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Runbell — A QFD dissection

This is a guest author contribution by Carey Hepler, QFD Black Belt® and the 2010 Akao Prize recipient.
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(photo of Runbell)I'm a runner as well as a QFD Black Belt®, so I was intrigued by a Facebook post by one of my running friends who was promoting a Kickstarter campaign for RunBell (photo on the right).

Runbell allows runners to politely signal to other pedestrians that they are trying to get by them. I initially dismissed the Runbell as another running gadget I have zero use for because I live in Jacksonville, Florida where cars rule. If I do happen to see other runners or walkers, I greet them with a southern-style, "Hey!" Bells are not needed.

However, the Runbell promotional video points out that runners in cities like Tokyo, New York, Chicago, etc. do have trouble navigating through crowded sidewalks and even in designated running paths. That revelation brought me to my first QFD thoughts:

  1. Customer Segmentation
  2. Gemba; and
  3. Gemba Visit Table.

Customer Segmentation

Customer segmentaiton came to mind because this product is clearly not for everyone in every situation. Most of my runs are with my wife before dawn, and we never see anyone.

But, my favorite place to run is in New York's Central Park, and I've always thought running in Central Park is like running in a race without a race number. There are so many people!  Runners, walkers, bikers and even horseback riders are there. There's a wonderful 1.5 mile path that goes around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, and running on it can be crowded! (Watch the opening scene from the movie Marathon Man starring Dustin Hoffman, and you'll see what I mean). City dwellers will see much more value in Runbell than a country mouse like me.


Gemba is important because you need to experience what it is like to be a runner in a crowded situation.

The answers to these questions will affect the product design, the market projections, and the advertising.

Gemba Study Table

This modern QFD tool helps you get the most amount of value from your Gemba visit by asking you the "5Ws" and the "1H."

Use the Gemba Visit Table to prioritize your gembas and to make sure you see a variety of them. Example (PDF)

Needs Analysis

The idea of using a bell addresses a key need of runners and a key need of the Japanese. A typical runner need is "I want to have a safe run (not hit by a car or a bike)." The bell has the same sound often made by a bell on a bike. When a runner hears a bike coming up from behind, the instinct is to get out of the way to avoid injury.

The Japanese need is culturally unique: "I want to be considerate of fellow pedestrians and runners." My good friend and mentor, Glenn Mazur, once told me, "Japan is an overcrowded island. If there wasn't a cultural norm of politeness, chaos would ensue." The runner at the 0:11 second mark of this commercial would not fare well in the streets of Tokyo.

Crazed runner (Oscar Mayer commercial)
Crazed runner (Oscar Mayer commercial)

Final Touch: Kansei considerations

The Runbell's clear yet unobtrusive tone accomplishes the goal of alerting others to your presence and does it in a pleasant manner.

(photo of Runbell packaging)Finally, the Runbell is stylish. The Runbell team seems to have followed tenants of Kansei Engineering as it attempted to translate the customer's psychological feelings and needs into the domain of product design.

Runbell is made with brass as opposed to cheaper aluminum because brass delivers a premium sound, and the Runbell team worked with the best bell maker in Japan to perfect the design and the sound.

The fancy box packaging also suggests a high-end product that customers will pay more to own.

The selling phrase is, "Add bling and ring to your run."

Good News: Runbell achieved its Kickstarter goal. See "Why we love the Runbell"


You can learn Gemba Study tools and analytic techniques at the next QFD Green Belt® Course, or contact us for more training options: E-mail  

© 2014 Carey Hepler / QFD Institute

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