QFD is the acronym for quality function deployment, a methodology designed to incorporate the voice of customer into new product development (NPD) programs. Quality is built on the concept of customer satisfaction – what the customer identifies as “quality” is quality. Yet, innovation often occurs outside of direct customer contact. This is especially true for breakthrough or radical innovations that have no ready market equivalent of consumers to evaluate the new idea.
A Short History of Quality
In olden days, a man would go to the village tailor to order a new suit. The tailor would take specific measurements of the individual man and stitch the suit to exactly fit the one man. Style and color were requirements discussed within the constraints of price and available materials. The new suit would fit perfectly and match the customer’s requested specifications for color and style.
Mass production and industrialization put the local tailor out of business. Over time, factories began to churn out suits from an assembly line. While they didn’t meet individualized specifications, a man could now purchase a suit that closely matched his style and color requirements, fit pretty well, and was far less expensive than a suit stitched by the village tailor. In fact, the cost was reduced so significantly, that a man could now purchase several suits for the price of one handmade suit in the old days.
Costs of production and distribution continued to drop over time. Mass production accelerated. Today, we can purchase products from around the world. Many consumers are more interested in quantity than quality. Particularly after World War II, Americans demanded more and more goods, spending their wealth on pent-up demand that had gone unmet for long periods. As more suits were demanded, factories expanded to manufacture more and more suits.
Role of Quality in NPD
Quality became a threat to American businesses as Japanese products, in particular, gained market share. In modern times, customers demand quality with every new product or service they purchase. In a globally competitive marketplace, companies cannot afford to ignore quality.
One tool that links the needs of customers (end-users) with design, development, engineering, manufacturing, and service is QFD (quality function deployment). QFD has the following benefits:
- Understand customer needs from the customer’s perspective,
- Provides a system to define “value” from the customer’s viewpoint,
- Determine what features to include with a new product,
- Decide on a level of performance, and
- Rigorously captures customer needs and translates these into customer specifications.
How Does QFD Work?
QFD is a matrix analysis in which information from the customer is integrated into the product specification. In particular, QFD focuses on the positive, preventive actions rather than the traditional negative, reactive approach to quality.
A QFD matrix has two fundamental parts. The horizontal rows capture customer needs while the vertical columns record the technical responses to customer inputs. Target performance levels are documented in the intersecting cells, usually with a symbol or number, to indicate the strength (or weakness) of correlations between customer needs and technical specifications.
In the initial round of analysis, customers are surveyed to gather a list of needs. This can be done in any number of ways, including face-to-face interviews, telephone surveys, and online polls. Needs are summarized into common themes and end-users arrange their needs from high to low. Next, customer needs are ranked against current product offerings from the company as well as its competitors. This exercise identifies the arenas for new product development and innovation.
Once the horizontal portion of the matrix is completed, including competitive prioritizations, the technical solutions (columns) are populated. Again, the correlations indicated in the cells intersecting customer needs (horizontal rows) and technical solutions (vertical columns) identify the apparent innovation projects.
Cautions in Using QFD
QFD is a complicated technique and can be expensive to administer. Primary market research must be very thorough to fully identify a set of customer needs, however. Quantitative market research, such as QFD, attempts to learn customers’ preferences and prioritization of needs, and will require a large sample population.
In addition, the technique can be complicated by a “roof matrix” that examines interactions of technical requirements for co-dependent relationships. Improving the ease of use within one feature may result in a cost or functionality trade-off in another. For example, a battery that is lighter weight may result in a shorter life for the product.
Putting QFD to Work
While the full methodology of QFD may be complicated to implement, NPD teams should be constantly scanning the environment to learn and understand customer needs. It is then logical to link the customer needs with engineering design specifications. A side benefit of the QFD exercise builds cross-functional team relationships to ensure that the new product captures market needs, technical applications, and product benefits.
Quality is an important aspect of all NPD efforts. To learn more about quality management tools within an innovation framework, please contact Global NP Solutions at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 281-280-8717 to enroll in one of our self-study or facilitated NPDP certification workshops. Also, if you liked this post, be sure to check out our monthly thought leadership papers where a variety of innovation topics are pursued in depth.
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