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Technology Driven Product Development

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Sometimes product developers are so in love with their technology that they roll it out to the market without doing sufficient homework. They expect an equally eager reception from the public, only to be disappointed when their excitement was not shared by the market or when the technical breakthrough they had worked hard did not translate into sales.

It is easy for producers to get trapped in the assumption that today's sophisticated consumers love technology. That is true, but not entirely. We often fail to understand that consumers have their own needs and that their needs are benefit-driven. Customers do not necessarily get excited about 'any' new technology. It must deliver a benefit, not just any benefit, but a benefit that they value.

So, how can you determine whether the market is ready or not for your new technology? Will it find adequate acceptance over the existing technology? Will people be willing to pay for the difference? This determination can be a huge saving even if your new technology ends up being shelved. A company could save millions of dollars in wasted time, labor, and capital investment — all of which are limited resources.

QFD is typically associated with development of new products, services, and business processes. The methodology has proven to be far more adaptive, however. For example, by combining the QFD system for 'product quality' with the QFD system for 'process quality,' one high tech company was able to learn early in a project that what they were sure would be a technological leap was something that customers did not want.

A leading manufacturer of ultraviolet curing systems, the products of this company are used in a broad range of applications from manufacturing to printing in diverse industries from Coors Brewing to Nokia. Like many technology driven companies, they strive to stay ahead of their customers' needs.

A new technology that the company just developed was considered a technological breakthrough because of its advantage in eliminating manufacturing defects, less power consumption, and an environmentally friendly feature. The proprietary technology would improve customers' manufacturing performance and product quality, and the company would leap annual sales by 200–300%, making the current technology obsolete, so they hoped.

In order to get this new technology to the market rapidly and to establish high acceptance in the field, the company took on customized QFD Green Belt® and QFD Black Belt® training and assembled a QFD team made of cross-functional professionals.

Then a wake-up call came. The initial Voice of Customer analysis shocked the team. They discovered that their customers had a substantially different value proposition than the company had anticipated. Further examination was done with the help of the QFD Black Belt® trainer. It revealed that many of the customers preferred to stay with the existing system to minimize the added complexity of training and maintenance costs in a labor intensive environment where this new technology would be used.

Their QFD study revealed that the company's value propositions in performance and differentiation by this new technology were simply not enough to convert customers; that the costs of bringing this new product to market would not generate a return on their investment, even with a premium price.

A partial Voice of Customer Table (PDF file)

In the 2001 Symposium on QFD, the company presented their QFD experience. The main accomplishment in their QFD was not a new product development or service development. It was saving the company millions of dollars in non-recurring product development cost that would never be recovered had they gone ahead with their plan, which would have been a potential business decision disaster.

Further, the company had these to report:

"Sufficient information generated from our gemba visits and subsequent QFD analysis identified new market opportunities which precipitated development of a different product being launched the following year.

"Our QFD experience changed our product development approach. The QFD methodology is now a requirement for our product development and is viewed as an essential ingredient for the company's ongoing efforts to deliver customer value.

"Having coaching from an experienced QFD practitioner on a real project, concurrent with customized QFD Black Belt® training, expedited the skills set knowledge transfer required in our first QFD experience.

"A strong senior management commitment supporting the QFD process, in our case the company president personally involved in the initial QFD training, was also very helpful because the risk of the effort becoming another 'quality fad' is very high."

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