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Integrating QFD in Phase-Gate Product Development

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This is an excerpt from a paper "Integrating QFD into Phase-Gate Product Design," presented by Glenn Mazur at The 2010 International Symposium on QFD.

The real meaning of "F" in QFD — Know it and avoid NPD mistakes

In my translation of the seminal work, "QFD: The Customer-Driven Approach to Quality Planning and Development," the revised edition of the 1978 "Hinshitsu Kino Tenkai" (Quality Function Deplyment), Dr. Mizuno, co-founder of QFD, cited the quality guru A.V. Feigenbaum's definition of a quality system as "the network of administrative and technical procedures required to produce and deliver a product of specified quality standards."

Mizuno encouraged that such procedures should follow Shewhart's PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) quality management process. This system, Mizuno advised, was "a complex one formed from structural components such as manpower and machines," where the manpower is defined as "the corporate activities to achieve quality" and the quality function is explicated in "each phase from product planning through final scrapping and then to execute them fully." To do so, Mizuno said, "we must understand the who, what, when, where, why, and how of these corporate functions."

What Mizuno did was to apply the concept of "function" from quality disciplines such as value engineering, to the human functions common in any product development organization. This is the definition of the "F" in QFD, not the incorrectly cited reference to the mechanization of a component part.

Thus, in addition to being a comprehensive quality system, QFD can be seen as a type of socio-technical system that combines manpower and machines. This system was diagrammed in Dr. Akao's second book of QFD case studies, "QFD: Integrating Customer Requirements into Product Design." Figure 1 is a 1997 adaptation of it for software development.

Comprehensive QFD diagram by QFDI

Fig. 1 visualizes both Mizuno's contribution, the process part of the organizational functions that perform job activities or tasks relevant to development and delivery of the product, as well as Akao's deployment of major organizational activities for producing a physical product such as planning, design, trial, manufacturing, and service. Later, specialized deployments and additional tasks such as analyze, develop, etc. were added by American practitioners .

Unfortunately, the complexity and power of Mizuno and Akao's concept often became lost to overgeneralization as people focused merely on the mechanical aspects of building matrices, leading to propagation of misunderstood information. Take a House of Quality matrix (HOQ) for example; it simply occupies a corner box in Mizuno and Akao's QFD, even though there are people who still regard it as the core of QFD. Those who studied the 1980s automotive parts-oriented 4-Phase model used the term QFD to refer to the quality deployment portion of the big picture above, while those who studied the matrix of matrices model used the term QFD to the Akao's comprehensive quality deployment.

No one, it seemed, paid sufficient attention to the human process, the socio side that Mizuno was describing.

QFD and the New Product Development Process

What Mizuno and Akao were describing was that in a true quality system, we needed to address not only the quality of the products being designed and produced, but the quality of the new product development (NPD) process itself that creates those products. In other words, not just the quality of an assembly of parts, but the quality of the human activities needed to design and produce those parts - human activities such as product planning, marketing, engineering, procurement, testing, manufacturing, packaging, after-sales support, etc. The quality function must be deployed across all the company.

In product or process improvement activities such as kaizen , six sigma , quality story A-3s , etc. the focus is on existing products in production that fail to meet internal quality standards or fail in the field. This is definitely in the realm of the quality department to address. In new product development (NPD), however, there is no design, product, manufacturing process, and so forth yet, so it is unrealistic to wait until there is in order for the quality department to do its job.

In NPD, quality must begin before design, when the business case is being developed that defines the scope and financial deliverables of the project, who the key customers are and how they are to be researched, what is the project timeline and what are the resource and budget constraints, etc.

The quality of the answers to these questions can greatly affect what decisions, tradeoffs, technologies, production locations, vendors, etc. will be utilized. Since these are in the realm of different organization functions such as business planning, marketing, R&D, engineering, procurement, manufacturing, quality, distribution and logistics, customer support, etc. the only way quality can be assured is for these functions to work together from the start.

This is what is called cross-functional management (CFM) and it is one cornerstone of total quality management (TQM); QFD is the CFM system for assuring new NPD quality by deploying the quality function across the total organization.

For example, what is marketing quality or the quality of the business plan? How do you assure these activities are done well enough? How do you measure the quality of forecasting the next ten years sales potential, or how do you measure the strength of competitive threats, etc. Of course, you could wait until post-launch numbers roll in, but then it is too late to design quality in. In many organizations, unfortunately, these activities are not well defined, and when the product does not meet expectations, fingers start to point in all directions.

This requires an examination of all business activities from the board room to the plant floor. Quality targets must be set for each activity, team members, leads, and reporting requirements must be identified, when each activity is due, what standard operating procedures must be followed, etc. In other words, the same quality rigor that is expected from blue collar line workers is expected of the white collar managers. This is none other than Dr. Deming's 14 Points for Management and Theory of Profound Knowledge in action.

After each departmental function defines their activities and sets quality targets, these can be visually displayed in what Mizuno called a quality assurance systems diagram. This chart has vertical "swim lanes" for each function and horizontal sections for each NPD step, divided at the most abstract level into a Plan-Do-Check-Act sequence.

Fig 2 Quality Assuarance System -- Click for a larger view

In figure 2, we see one of the fascinating aspects of this diagram: Customers are included and executives (called directors in Japan) are on parallel footing with other functions, not sitting atop some organizational chart.

These are documented separately so as not to clutter the visual display of the flow chart. Each bubble extends to the department that has functional inputs to the activity. From each bubble flows a solid feed-forward line to the next activity or a dotted feed-back line from subsequent activities for information to be considered in the next product development cycle.

Custom Tailoring QFD

The chart in Figure 2 will change depending on what steps and activities are undertaken to develop a new product and the organizational structure. In the body of the chart, the bubbles may join differently and the feed forward and feedback lines may connect differently, for example.

As these are based on the separate standard operating procedures that define each of these activities, it is likely these will call for different supporting documents and methods, depending on several factors. For example, if your product relies on natural materials, such as animal or vegetable products like leather or wood, your tailored process will require different steps than a software company because the natural variation in plant and animal materials due to weather and other phenomena does not exist in software code, which once written does not change unless by intent. (See why QFD fails at some companies)

Tailoring a QFD process is no trivial matter. One must have a deep understanding of QFD and other product development tools and combine this with an honest understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of an organizations product development process. Like Dr. Deming's admonition that "a system cannot understand itself.

The transformation requires a view from "outside." QFD custom tailoring should not be undertaken by managers within the company, but by someone outside the organization who possess both the deep QFD understanding and an appreciation for the interdependence of members of the new product development system and how QFD can help them manage knowledge, how the tools of QFD can help control variation and help transform information into knowledge, and how the psychological benefits of a job well-done will help not only their company but their customers. [13]

Among the Japanese companies I have worked with, this tailored quality assurance system is considered more confidential than QFD charts like the House of Quality matrix. The QFD managers explain that while the product specific matrices may contain useful information, competitors trying to copy them will only produce a "me-too" product some time after their product has been launched and they are busy working on the next generation. The quality assurance system, however, reveals the very heart and soul of the company and must be protected from outside eyes.

Still, high level diagrams as well as insider stories are shared from time to time, including at the annual Symposium on QFD (published papers to the extent permitted by the company and presentations by project team members).

The full text and diagrams of this paper, including the details on how to expertly integrate best QFD tools in New Product Development and Stage-GatesTM, can be found in the 2010 Symposium Transactions volume.

To inquire about custom-tailoring QFD for your company and project goals, please contact us. Sending a couple of key project members to the public QFD courses (see the links below) is also a good way to explore QFD potentials for your current and future businesses.

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