The definition of quality is often a hotly debated topic. While it may seem intuitive, when we get right down to it, “quality” is a difficult concept to define with any precision. The most fundamental definition of a quality product is one that meets the expectations of the customer. However, even this definition is too high level to be considered adequate. In order to develop a more complete definition of quality, we must consider some of the key dimensions of a quality product or service.
Dimension 1: Performance
Does the product or service do what it is supposed to do, within its defined tolerances? Performance is often a source of contention between customers and suppliers, particularly when deliverables are not adequately defined within specifications. The performance of a product often influences profitability or reputation of the end-user. As such, many contracts or specifications include damages related to inadequate performance.
Dimension 2: Features
Does the product or services possess all of the features specified, or required for its intended purpose?
While this dimension may seem obvious, performance specifications rarely define the features required in a product. Thus, it’s important that suppliers designing product or services from performance specifications are familiar with its intended uses, and maintain close relationships with the end-users.
Dimension 3: Reliability
Will the product consistently perform within specifications?
Reliability may be closely related to performance. For instance, a product specification may define parameters for up-time, or acceptable failure rates.
Reliability is a major contributor to brand or company image, and is considered a fundamental dimension of quality by most end-users.
Dimension 4: Conformance
Does the product or service conform to the specification?
If it’s developed based on a performance specification, does it perform as specified? If it’s developed based on a design specification, does it possess all of the features defined?
Dimension 5: Durability
How long will the product perform or last, and under what conditions?
Durability is closely related to warranty. Requirements for product durability are often included within procurement contracts and specifications. For instance, fighter aircraft procured to operate from aircraft carriers include design criteria intended to improve their durability in the demanding naval environment.
Dimension 6: Serviceability
Is the product relatively easy to maintain and repair?
As end users become more focused on Total Cost of Ownership than simple procurement costs, serviceability (as well as reliability) is becoming an increasingly important dimension of quality and criteria for product selection.
Dimension 7: Aesthetics
The way a product looks is important to end-users. The aesthetic properties of a product contribute to a company’s or brand’s identity. Faults or defects in a product that diminish its aesthetic properties, even those that do not reduce or alter other dimensions of quality, are often cause for rejection.
Dimension 8: Perception
Perception is reality. The product or service may possess adequate or even superior dimensions of quality, but still fall victim to negative customer or public perceptions. As an example, a high quality product may get the reputation for being low quality based on poor service by installation or field technicians. If the product is not installed or maintained properly, and fails as a result, the failure is often associated with the product’s quality rather than the quality of the service it receives.
It should be obvious from the discussion above that the individual dimensions of quality are not necessarily distinct. Depending on the industry, situation, and type of contract or specification several or all of the above dimensions may be interdependent. When designing, developing or manufacturing a product (or delivering a service) the interactions between the dimensions of quality must be understood and taken into account.
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While these dimensions may not constitute a complete list of relevant dimensions, taking them into consideration should provide us with a better understanding of the slippery concept of quality.
What other dimensions can you think of?