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The Devil is in the Details

Overlooking San Francisco is Coit Tower, home to a gallery of frescos by 26 local artists painted in the 1930s in the style of Diego Rivera, as part of a public works project to promote economic recovery by employing Americans.

Immeasurable Context in Details

image of Coit Tower muralsThis Rivera style was known to create controversy due to the political nature of its details. One mural named "Library" depicts intellectuals surrounded by books and newspapers in a public library. A close look reveals book titles by Marx, Hitler, and even Hebrew texts in close proximity, as well as newspaper headlines depicting protests against New York City efforts to erase portions of a Rivera mural at Rockefeller Center.

These and other details add immeasurable context and meaning to the paintings, and without the explanation of the 1930s scene by a knowledgeable docent, would probably go unnoticed by most Coit Tower visitors.

Details Can Make or Break Your Product Development

QFD is also about the details. It is not just the structure and flow of matrices and tables that carry meaning, but also how they fit into the scene of the customer. Until we have detailed what and why the customer is trying to do, how can we design a product of service that will help them do it?

Nobel Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai, in her 2006 autobiography "Unbowed", made this a point when she described the experience of her own environmental green belt movement: "Aspects of people's lives such as culture are very important: You may think you are doing the right thing, but in the local context, you are completely off track."

New Customer Context tool

In  2011, the QFD Green Belt® program has added the Customer Context Table to address this need for details. As part of our unique approach to gemba, we use this tool as part of a Situational Analysis to expand our understanding of when and where a customer has needs.

Combining this with a Statement Analysis of the voice of the customer (VOC), we can get the level of detail needed to discover unspoken customer needs. This discovery, of course, can help differentiate our products from the competition if they are only designing to spoken customer needs.

For example, in one recent medical study, important customer needs were "patient safety" and "patient can return to daily life." I think anyone in the medical profession would agree that we don't need QFD to know these are important needs. To help design the new service or product, however, we need more details to better focus solution concepts. For example, "safety" can be detailed into to "safety to area of disease/injury," "safety to areas related to disease/injury," and "safety to areas unrelated to disease/injury."

Customer Needs Hierarchy

This kind of detailing is referred to as a customer needs hierarchy. Typically, the hierarchy steps down three or four levels, but we have seen as many as eight levels in some examples, such as the well known Toyota minivan rust study that included "structural elements remain rust free even when transporting fresh fruits and vegetables on northern European coastal highways in the winter."

In Blitz QFD®, details like this allow the developers to more clearly focus their time on solution concepts, functions, performance, and features so that these scenarios receive their attention first. Then, as key requirements flow down to service planning and delivery, or to product design and manufacturing, the necessary quality and reliability can be more clearly assured in the Maximum Value table.

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© QFD Institute / Glenn Mazur  


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