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Top 10 QFD Questions

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Here, we share some of the key questions that came up in our recent QFD courses. Those who are planning to implement QFD will find many important tips and lessons from this information.

Question 1.   "A big problem our organization faces is the approaching retirement of our most knowledgeable technical staff. Our company's basic science was developed decades ago through trial and error, and today's engineers do not fully understand how our processes work. Can QFD help address this?"

Dr. Akao, founder of QFD, has been working with Knowledge Management experts in Japan to use QFD tools to help capture intrinsic knowledge and make it explicit. He discusses this in several papers that have been presented at recent International Symposia on QFD (example: 2010 ISQFD). Also see a past newsletter on internal communications. Dr. Akao points out several instances of how QFD can be applied - to make intrinsic (latent) customer needs explicit to our technical staff through tools like the Customer Voice Table, and to make intrinsic engineering and science knowledge explicit for future technical staff through tools like the House of Quality and other matrices.

Question 2.  "When is the best time in the product development process to do QFD?"

It can depend on the project scope and how your organization manages its new product development process. More and more companies are realizing greater benefit when the Blitz QFD® tools such as gemba visits and customer voice table are done in stage 0 before a project is even chartered, to better develop concepts and product strategy based on unmet and emerging customer needs. So many important things about the customer are learned in gemba visits that the project needs both the time and flexibility to address them. Gemba studies at stage 1 and 2 can be used to better define the concepts into real solutions. The Blitz QFD® tools are taught in the QFD Green Belt® course.

Question 3.  "Our company sells globally. Should we adjust our gemba visit techniques to each language and culture?"

This topic was addressed in several papers at the International and US QFD Symposia in 2009. Research has shown that cultures react differently to the kinds of human relations needed to make gemba visits effective. To build trust, to get straightforward discussions, to be able to question, etc. varies from country to country and must be take into consideration. Shared languages such as Spanish or English can mask real cultural differences, so be careful. This includes both relations with customers as well as with your own local sales staff.

Question 4.  "To reach our end users, there are often layers of customers such as buyers, maintenance, and others who must also be satisfied. Can QFD include all these links on the value chain?"

Not only "can," it must include all links. Anyone of these could crown or torpedo a vendor. Since they will have different priorities and domains of knowledge, care must be taken to handle this properly. Tools like the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) can make this process smoother while still preserving useful mathematical priorities.

Question 5.  "The time and cost to conduct a gemba visit limits the number we can make. What is the optimal number?"

Research has shown that because the purpose of the gemba visit is to collect qualitative data, statistically valid sample sizes necessary for quantitative data are not required. The rule of thumb is to look for data to become repetitive and then move on.

Question 6.  "The Blitz QFD® process has 7 core steps. Is it better to do these in one visit, or to spread them out over multiple visits?"

If arranging personnel and travel for a visit is cumbersome, it is often better to make "gemba events" that go through several of the Blitz QFD® steps in a single visit. Some examples of this including a gemba visit "manga" were presented at the International and US QFD Symposia in 2009. Consumer products often need large sample sizes for statistically valid prioritization and may want to divide the Blitz QFD® steps into discreet events, however.

Question 7.  "The way our company is organized, our role is to take marketing requirements from the market research and sales department and convert these into product requirements which we then pass on to developers. In other words, the scope of our work does not included customer contact or technical development. We are "bookended" by these other departments and act more as a technical liaison. Can QFD work in this kind of organization?"

QFD has been successfully deployed in such organizations by getting the group in the middle to join hands with the upstream marketing and downstream technologists. In my experience this requires a tailored QFD approach and QFD Black Belt® level expertise. I have learned through over 25 years of QFD implementation in the U.S. that there is not one way to do QFD. Each company should have an approach that addresses their unique strengths and weaknesses.

Unfortunately, many "book-learned" QFD practitioners have been exposed to only one QFD model —the House of Quality and 4-Phase model — that was optimized for reliability study of auto parts suppliers in the 1980s whose business model was "build to specification and blueprints" supplied by equally technical engineers at the auto companies. Such model had limited applicability back then and even more so for today's businesses. In Japan, QFD's birthplace, no such single model ever existed. All the Japanese QFD studies utilized special deployment flows to address their projects, products, technology, customers, and management style. Dr. Akao never taught nor intended there to be a singular approach. This was an American invention to get QFD adapted quickly during the auto crisis of the early 1980s (déjà vu all over again!).

Question 8.   "What is the best software for doing QFD?"

Of course we all want something we can just dump data into and get answers out. Sorry, there is no such software that will keep your company unique and competitive. Most of the QFD software available for sale or free download confuses the "House of Quality matrix" for QFD.  As Dr. Akao (founder of QFD) warns many, many times, "A House of Quality is not QFD."

While there are many uses for matrices (see answer above question regarding knowledge management), they should allow for 7+/-2 (5-9) levels of relationships, and accommodate ratio scale math. The modern Blitz QFD® replaces matrices with tables and MS Excel® does a reasonable job of managing these in a single workbook. The QFD Green Belt® and QFD Black Belt® courses include templates for both Blitz QFD® tables as well as House of Quality with the correct levels and math.

Question 9.  "What is the difference between "voice of the customer" (VOC) and customer needs? If the customer says they need some feature, isn't that good enough to guide developers?"

If spoken customer voices were all we needed to listen to, low cost manufacturers would put us out of business immediately. To maintain market leadership, we need to uncover latent needs implicit in customer words and behavior. The gemba visit is a great tool for beginning this process, and other Blitz QFD® tools help fill in the gaps.

The key difference between "voice" and "needs" is that VOC is a raw, unfiltered, unanalyzed source of input among many kinds of customer narratives. The translation into needs can be applied to VOC as well as other narratives such as focus groups, surveys, warranteed goods, trip reports, etc. This translation is done in the Customer Voice table in Blitz QFD® and requires the QFD team to really investigate what is truly needed.

A big mistake we see in many QFD examples is where VOC is confused with needs and the results are an uninspiring "me too" offering. QFD practitioners deserve better results from their labor and customers deserve better products from their suppliers. Don't settle for VOC only - make the extra effort to find out what customers really need.

Question 10.  "You talk a lot about Blitz QFD®. I don't see this in any of my university or professional text books. How can I learn more about this?"

The key to Blitz QFD® speed is its early focus on key customer needs (read more). Since each company has different marketing, development, and technology, it is to be expected their approach to speed and focus must be tailored to those differences. Tailoring is also essential to getting internal buy-in, since your people are more easily guided by methods that address their problems than some vanilla approach.

Thus, the optimal way is to customize QFD to your company and then teach this while applying to real company projects. This is the basis for the in-house QFD Green Belt® and QFD Black Belt® programs. To get started, however, many find it best to come to a public course to learn the basics and practice them on a project in order to demonstrate results to others in the company.

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