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General Motors and Gemba Maestro — How to translate VOC into true customer needs

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"Give the customer less" — is a new General Motors product strategy, according to a June 8, 2012 article in the New York Times technology section titled "Merging Cellphones and Dashboard" by Roy Furchott.

The gist of the strategy is not to offer young buyers what they already own by providing a new interface for their smart phone. Called MyLink, it allows drivers to control their phone's built in music player, GPS, telephone, and other functions with a dashboard touch screen that displays a familiar interface.

Gemba Discovery

screen view of Chevrolet ImpalaWhen designing the interface, GM engineers had to prioritize what physical buttons to include on the instrument panel and what soft buttons to include on the display in order to offer drivers the functions they need without the distracting them from the job of driving.

To better understand user needs, the engineers went to the gemba (the Japanese term for the "crime scene" or where the truth is to be found). For six months, they rode along with commuters, traveling salespeople, families on vacations, and others to observe how they used their vehicle information and entertainment systems.

They learned there was a big difference between what users said they wanted and what they actually did. The article cites the example of access to contact phone numbers, where users demanded the availability of all contacts when in fact they rarely called more than four people while in a car. The result was a "favorites" screen where drivers could place their most used icons.

Modern QFD for automotive dashboard development

This is how Modern QFD works.

Business strategy for the project. Develop an in-house telematics system that will become part of the brand. In Modern QFD we use tools like Hoshin Planning, New Lanchester Strategy, Blue Ocean Strategy, and other means to discover business and market opportunities. The Project Goals table is used to capture the essential targets and measurements of success.

Target key customer segments. Young buyers of economy end cars who use cars for work and play are typically drawn to imports. The Customer Segments table is used to define the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the most critical ride-along gembas.

Model the customer's process. Don't just talk to customers, but draw a process map of how they use information and entertainment in their cars as well as their destinations. The Customer Process model and Gemba Visit table are used.

Acquire VOC (voice of customer) and analyze into true customer needs. VOC - "I need access to all my telephone contacts." This VOC should be translated into true customers needs such as "I need to initiate communication with others while driving," "I need to respond to communication with others while driving," etc. The Customer Voice table is the QFD tool for this.

Prioritize Customer Needs. Once true customer needs are translated, customers can easily structure and prioritize them by using the Affinity diagram, Hierarchy diagram, and Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP). When applied to a proper hierarchy, customers are able to quickly assess only high value branches, thus making the process faster and more accurate.

Solve the high priority customer needs first and best. The engineers can now focus on developing great solutions to what matters most to the target customers. In this case, "I need to drive undistracted" relates to product functional requirements such as "allow hands-free ways to contact via some or all of these channels," as well as product characteristics such as "icon size" and so forth, taking into account of the environment in a moving vehicle. By doing the high priority customer needs first and best, engineering resources are more efficient, changes in marketing and launch dates can be better assured, and budgetary cuts can be applied to less important needs and associated features. The Maximum Value table is a fast and easy tool that can either precede or replace the House of Quality (HOQ).

These Modern QFD tools and others were developed for developing today's technology products in a fast paced environment. For questions about the tools and techniques discussed here, please E-mail to Us. Better yet, come to the public courses (links below) to learn these new tools. Bring a live project to class and get our expert advice. We'll supply the Excel sheets.

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