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Earn that "F" in QFD! — Communicate across those Functional Silos

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Internal communication remains a challenge to many organizations especially in these times of corporate trimming and reorganization. Despite the muscle of information technology, perhaps because of it, we tend to downplay communication as a soft issue.

When we are the customer, we have all experienced the gap between what we want and what is offered. As professionals, we routinely witness disparities between what the design department aims to deliver and what the manufacturing department produces, or between what marketing needs to beat the competition and what the IT department delivered. We can even find this gap between what innovation team recommends and what management funds. The list goes on.

Modern business is a series of transactional processes that chain multiple internal and external customers. For an organization to be successful, all links in this customer chain, regardless where they belong and what conflicting interests they might have, must align to the goal of addressing the needs of the end user.

image of miscommunicationKeeping everyone's eye on the same goal proves easier said than done because different departments talk in different languages and can approach the same set of data with entirely different reactions based on their functional bias. The resulting solutions may be incoherent and confusing to end customers and not optimized for the overall business. Absent a system to communicate across an organization, productivity and efficiency of the business operations are imperiled, a compound of wasted human resources and budget.

QFD's role in both internal and external communication has been well documented in presentations at our past symposia. While there are other approaches, few offer as specific visual tools as QFD that can be used easily by both technical and non-technical people to concisely communicate across multi-level audiences and stakeholders, especially in large complex projects.

In the example below, the lack of standardized prioritization and cross-departmental discussions was causing projects to be assigned without consideration of other initiatives or relative workloads. As everyone insisted on top priority for his/her project, key resources become overloaded, often deciding project priorities based on their enhancement to technical capability rather than weighting project benefits to the business and customers. The result was projects uncompleted within the promised timeframe, resources poorly allocated and overextended, business needs unmet, and corporate strategies underachieved.

The company in this case study chose to utilize a customized QFD Green Belt® training and the Blitz QFD® process. By selecting criteria that aligned project benefits with the strategic direction of the group, they were able to better manage projects and help meet or exceed service level commitments.

Click to see Fig. 1 "Project Benefits vs Complexity"Figure 1 illustrates the relationships of the various managers and departments that sent new IT project requests and the complexity and importance (benefits to the company) of the project. In this project, the QFD team began by visiting the gemba and interviewing technical personnel and mangers. This was done to determine the criteria that defined the relative importance of a project.

A stakeholders committee was formed, comprised of internal customers who maintained ownership of the project portfolio, prioritization, and status reporting for the initiatives. A new process called Quality Infrastructure Improvements (QII) was created to manage the data gathering, reporting, and prioritization of the projects and with the use of Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) in the customized QFD process, the benefits of the internal improvements and remediation initiatives were analyzed relative to the internal and external customers.

Several top criteria were established that best characterized the complexity of a project and most influenced the effectiveness of a project owner for successful completion of an initiative. AHP was used again to quantify the relative degree of complexity. The guidelines for assigning a project owner, project management, component owners, and so on were identified. Click to see "Project Benefits vs Complexity Prioritization" MatrixA Web-based form was created to manage the project proposals, new initiatives and so on. This information could be reviewed and rated by each member of the QII team for a collaborative decision. Table 5 (left) was used to rate the degree of benefit and complexity of each project using the AHP.

In addition to this use of QFD in establishing a cross-functional process for project priority, selection, and status report, the team also uses the QFD process in a project risk assessment for larger IT projects across the company.

In conclusion, the company reported that QFD had improved management of project initiatives through the new cross-functional Voice of the Customer analysis and prioritization system. The IT department that undertook the QFD training is now able to identify the projects with the highest value to the company overall and its internal and external customers. It is better able to assign appropriate resources to complete project initiatives within an acceptable time frame. Project management and technical resources are also able to schedule their time more appropriately, and harmful multitasking has been reduced.

© Source: "Quality Infrastructure Improvement: Using QFD to Manage Project Priorities and Project Management Resources," Transactions from the 15th Symposium on QFD / ISQFD'03-Orlando.

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