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The 8 Dimensions of Excellence Framework

The 8 Dimensions of Excellence framework provides a powerful but easy to understand guide for creating a Customer-Centered Culture. It is visually described in the graphic.  The numbering of the 8 Dimensions of Excellence is intentional.  Read it from right to left, starting with the end in mind.  Long-term viability is dependent on success in Dimension 1 first, Dimension 8 last. These 8 Dimensions help us do the following:

  • Strengthen alignment between our values and those of our customers – the voice of the customer (VOC)
  • Balance our goal-setting and measures of success (using balanced scorecards and KPIs)
  • Separate strategic focus (Dimensions 1, 2, 5 & 6) from operational concerns (Dimensions 4, 8)
  • Select the best products for improvement (Dimensions 3, 7): those that create strong linkage between strategic and operational priorities
  • Convert reaction to anticipation and aspiration
  • Shift preoccupation with activity and process (Dimensions 4 & 8) to our deliverables (products) and purpose (outcomes).

Excellence can be defined from either our internal, producer perspective (shared by competitors) or by that of our customers (independent of what we think). We seek to improve the balance between those points of view but our bias is unabashedly from the voice of the customer (VOC) point of view. When in the situation where we are the customer, we have 20/20 vision about the truth. The problem is that it is terribly easy when we are on the other side (of the phone, the desk, the cash register, the web site, etc.) to experience instant amnesia of these customer insights. Self-interest is the explanation for these potentially competing views of reality. Our goal is to create excellence both as a producer and as our customers would wish it.

Customer Priorities

1 – Desired Outcomes

These are their ultimate hopes and their purpose for coming to us: joy, security, personal time, belonging, good health, wealth, certainty, recognition, fulfillment, and respect. How well (and quickly) they get those results through us reveals our effectiveness. If health is an outcome that is a high customer priority, it should be measured. It is interesting to note that we often measure undesired outcomes like mortality (death) and morbidity (new ailments contracted by exposure to the health system). It is then easy to view the absence of those conditions as success. But are people healthy if they don’t die or get sicker? If we don’t know what results customers want to achieve by working with us, our long-term viability is merely chance.

2 – Undesired Outcomes

Undesired outcomes customers want to avoid or eliminate. This includes loss, death, impoverishment, fear, discomfort, waste (time, money, or effort), frustration, sickness, reduced status, stress, taxes, and a host of unwanted conditions. Guard against the assumption that the reduction of an undesired outcome improves satisfaction; it merely reduces dissatisfaction.  The absence is not necessarily wealth.

3 – Product Attributes

Product characteristics customers want.  Ease-of-use, accessibility, low cost of ownership, durability, simplicity, and usefulness are the kinds of characteristics generally wanted. Product refers to any specific deliverable or object that we can give to others, count, and make plural with an “s.”   All work can be defined as products.  All customers are identified by the product(s) they receive.  The variety of products we provide and the characteristics of those products demonstrate our creativity and uniqueness. A good product is one that can be easily used by a customer to predictably create their desired outcome.

4 – Process Characteristics

Our aim is to address process performance in terms customers care about. This would include their time, complexity and cost (both expense and lost opportunity) to acquire the product and make it function easily and effectively. The number of people a customer must contact to solve a problem is a measure of success (or lack thereof). The customer’s priorities for- and experience of- process should be given at least as much attention as Dimension 8. 

Producer Priorities

5 – Desired Outcomes

These are the producer’s desired outcomes. This includes leadership, growth, financial strength, market share, mission fulfillment, and brand dominance.

6 – Undesired Outcomes

Undesired outcomes producers want to avoid or eliminate.  This includes waste, high turnover, financial loss, customer defection, instability, and conflict.

7 – Product Attributes

Product characteristics producers want.  This includes easy to build, low cost to produce, no variability, no maintenance or warranty costs, easy to distribute, consistent, and sustainable .

8 – Process Characteristics

Process characteristics producers want.  This includes process consistency, simplicity, low variation, high productivity and efficiency, comfortable lead times, high yield, and capacity that matches demand. This is where most improvement efforts focus.  A lean, waste-free process for the producer is not necessarily experienced that way by customers.  It is important to distinguish our activity from the customer’s. Our cycle time, unit cost, defect rate and waste can decline because we decided to measure them.

We might compare the 8 Dimensions of Excellence framework to economic supply-and-demand thinking. Dimensions 1-4 represent issues related to customer demand. Dimensions 5-8 are related to supply and production matters the producer cares about. The framework is a succinct but powerful way to identify the critical few areas we must pursue to achieve excellence. Focus on all 8 Dimensions and excellence will be broadly enhanced. Improve a few and excellence will be limited. Dimensions 1-4 address the customer experience, sometimes referred to as voice of the customer (VOC). These are drivers of satisfaction and include leading indicators of organizational success.

8 Dimensions of Excellence Concepts to Consider

1. Initiatives directing change, improvement, productivity, quality, excellence, and related topics have historically focused on how we do work, Dimension 8. It is possible to improve internal processes without customers experiencing any benefit.

2. What we measure is what we value, despite what we may tell ourselves.

3. If excellence is said to be an enterprise value, we will have published numerical goals to achieve within a defined period. Based on Leader’s Actions 7 and 9, how well are our measures aligned with what we value?

4. A balanced scorecard can only be considered balanced if all 8 Dimensions are well measured.

5. The virtues of understanding, defining, and measuring Dimension 1 are many:

  • It is the only one of the eight that is stable over time.
  • It is a strong driver for both excellence and innovation.
  • The absence of Dimension 1 definition makes it very likely there will be no related measures of success or goals.
  • It is positive and aspirational, not focused on deficiencies.
  • It propels strategic direction and invites innovation.
  • It infuses all other dimensions and enterprise initiatives with customer focus.
  • It supports the development of leading indicators.
  • It provides a durable context and broad scope for directing quality improvement initiatives that address Dimensions 3, 7, and 8 via standards (for example, ISO 9001) and methods (for example, Lean, Six Sigma, balanced scorecards, continuous improvement, and so on).

8 Dimensions of Excellence Further Information

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