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How to handle VOC issues — Discussions and Lessons from Japan Crisis


Thoughts on 2011 Japan Disaster Series

  1. Thoughts on Japan Disaster
  2. The Role of Quality in Crisis
  3. VOC Issues for High Impact Projects (you are here)

Among the ongoing discussions, regarding the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear-power crisis in Japan, is how to handle Voice of the Customer (VOC) issues.

VOC is typically concerned with the various users and stakeholders along the value chain. For an electric power company, for example, we certainly can think of household consumers as customers. "When I plug a device into the wall, it works properly" may be one of such consumer Customer VOC in power projects. There may also be some safety and reliability VOC such as "My home is safe even when devices are left plugged in," "My home is safe from power fluctuations," "My devices are safe from power fluctuations," etc. These are basic expectations among electricity users in developed nations.

When we broaden the definition of consumers, we begin to see a larger system-wide picture and deeper implications that the quality and design of our product or service can have on business, society, and country. For example, Japanese automobile and electronics companies are currently experiencing secondary effects of the nuclear power problem in obtaining consistent power for their factories and even power for electric trains that transport labor, raw materials, and finished goods. The result has been decreased availability of critical components for both domestic and export sales. Radiation decontamination procedures have also constricted materials and foodstuffs moving both into and out of the affected regions.

image of value chainWhat about the VOC of other members of the value chain? These can include electricians who install wiring, line workers who climb the power poles to install or service the local infrastructure, workers in power plants (both non-nuclear and nuclear plants), and others. We can expand the definition further, since utilities are a business that directly affects the public. These stakeholders (VOS, Voice of Stakeholders) include the community, the nation, the world.

With QFD, we can explore any part or the full range of VOC along the the whole value chain. This is not new to QFD. Since the 1990s, Dr. Akao has frequently written about QFD for education and how the general community was also a stakeholder because what students study impacts their families, future employers, and the public.

What we may be seeing and hoping to see further in Japan is for nuclear facility owners to consider all these stakeholders and their needs when designing and building new facilities, or retrofitting existing ones. The entire value chain should be mapped out, including emergency workers, who should be interviewed and observed to better understand their spoken and unspoken needs.

Then, when prioritizing their needs, additional weighting can also be applied to the various stakeholders to gain a composite understanding of all needs to all stakeholders. In addition to these stakeholder needs and the functional requirements to address them, other design concerns for safety, reliability, and other "-ilities" must be included in sufficient detail.

image of hoqThis type of study is certainly worthy of a full matrix deployment, from House of Quality (HoQ) through all the required tables including:

Thus, the priorities of all the stakeholders' needs can be transferred into priorities for safety, reliability, serviceability, technology, process, training, construction and assembly, etc.

Cost deployment could also be useful in identifying areas where costs can be minimized, as well as the areas where costs must be secondary concerns because of the impact of a failure.

It should be cautioned, though, a House of Quality and other matrices requires advanced QFD skills beyond what is covered in most six sigma classes, which have preserved 30 year old methods truncated for auto parts suppliers in the 1980s. QFD Institute trains facilitators with the QFD Black Belt® Course.

image of citizensNow, all of the above is, of course, part of QFD's "market-in" approach. However, with a large scale public project that would have significant societal impact such as a power plant, another "market-out" approach may help fill the needs gaps of the conflicting stakeholders. In other words, in addition to power companies researching the value chain and stakeholder priorities, the public must make their demands known to designers during the process of government licenses and concessions being granted.

In order to elucidate the citizens' spoken and unspoken needs and expectations, communities should encourage QFD studies based on the needs of the citizens and "push" these onto government agencies and corporations. This should go hand-in-hand with the rush of local governmental entities wooing companies in order to attract economic benefits (jobs, growth, taxes) for their citizens. In order to sell their location to companies, QFD may help local governments package their "product" (educated workforce, infrastructure, tax incentives, etc.) to those companies in order to demand certain protections in return.

The role of QFD in such situations has been discussed in the Kentucky Transportation case study (PDF). This governmental agency-led initiative demands stakeholder and constituent input during the early design phases of infrastructure projects involving both public and private entities. QFD is used to understand spoken and unspoken stakeholder needs, and then uses AHP (Analytic Hierarchy Process) to extract priorities from all stakeholders, so that projects remain sensitive to the needs of the stakeholders.

Even as the crisis in Japan continues to unfold numerous problems that demand immediate solutions, it is essential to use design quality methods like QFD to assure a better future. There are also new dimensions for future QFD deployments to consider in such areas as political science, civic education, environmental education, community initiatives, international study, regulatory standards design, etc.

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© QFD Institute / Glenn Mazur  

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