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How product quality dimensions relate to defining quality

Kania School of Management, University of Scranton, Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA
Keywords Quality, Competitive strategy, Product quality, Manufacturing industry Abstract Uses survey results from a national sample of quality managers to examine the relationship between how a firm defines quality and what product quality dimensions it considers important to its competitive strategy. Garvin proposed a well-known framework for thinking about product quality based on eight dimensions: performance, features, reliability, conformance, durability, serviceability, aesthetics, and perceived quality. Alternative definitions of quality have evolved from five different approaches: transcendent, productbased, user-based, manufacturing-based, and value-based. Of the five approaches to defining quality, the manufacturing firms in our sample subscribed most often to the user-based definition. Using regression analysis within a factor analytic framework, some empirical support was found for hypothesized linkages between the product quality dimensions and the alternative definitions of quality. Specifically, the user-based definition was related significantly to aesthetics and perceived quality, the manufacturing-based definition to conformance, and the productbased definition to performance and features.

Rose Sebastianelli and Nabil Tamimi

International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management, Vol. 19 No. 4, 2002, pp. 442-453. # MCB UP Limited, 0265-671X DOI 10.1108/02656710210421599

Introduction The quality literature is replete with information describing the factors that are instrumental to the successful implementation of total quality management (TQM) (Crosby, 1979; Deming, 1986; Juran and Gryna, 1988). However, the failure of many TQM programs, including those of firms who were recipients of the prestigious Deming and Baldrige quality awards, has generated doubts among many practitioners about the efficacy of TQM programs in transforming organizations. Among the reasons offered for the failure of TQM initiatives is that firms do not measure quality effectively: they lack essential measures to monitor customer satisfaction, employee morale and management leadership (Bettman, 1993; Juran, 1993; Goodman et al., 1994). But before quality can be measured, it must be defined. This is complicated by the fact that no global definition of quality exists. Rather, there are alternative definitions resulting from five major approaches to defining quality: transcendent, product-based, user-based, manufacturing-based, and value-based. These approaches have their roots in varied disciplines. And, as others (Garvin, 1984; Reeves and Bednar, 1994) have noted, these multiple definitions are needed, not only to capture the complexity of the quality construct, but in order for firms to address quality issues that change as products move through various stages, from design, through production to the market.

Garvin (1984; 1987) provides a well-known framework for thinking about product quality that is based on eight dimensions: performance, features, reliability, conformance, durability, serviceability, aesthetics, and perceived quality. While his intent was to offer firms a vocabulary with which to discuss ways to compete strategically on quality, he does argue that these eight dimensions can be used to explain differences among the five traditional approaches to defining quality. Specifically, he postulates ``the product-based approach focuses on performance, features and durability; the user-based approach focuses on aesthetics and perceived quality; and the manufacturing-based approach focuses on conformance and reliability'' (Garvin, 1984, p. 33). Although Garvin's eight-dimensional framework initially appeared in 1984, its relevance for defining product quality is apparent given its continued use in guiding research in this area. In a study conducted by Ahire et al. (1996) to examine the effects of integrated quality management strategies on a firm's product quality, four of Garvin's dimensions (performance, reliability, conformance and durability) were used in measuring the ``product quality' construct. In another study to determine whether a causal relationship exists between multivariate constructs of quality (i.e. customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and employee service quality) and organizational performance, Madu et al. (1995) use ``price,'' ``product features'' and ``product reliability'' as some of the key indicators to operationalize the ``customer satisfaction'' construct. Moreover, we found that quality managers cited, among other responses, Garvin's dimensions of ``reliability,'' ``aesthetics,'' and ``performance'' when answering the open-ended question ``how is quality defined in your primary place of employment?'' (Tamimi and Sebastianelli, 1996). In this study, we examine whether there is a relationship between how a firm defines quality and what product quality dimensions a firm considers important to its competitive strategy. We use data collected from a survey of quality managers who are employed with manufacturing firms. Specifically, we investigate empirically whether there is a link between the five definitions of quality and the eight dimensions of product quality. In addition to exploring these relationships, the paper provides descriptive data from a national sample that helps us understand how firms are defining quality and what product dimensions they consider important for competing on quality. Quality definitions and dimensions The transcendent approach The transcendent definition of quality is derived from philosophy and borrows heavily from Plato's discussion of beauty. From this viewpoint, quality is synonymous with innate excellence. The assumption is that quality is both absolute and universally recognizable. According to Pirsig (1992, p. 73), defining quality as excellence means that it is understood ``ahead of definition

