Garvin's 8 Dimensions of Quality

Finding Out What Quality Means to Your Customer

Garvin's 8 Dimensions of Quality - Finding Out What Quality Means to Your Customer


How distorted is your view of your product's quality?

Quality and quality management are vitally important for every successful manager, as they lie at the heart of good business practice. Yet "quality" is a highly subjective attribute: one person's required standard is another's pointless perfectionism.

So, how can you judge quality in your workplace? Your own views are usually pretty easy to define with a little careful thought, but how about those of your team members, clients or customers?

This article looks at a model that breaks "quality" down into defined, manageable chunks that you can target to grow your business.

What Is "Quality"?

There are many quality management models that can help you to improve your processes and systems. But first you need to know what you're aiming for.

This is where Professor David Garvin's 8 Dimension of Quality comes in. The model helps you to understand quality, and allows you to find out what it means to your key stakeholders, too. After all, you might not agree!

What the Customer Wants

Garvin published his model in the Harvard Business Review in 1987, a time when U.S. consumers were no longer confident about the quality of U.S.-made products. But it remains applicable decades later.

He felt that traditional quality management methods were flawed, because they aim to protect customers from what they don't want, by avoiding faults and delays, for example. Instead, he argued that businesses should focus on finding out how to actively please their customers by delivering more of what they do want.

Garvin argued that you'll always need your customers' approval to succeed, whatever standards you might set for yourself. So, his model helps you to look at those customers' perceptions of the quality of your own and your competitors' services or products. According to Garvin, you can develop "an aggressive strategy to gain or hold markets" if you judge quality in this way. He said, "Quality is not simply a problem to be solved; it is a competitive opportunity."

Let's take a look at the eight aspects or dimensions of quality that Garvin identified, and then consider how you can apply them.

Understanding the 8 Dimensions

Garvin suggests that there are eight areas that customers experience, judge and add together to arrive at their overall interpretation of quality. They are:

  1. Performance. This refers to a product's main use – how good is it, objectively, compared with the competition? Garvin gives the examples of a car's acceleration and handling, or a television's sound and picture clarity.
  2. Features. These are the "bells and whistles" of products and services. They're secondary to the main use but sometimes they're equally or more important to customers. Garvin's examples include complimentary drinks on a plane.
  3. Reliability. How likely is a product to work properly or not in a specified period? This dimension is more or less important depending on the product's or service's purpose – for example, you're trusting your life to your vehicle's tires, so you need them to be highly reliable.
  4. Conformance. How well and how consistently does your product or service meet established standards? Garvin's thoughts about this dimension were influenced by Genichi Taguchi's ideas. Statistician Taguchi challenged the assumption that a product either passes or fails. He showed that sales fall gradually, following a precisely predictable pattern, as conformance worsens. Examples of poor conformity include misspelled labels, delays in delivery, and processing errors.
  5. Durability. This is a measure of product life – how much use a customer gets from a product before it deteriorates, becomes redundant, or is no longer worth the cost of repair. A pair of beach shoes only needs to last a season, for example, but a piano should outlive its owner.
  6. Serviceability. How quickly and easily can the product be brought back into action after it breaks down? Here, Garvin considered both technical repair and how customer care and complaints are handled.
  7. Aesthetics. More and more products and services routinely provide the first six dimensions to a high standard, so this very subjective dimension is becoming increasingly important. Your product's look, smell, taste, feel, or sound might be the only quality that differentiates it from another.
  8. Perceived Quality. Customers' conclusions are drawn from the product's various tangible and intangible aspects, ranging from how heavy a laptop might be to its brand and associated advertising, for example. Garvin said, "Reputation is the primary stuff of perceived quality."

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How to Use Garvin's Model

You can apply Garvin's 8 Dimensions of Quality to any part of your work that requires customer buy-in. So your first step is to define who your customers are and what they're buying.

The answers might seem obvious, but remember that corporate partners, team members, and senior managers can all be "customers" alongside whoever you are actually selling a service or product to. So be sure to research your stakeholders, to segment your market if appropriate, and then to develop evocative personas to help you to keep your customers clearly in mind.

Garvin says that you don't have to satisfy all eight dimensions to gain market advantage and that, in some cases, they can even be mutually exclusive. For example, increasing a car or computer's performance might threaten its reliability. So, decide which of the dimensions are most relevant to your team or organization's work, and how you’re going to measure your performance in each of them.

Carry out some market research to understand what quality means to your different customer groups, and consider using benchmarking to compare your performance with that of your competitors. Now, be honest with yourself about what you need to improve or change for your customers. And what trade-offs might they accept if you can't improve in every area that they care about? This is where tools like Conjoint Analysis and Decision Matrix Analysis may help you to choose between options.

Garvin's model helps you to decide on your goals for delivering great results, rather than for simply not failing. You can then go on to use quality management tools like Deming's 14-Point Philosophy, Total Quality Management (TQM) strategy, or Six Sigma to make the changes that you've decided on.

Key Points

Garvin's 8 Dimensions of Quality was published in the 1980s, but it's still a useful tool today. It states that any service or product needs the customer's approval or buy-in for its success. It helps you to understand how your customers identify and value "quality" in terms of:

  1. Performance.
  2. Features.
  3. Reliability.
  4. Conformance.
  5. Durability.
  6. Serviceability.
  7. Aesthetics.
  8. Perceived Quality.

You can then assess each dimension of your and your competitors' work from your customers' viewpoint, and decide what changes will give you the most competitive advantage. You don't need to address all eight dimensions to achieve good results, and sometimes you won't be able to, as improvement in one dimension may come at the expense of others.


Click on the thumbnail image below to see Garvin's 8 Dimensions of Quality theory represented in an infographic:

Garvin’s Dimensions: Defining Quality Infographic