Quality, Time, Cost & Flexibility

Competitive Priorities

In 1984 Hayes and Wheelwright suggested that companies compete in the marketplace by virtue of one or more of the following competitive priorities:-

  • Quality
  • Lead-time
  • Cost
  • Flexibility

Many authors and practitioners have added to and adapted this list over the years.

Foo and Friedman (1992) for example proposed a set of six competitive priorities, adding `Service' and `Manufacturing Technology' to the above while expanding `Time' into:

  • `time to market' and
  • `lead times'.

Others have added

  • `Innovation',
  • `Dependability' etc.


Quality, time, cost and flexibility can be defined in various different ways to include, for example:


Dimensions of quality:

  • Performance - the primary operating characteristics.
  • Features - optional extras (the "bells" and "whistles").
  • Reliability - likelihood of breakdown.
  • Conformance - conformance to specification.
  • Technical durability - length of time before the product becomes obsolete.
  • Serviceability - ease of service
  • Aesthetics - look, smell, feel, taste.
  • Perceived quality - reputation.
  • Value for money.

Dimensions of time:

  • Manufacturing lead time.
  • Due date performance.
  • Rate of product introduction.
  • Delivery lead time.
  • Frequency of delivery.

Dimensions of price and cost:

  • Manufacturing cost.
  • Value added.
  • Selling price.
  • Running cost - cost of keeping the product running.
  • Service cost - cost of servicing the product.
  • Profit.

Dimensions of flexibility

  • Material quality - ability to cope with incoming materials of varying quality.
  • Output quality - ability to satisfy demand for products of varying quality.
  • New product - ability to cope with the introduction of new products.
  • Modification - ability to modify existing products.
  • Deliverability - ability to change delivery schedules.
  • Volume - ability to accept varying demand volumes.
  • Product mix - ability to cope with changes in the product mix.
  • Resource mix - ability to cope with changes in the resource mix.




  • Hayes, Robert H., and Wheelwright, Steven C., Restoring Our Competitive Edge: Competing Through Manufacturing. New York: John Wiley, 1984.
  • Foo, G., Friedman, D.J., 1992, "Variability and Capability: The Foundation of Competitive Operations Performance", AT&T; Technical Journal, July/August, pp 2-9.


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