Some people use the terms quality and excellence interchangeably. My view is in the camp of Bob Lewis’ Bare Bones Change Management, and I believe they carry distinct meanings.
Six Sigma talks about quality as the number defects per million opportunities. Another word, high quality equates to very low or zero defect.
Excellence implies superior functionality or presence of good taste. Excellence can also represent a robust capability that can be tailored to individual needs.
To achieve high quality, organizations need to reduce variations in the process. That calls for standardization in a process.
To achieve high excellence, organizations need to be able to deliver goods or services in a highly customized way. Doing things in a customized way means more variation and, consequently, less standardization.
In the world of high standardization and commoditization, achieving success through quality alone is no longer sufficient. Many factories can easily produce quality when they choose to.
On the other hand, the ability to deliver excellence to meet the needs of certain customer segment is where the competitive advantage is at.