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. . . as a direct experience independent of and prior to intellectual abstractions''. This approach to defining quality is highly subjective. The product-based approach The product-based approach has its roots in economics. Differences in the quantity of some ingredient or attribute possessed by the product are considered to reflect differences in quality (Garvin, 1984). For example, better quality linens have a higher thread count. This view of quality, based on a measurable characteristic of the product rather than on preferences, enables a more objective assessment of quality. The user-based approach In the user-based definition, quality is the extent to which a product or service meets and/or exceeds customers' expectations. This approach is marketingbased, and emerged primarily out of the services marketing literature. As the service sector grew in the US and other economies, the customer's perspective became increasingly more important in determining quality. However, the impact of the ``customer's viewpoint'' can be seen in several of the early definitions and discourses on quality. For example, in the first edition of his Quality Control Handbook, Juran (1951) conceptualized that quality was composed of two parts: the quality of design and the quality of conformance. The ``quality of design,'' in essence, referred to providing satisfaction to customers by designing products that met their needs. He later coined the widely used ``fitness for use'' definition of quality (Juran, 1974). Although subjective and somewhat complex, today the user-based definition is widely accepted and considered one of the key concepts of TQM. The manufacturing-based approach The manufacturing-based approach has its roots in operations and production management. Here quality is defined as conformance to specifications (Crosby, 1979). Quality of conformance relates to the degree to which a product meets certain design standards. This definition has an internal focus, in contrast to the external focus of the user-based approach, and quality is considered an outcome of engineering and manufacturing practices. It is the basis for statistical quality control. Deviations from design specifications result in inferior quality, and consequently increased costs due to scrap, rework or product failure. This definition allows for the precise and objective measurement of quality, although it has limited applicability for services. The value-based approach The value-based definition equates quality with performance at an acceptable price, or alternatively conformance at an acceptable cost. This definition is derived from traditional economic models, and is based on the notion that consumers often consider quality in relation to price. In his first edition of Total Quality Control, Feigenbaum (1951) introduced this idea when he defined


quality as ``best for certain customer conditions . . . the conditions being the actual use and selling price of the product.'' Here, the notion of worth is incorporated into the definition of quality, making this more subjective than objective. Product quality dimensions The eight product quality dimensions are: performance, features, reliability, conformance, durability, serviceability, aesthetics and perceived quality. Garvin's (1984; 1987) definitions for each of these dimensions appear in Table I. Methodology Sample The data for this study was gathered using a mail questionnaire. A national sample of quality control and quality managers was randomly selected from the membership listing of the American Society for Quality (ASQ). A total of 872 questionnaires were mailed (1,000 names were initially selected but those affiliated with firms located outside the USA were eliminated). Survey instrument The questionnaire consisted of four sections. The first section dealt with gathering background information, such as job title of the respondent, size of the organization, and whether or not the firm was involved in TQM. In the second section of the questionnaire, respondents were asked to rate how closely each of five definitions of quality matched that of their own organization on a five-point scale (1 = not at all to 5 = exactly). These definitions represented each of the five traditional approaches (see Table II for exact wording). In the third section, quality control and quality managers from manufacturing firms were asked to indicate how important each of the eight product dimensions was to their organization's competitive strategy on a scale
Dimension Performance Features Reliability Conformance Durability Serviceability Aesthetics Perceived Definition The primary operating characteristics of a product The secondary characteristics of a product that supplement its basic functioning The product's probability of failure-free performance over a specified period of time The degree to which a product's physical and performance characteristics meet design specifications A measure of useful product life, i.e., the amount of use a customer gets from a product before it deteriorates or must be replaced The ease, speed, courtesy, and competence of repair How the product looks, feels, sounds, tastes or smells, a matter of personal preferences Quality based on image, brand name, or advertising rather than product attributes and, of course, is subjectively assessed

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Table I. Garvin's eight product quality dimensions

