When developing a new product, companies generally choose between two paths.  One route being, the traditional practice of design based on the company’s assumption of what the customer needs. The other route, development based on the voice of the customer. To implement the latter, many companies use a method called quality function deployment (QFD), a process that systematically transforms qualitative customer demands into quantitative parameters. More specifically, QFD understands spoken and unspoken customer requirements, maximizes positive qualities, creates a thorough quality system for customer satisfaction, and aids in implementing a strategy to stay ahead of the market.

Credited as the driving force behind the radical transformation of the Japanese automotive industry in the 1980s, QFD was originally developed in 1966 by Dr. Yoji Akao. He arrived on the concept when he merged quality assurance and quality control points with function deployment. His goal was to create a focused methodology that listened to the customer and then effectively reflected their requirements and expectations in product development actions.

In a recent survey conducted by the Aberdeen Group, 38% of industry experts listed incorporating the voice of the customer up front (translating the needs into product requirements) as one of the top three areas that will have the most impact on their company’s products.  Other top areas listed were product feedback from sales and marketing, 17%, and product feedback from customers, 35%.

Execution of QFD is broken down into four phases, using a combination of matrices, that occur over the course of the product development cycle. QFD methodology flow is as follows:

  1. Product Planning, where the customer’s needs are defined and prioritized, other competitive opportunities are analyzed, and critical characteristics and target values are established.
  2. Assembly / Part Deployment, where essential parts and assemblies are identified and important product characteristics are flowed down in the form of crucial parts, assemblies, and target values.
  3. Process Planning, where critical processes, process flow, and process parameters are determined, production equipment requirements are developed.
  4. Process / Quality Control, where essential parts and process characteristics are determined, process control methods and parameters are established, and inspection and test methods are created.

QFD, by its very structured approach, requires more time spent initially to ensure the development team determines, understands, and agrees on the project parameters before executing the plan. The resulting hope is less time is spent downstream resolving differences over design issues or having to rework the product because the initial targets were not met.

To learn more about customer centric product development, read the full report, The Path to Product Success: Listen to Your Customers

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