it was impossible to please all consumers.
8 – Perceived quality
Like its aesthetics, the perceived quality of a product is another subjective measure.
This measure tends to arise when consumers do not possess all the necessary information about other measures of product or service quality.
Durability, for example, can seldom be observed directly and must instead be deduced from other sources such as product reviews, warranty information, and the broader perceptions or inferences around the brand itself.