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Rank 1

Definition User-based Quality is realized when customer satisfaction is maximized because the product/service fits its intended use Manufacturing-based Quality is conformance to specification Product-based Quality is reflected by the level of some measurable product/service attribute Value-based Quality is performance at an acceptable price Transcendent Quality is innate excellence

Mean (n = 150) 4.13

Standard deviation 0.82


2 3 4 5

3.85 3.77 3.54 3.01

0.90 0.82 0.99 1.01

Table II. Mean ratings for quality definitions

of 1 (not important) to 5 (very important). The fourth and final section of the questionnaire consisted of statements that dealt with barriers to implementing TQM (analysis and results for this section are not relevant for this paper and therefore not reported here). The questionnaire was developed using input from regional managers. Students enrolled in our TQM courses used preliminary versions of this questionnaire to complete field projects that involved interviewing managers from regional firms. In this way, we were able to pre-test the questionnaire, and revise it, before using it in a national survey. Some of our classroom results using this instrument have been published (Tamimi and Sebastianelli, 1996). Data analysis In addition to having computed standard descriptive statistics to summarize the survey results, principal components factor analysis was performed on the importance ratings for the product quality dimensions to determine whether the observed correlations among the eight dimensions could be explained by a smaller number. Only factors that accounted for variances greater than one (i.e. eigenvalues >1) were extracted. Varimax rotation, an algorithm that minimizes the number of variables that have high loadings on the orthogonal factors, was used to improve interpretability. In order to determine the effect of these extracted dimensions on how quality is defined, regression analysis was performed using the resulting factor scores as independent variables and each of the five definitions as the dependent variable. Results Respondent profile A total of 188 quality professionals, out of a sample of 872, returned completed, usable questionnaires for an overall response rate of about 22 percent. Of those responding, 150 (80 percent) were with manufacturing firms

and 38 (20 percent) with service firms. Because Garvin's framework deals with ``product'' dimensions, only the results from manufacturing firms were analyzed. In terms of size, the largest percentage of these manufacturing firms (41 percent) were mid-sized, having between 100 to 499 employees; the second highest percentage (20 percent) were large, with more than 1,000 employees. A total of 101 (67 percent) reported that their organizations were involved in TQM, with the average period of involvement for this group being a little over two years. Descriptive statistics Table II contains the mean ratings, and corresponding standard deviations that indicate the level of agreement among respondents, for each of the five alternative definitions of quality. The definition that most closely matches that of the firms surveyed is the user-based, and the one that is the least like how firms actually define quality is the transcendent. The transcendent definition lacks any element of objectivity and is practically impossible to operationalize, so its last place among definitions is not surprising. The user-based definition ranking first shows, to some extent, how firms have embraced TQM and its emphasis on the customer. With its precise, measurable, and objective approach to defining quality, the easily operationalized manufacturing-based definition does receive the second highest mean rating. However, its second place ranking to the user-based definition among manufacturing firms is evidence that firms understand the necessity of including the customer's viewpoint, experience, and satisfaction in defining and measuring the quality of their product. The mean importance ratings of the eight product quality dimensions are reported in Table III. Manufacturing firms rated ``performance'' as the quality dimension most important to competitive strategy. This dimension refers to a product's primary operating characteristics, those characteristics that are central to the way a customer uses the product. The next three product dimensions of importance to manufacturing firms, with mean ratings greater than 4 on a five-point scale, were conformance, perceived quality, and reliability. It is interesting to note that two of the four dimensions most
Rank 1 2 3 4 5 6.5 6.5 8 Dimension Performance Conformance Perceived quality Reliability Durability Aesthetics Features Serviceability Mean (n = 150) 4.58 4.47 4.40 4.30 3.93 3.58 3.58 3.29 Standard deviation 0.64 0.67 0.75 0.98 1.07 1.03 1.06 1.27

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Table III. Mean ratings for product quality dimensions

