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Do What I Want, Not What I Say

In product development, we rely on direct customer input and feedback on existing products.

In QFD, a gemba study, or observation of users in action, can augment our understanding of the customer's reality. These customer voices are then transformed into customer needs, which we stratify and prioritize based on customer preference, competitive benchmarking, and other criteria.

The voices, though, lack the detail that engineers need to do their jobs. So we must convert them into technical and measurable functional requirements. QFD charts help pinpoint critical characteristics for further downstream deployment into product function, major systems and mechanisms, component parts and so on.

Specific design targets are then analyzed by applying technology, reliability and cost deployments if required. Finally, the design intent is carried into manufacturing where production standards are set to assure the customer's expectations will be met. In Comprehensive QFD, these findings are additionally carried into business functions, aligning the entire organizational operations toward achieving a common goal of customer satisfaction and value.

QFD has been intriguing engineers and marketers alike as a way of turning customer demands into exciting products. Companies are finding, though, that merely doing what the customer says is no guarantee of satisfaction. The reason is that customers can only demand things based on their knowledge of what exists. Whereas 1980's 4-house QFD approach provided tools to satisfy OEM customers in built-to-print businesses, Modern QFD has the tools to go beyond what the customer is currently aware of and create truly exciting products.

Modern QFD is thus a necessity even for today's part suppliers, who are removed from the end user and yet expected to provide a full range of design work. For example, an automotive customer typically demands from the vendor:

Simple QFD studies using traditional approaches, such as 4-phase model, four-house model and House of Quality (HoQ), lump these together and attempt to prioritize the results. Not surprisingly, price and complaint issues dominate and the product tends to be corrected version of existing ones. When performance, features, and methods are voiced, they may seem exciting in concept but sometimes fail to satisfy the customer. The problem in satisfying manifest requirements voiced by the customer is that the designers may not fully understand the customer's true needs.

Thus, a sound analysis of the Voice of the Customer (VOC) prior to quality deployment is critical. It may also help to determine whether or not the use of House of Quality is warranted for your project before committing resources.

(diagram - Do What I want, not what I say)

In the simple example of a Customer Voice Table shown above, "hidden parting line" (the line where two parts of a mold meet) is identified as the voice of the customer, or the manifest customer requirement, for a gear selector knob.

In traditional QFD, engineers often jump right into creating a HoQ matrix, relying on a triangle-shaped 'roof' of the matrix to select a solution technology. (See an example below.) With such method, your solutions will be most likely limited to conventional and obvious such as an improved technique for molding or finishing parting-line.

(diagram - roofed HoQ)

In comparison, the Voice of the Customer analysis using Modern QFD methods can reveal that "car has good looks" and "can drive for a long time" are the true requirement, not "invisible parting-line." The 'parting-line' was mentioned as a customer verbatim because it was one method that was familiar to the customer. There is no guarantee that an improved parting line will make the car more attractive or comfortable to drive for a long time.

With an eye on the true requirements rather than the usual solution, the project team using Modern QFD can study more innovative methods that would better address "what the customer wants" as opposed to "what the customer says." The need to incorporate other creative methods such as Kansei Engineering or TRIZ can be even identified early on.

The Customer Voice table serves these purposes.

Modern QFD's Voice of the Customer techniques encourage designers to look at what truly excites their customers and are highly recommended for all types of products and services.

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