Quality Function Deployment (QFD) is a process that helps a company identify what its customers truly want and expect from its product or service and use this understanding to make improvements to product design that deliver guaranteed satisfaction levels. The method was developed by Yoji Akao in Japan in 1966 and is used with success in the automotive industries but has a far wider application.
Obtaining the Voice of the Customer
Customer-focused development with QFD requires listening to your customer’s voice and meeting these expectations with improved product or service design rather than continuing to produce a product in the way the company knows best. To use QDF to bring about improvements, you need to establish effective systems to obtain customer feedback. You can learn a great deal from your most disgruntled customers. Make sure you have a transparent complaints system and that every customer-facing employee knows the correct procedures for gathering information about a problem and reporting to the relevant people in your business. As well as formal complaints, comments on social media can supply valuable information. You can also send out surveys and set up customer focus groups to discuss what they want from your product, discover what improvements they’d like you to make, and sound out new proposals.
Using the Customer Voice to Engineer Change
To translate the voice of the customer (VOC) into the design of a product, you need to link the needs and expectations of the end user to various stages of design and production. The basic QFD methodology starts with completing a matrix, popularly known as the House of Quality (HOQ). Other terms for this process are matrix product planning, decisions matrices, and customer-driven engineering.
The HOQ matrix provides a graphic way of showing input and output and monitoring customers’ needs through to production. To put it simply, the matrix translates the ‘what’ of the higher level customer requirements into the ‘how’ of the product requirements and technical specifications necessary to meet these needs.
Using the House of Quality Matrix
A typical QDF planning methodology involves four stages and uses one or more different matrices at each phase. The first phase is product planning:
- Gather and list customer requirements on the left side of the matrix
- Rank customer requirements from one to five according to priorities
- Establish product requirements or technical characteristics needed to bring about the necessary changes and organize into categories
- Identify the interrelationships between customer requirements and technical requirements as strong, medium, or weak
- Determine whether the technical requirements support or impede each other, and ascertain whether making one improvement causes improvements or deterioration in another technical requirement
- Allocate a difficulty rating for each technical requirement, and decide whether the most difficult can be achieved within budget and timescales
- Finalize the product development strategy, and create a product plan
This is followed by three other phases: assembly/part deployment, process planning, and process/quality control.
This might seem complex and, in fact, the true value of using these matrices is the improved communication between customers and company and across the various teams within the company. The discussions and decision-making processes used by the various teams participating in the QFD procedure lead to a more balanced, integrated approach to product design and an enhanced understanding of the various constraints under which teams operate. As a result, you can reduce the number of changes you need to make to a product, lower development costs, and shorten development time.
QFD is not the easiest of processes and requires commitment from all involved, but when used properly, it ensures the final product delivers what your customers have expressly said they want and need rather than what you think they should want. QFD can also facilitate improved communication and teamwork, leading to better planning and decision-making that benefits your business and its customers.