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important to the competitive strategies of manufacturing firms (performance and perceived quality) directly involve the customer's perspective. Factor analysis Three factors were extracted that accounted for 65.1 percent of the total variation observed among the eight product quality dimensions. Table IV shows the factor analysis results: the factor pattern matrix, i.e. factor loadings between each rotated factor and each product quality dimension, and the total and cumulative variance for each extracted factor. In developing this factor structure, items with loadings less than 0.50 were dropped. The three dimensions loading on Factor I, durability, serviceability and reliability, all relate to a product's useful life once it is in the hands of the customer. This factor does not deal as much with intended use as it does with how much hassle-free use a customer will experience with a product. It ties in with notions of product dependability and availability when needed. Factor II comprises the product quality dimensions of performance and conformance. These are the most objective of the product dimensions, and both relate to the primary characteristics of a product, either meeting performance standards from the user's perspective or meeting design specifications from the firm's perspective. This factor appears to deal more directly with intended use of the product. Finally, perceived quality, aesthetics, and features, are the three product quality dimensions that load on Factor III. These dimensions are the most subjective of the product quality dimensions, and relate to consumer preferences, feelings, and tastes. This factor deals more with product extras, reputation and high-end design elements. To assess the internal consistency of the factors, Cronbach's alpha was computed as a measure of scale reliability. Although the generally acceptable minimum alpha is 0.70, Nunnally (1978) suggests allowing a somewhat lower
Product dimension Rotated factor pattern Durability Serviceability Reliability Conformance Performance Perceived quality Aesthetics Features Principal components statistics Eigenvalue %Variance Cumulative % variance I 0.754 0.727 0.723 Extracted factors II III


0.822 0.694

0.855 0.623 0.593 1.050 13.1 65.1

Table IV. Factor analysis results

2.797 35.0 35.0

1.363 17.0 52.0

threshold, such as 0.50, for exploratory work involving the use of newly developed scales. All three factors had an alpha value larger than 0.50. They were 0.672, 0.531, and 0.549, for Factors I, II, and III, respectively. The relationship between definitions and dimensions In order to determine whether the extracted factors might influence the way quality is defined, regression analysis was performed using the resulting factor scores as input for the independent variables. Five regression models were fitted using the ratings for each of the five definitions of quality as input for the dependent variable. The stepwise procedure was used. The results are presented in Table V. While for each of the definitions, except for the value-based, at least one of the factors was found to be significant, the amount of variance in the definitions explained by their regression equation tended to be low. For the user-based definition, the definition that most closely matched that of the firms surveyed, Factor III (perceived quality, aesthetics, and features) was found to be the significant independent variable. However, it explained only 5 percent of the variability in the definition's ratings. Factor II (conformance, performance) was the only significant independent variable for the manufacturing-based definition, explaining about 18 percent of the variability in its ratings. For the product-based definitions, both Factors II and III were significant, explaining 10 percent of the variance. While the significance of Factor III may initially seem odd, this factor does include the dimension of features. And finally, for the transcendent definition both Factors III and I (durability, serviceability, and reliability) were found to be significant, explaining only about 6 percent of the variance. The factors extracted were interpretable, logical and internally consistent. They helped to explain the correlations among the product quality dimensions. However, examining the theoretical links between the definitions and the dimensions postulated by Garvin may not be easily done within this factor analytic framework. For example, he notes that the product-based definition would emphasize performance, features and durability. These three product quality dimensions loaded on three different factors. So, in order to further examine the relationship between definitions and product quality dimensions,
Definition dependent variable User-based Manufacturing-based Product-based Value-based Transcendent Significant factor(s) independent variable(s) Factor Factor Factor Factor None Factor Factor III II II III III I p-value 0.006 0.000 0.001 0.040 0.033 0.044 R-squared 0.052 0.179 0.101 0.058

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Table V. Regression analysis results

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partial correlations were computed. Specifically, the ratings for each definition were correlated with the ratings for each product dimension controlling for the effects of the remaining seven. Simple correlations coefficients would be misleading, since the product dimensions are interrelated. By using partial correlations, we can measure the portion of variation in the definition that can be attributed uniquely to a given dimension. Statistically significant 7th order partial correlations are presented in Table VI. The results provide some empirical support for the theoretical links proposed by Garvin, and are fairly consistent with those obtained in the factor analytic approach. The user-based definition was found to be related to the dimension of perceived quality, the manufacturing-based definition to conformance, and the product-based to performance. As expected, the transcendent definition was related to the dimension of aesthetics; somewhat unexpected was its significant correlation with conformance. Although the 7th order partial correlations were statistically significant, they tended to be low, falling in the range from 0.178 to 0.383. Likewise, regression analysis using the latent dimensions derived from factor analysis to explain quality definitions yielded relatively low R-squared's (ranging from 0.052 to 0.179). Apparently other variables besides product quality dimensions are important in explaining the variability observed in how firms define quality. Nonetheless, the statistical significance of the 7th order partial correlations is noteworthy. One would expect this approach, when compared to simple correlations, to lead to lower values since it accounts for, and eliminates, the influence of other quality dimensions. Because the factor analysis showed that three latent variables could be used to represent the eight product dimensions, we know that the eight quality dimensions are interrelated. As such, this approach provides a more realistic representation of the association between a quality definition and a particular quality dimension, an association
Quality dimensions Performance Features Reliability Conformance Quality definitions ManufacturingTranscendent Product-based User-based based Value-based 0.271 (p = 0.001) 0.178 (p = 0.037) 0.183 (p = 0.031) 0.383 (p = 0.000)

