An increasing number of tools and structured frameworks are now available for trying to identify, clarify, articulate and communicate the voice of the customer throughout the development organisation. Based on the principles of quality function deployment (QFD) these tools usually take as their starting point the customer needs as expressed in the customers own words or images and gradually and systematically decompose them into tasks for the various elements within the development organisation. (Shillito 1994)
The concept was originally developed by Mitsubishi in the Kobe shipyards back in 1972, and is widely used in Japan, though far less so in Western firms. The basic idea is to create a specific link between the attributes which customers want and the various parameters involved in design; from this specific contributing actions and responsibilities of various functions can be identified. The structure is organised into what is often termed the house of quality, which is built up in the following fashion:
The power of QFD is less in the data representation than in its role as a common structure over which discussion and debate between different functions can take place. It provides a common language and a systematic mechanism for exploring and resolving many of the typical issues.
QFD is a technique that translates customer requirements (expressed in the customers' language) into an action plan. While listening to customers has always been a good business practice, QFD formalises the somewhat arbitrary practice of just listening to and then trying to meet some of the customers' needs by creating a ranking of the most important customer requirements.QFD is not a simple quality tool, but a means to integrate CI problem-solving tools in a particular context. QFD requires the development of knowledge of processes within the context of customer definitions of quality, and integrates the application of this knowledge for the improvement of quality.
In exploring market and product definition
Using QFD can deliver several effects. Through its systematic and flexible means of evaluation of data and alternatives, QFD helps focus time and effort in quality improvement. It minimises communications problems, differences in interpretation among departments, long development cycles, and design changes. Some documented benefits have been:
QFD also can identify potential competitive advantages, and direct competitive pricing, Finally, QFD leads to more satisfied customers.
QFD reportedly was developed at Mitsubishi's Kobe shipyard in the early 1960s. Mitsubishi recognised that improving the quality of its products was essential to business success, and this emphasis led Mitsubishi to the conclusion that customer requirements simply had to be integrated into the design of a product.
QFD is a series of inter-connecting matrixes often called the House of Quality. Each segment of the matrix is important in assessing:
A small team is formed to work on a new product opportunity or enhancement. A typical team can consist of members from the marketing, engineering and production departments. In addition, customers are represented on the team. The Team will explore a series of discussions with customer to determine needs and priorities. Out of this information, solution will be identified to meet these needs. Matrixes convey information about the following issues:
Organisations attempting QFD should probably start with a pilot exercise. Below is a list of other issues to consider.
QFD at its best uses and develops a great deal of information. Choosing a project that is too broad in scope should be avoided. At the same time, the project should be meaningful to the project team. Somewhere between too trivial and too broad is the ideal project.
The initial project should build confidence. This can be aided in project selection. A project that is known to be very difficult, or open-ended, should be avoided. Try to identify a project that will be successful in terms of a meaningful completion of the study. Further, this project should be of a size to allow results to be seen quickly
It is important that the project be well defined and bounded. The project team should know and understand how far they should go in considering data or implementing solutions. Avoid artificially imposed constraints, such as finishing within a fixed number of days
The composition of the project team can be critical to success. It should be representative of all areas that may have a bearing on the problem. Include marketing, purchasing and finance in the team. Consider suppliers and customers represented
It is a useful tool, but not a universal tool. Its use should be to fill a need, not simply to use a tool. Remember, too, that QFD is information intensive. The study team will deal with a great quantity of data, and there may be a temptation to require a high degree of accuracy and precision
Market research and other supporting studies should be carefully planned, to elicit the kind and quality of response that will be most meaningful
QFD is a long process, with most of it analytical. It is true that a great deal can be learned from the House of Quality. This is information, however, not a prescription for action.