Table VI. Significant 7th order partial correlations between quality definitions and product quality dimensions

Durability Serviceability Aesthetics Perceived quality

0.252 (p = 0.003)

that would be inflated if the effects of the remaining correlated product dimensions were not partialled out. Discussion and implications Garvin's eight product quality dimensions not only provide a vocabulary that may facilitate the way firms discuss competitive strategies based on quality, but they also provide a means for distinguishing among the various approaches used to define quality. There is some empirical support for the linkages Garvin proposed between his eight quality dimensions and the five multiple definitions of quality. The user-based definition's focus on aesthetics and perceived quality, the manufacturing-based definition's emphasis on conformance, and the product-based definition's focus on performance and features were supported by the data. However, Garvin's postulated linkages between the product-based definition and durability, and between the manufacturing definition and reliability, found no empirical support. Analyzing the product quality dimensions within a factor analytic framework provides some additional insight into the interrelationships between dimensions, and interpreting the factors may help explain why some of Garvin's proposed definition-dimension linkages were not supported by the data. The dimensions that Garvin grouped together in relating to a particular definition did not necessarily load on a common factor. For example, he postulated that performance, features and durability relate to the productbased definition, yet each of these dimensions loaded on a separate factor. Likewise, Garvin suggested that the manufacturing-based definition focused on conformance and reliability, but these two dimensions did not load on the same factor. It appears prima facie that two dimensions like conformance and reliability should be closely related; that a product's reliability depends on how well it conforms to design specifications. However, results from the factor analysis suggest that while conformance relates to the ``intended use'' of the product, reliability relates to the ``hassle-free use'' of the product. These two dimensions are less interrelated with each other than they are with other product quality dimensions. Few studies have attempted to empirically validate quality as a latent variable. Product quality is a complex, multidimensional factor for which a global and unidimensional definition does not exist. It is most likely for this reason that conflicting research results are found when testing the impact of quality on key firm performance measures such as productivity, profit and market share. Moreover, Garvin states that a firm need not pursue all eight dimensions simultaneously; rather they should pursue a selective quality niche. By reducing his eight product quality dimensions into a smaller set of meaningful factors, namely ``hassle-free use,'' ``fit for intended use,'' and ``matching customers' tastes and preferences,'' firms may find it easier to define their niche.

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Using the factor analytic approach also provides some insight into how all of the product dimensions are connected to the customer. The first factor (durability, serviceability, and reliability) seems to relate to how much hasslefree use the customer will derive from a product. The second factor (conformance and performance) deals with how well a product fits the customer's intended use. And finally, the third factor (perceived quality, aesthetics, and features) relates to the customer's preferences for and impressions of a product. In this regard, all of the product quality dimensions are related to the customer and therefore involve some level of subjectivity, although in varying degrees. Firms recognize the need to include the customer perspective in defining quality, as confirmed by the results of this study that show the user-based definition to be the most widely used definition of quality among the manufacturing firms surveyed. It appears that the TQM philosophy, with its unrelenting emphasis on the customer, has had an impact on how firms view quality. However, it is important to realize that no definition of quality, no matter how objective it may appear, is unrelated to the customer viewpoint. Although most firms probably realize this, translating this realization into the actual effective monitoring of customers' expectations, experience, and satisfaction with their product remains a challenge for many firms. Understanding quality in terms of product dimensions may be a step toward developing the necessary measures that could ensure a firm's success with TQM programs, and ultimately ensure a firm's production of high quality products.
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