Quality Function Deployment (QFD) has been known in the western world for the last
twenty years, and, over that time, it has developed a checkered reputation. Companies
that have spent the effort to really understand and apply it have achieved excellent
results with it. Many other companies have merely dabbled with it or perhaps
concluded that it is a series of complex matrices that take a lot of time with
little to show for it.
One of the common issues with this latter group of companies is that they have not
understood what QFD really is nor what it can do for them. If one explores the common
issues companies face with new product development, one can better understand how QFD
can fit into the development process to address these issues.
Issue 1: Current and future customer needs are not adequately understood. Innovation-based
companies may focus on pushing a technology into the marketplace without truly understanding
customer needs. Companies with existing products, assume they understand their customer needs.
Or needs may rapidly evolve, but the company doesn't recognize this situation. Marketing
may understand the needs, but this knowledge is not passed on to the development team.
QFD Solution: Voice of the customer (VOC) - the effort to investigate and analyze customer
needs is a prerequisite for a QFD effort. With QFD, VOC data is reduced into a set of
critical customer needs using techniques such as affinity diagrams, function analysis, etc.,
defined and documented in customer needs data dictionary, and prioritized. This VOC effort
is also the opportunity to recognized unfulfilled needs that can provide, at a minimum,
competitive advantage, and, potentially, a break-through product or true value innovation.
A basic principle of QFD and any other system is "garbage in, garbage out". If adequate
effort is not spent in understanding customer needs, the result of QFD, as well as the
entire development effort, will be a less than optimum product.
Issue 2: The competitive situation is not understood nor adequately considered. Marketing
may understand the competition, but this knowledge is not transferred to the team. No formal
data collection or analysis is performed. This can lead to non-competitive or me-too products
or products that rapidly lose their competitive advantage.
QFD Solution: Once customer needs are defined, the second major step with QFD is to perform
competitive analysis. This includes not only analyzing current competitive strengths and
weaknesses, but also considering future directions of competitors. It also involves mapping
competitor's positions against market and demographic characteristics and against key product
characteristics to recognize threats and opportunities. This analysis is a key part of
planning the new product.
Issue 3: Inadequate attention is paid to developing a product strategy and value proposition.
There may be an implicit strategy understood by management, Marketing, or some team members,
but not all team members understand this strategy, leading to suboptimal decisions. In the
absence of competitive analysis and strategy, the team may want to exceed competitive product's
performance parameters in all areas, leading to a more costly product or a risky development
project. The product may be aimed at the wrong market niche or miss the opportunity that exists.
QFD Solution: A third step in the QFD process is to develop the product strategy and value
proposition. The objective is to get the "most bang for the buck" out of the development
effort. This strategy needs to be explicitly defined, understood and agreed to by all
participants. The strategy should reflect where the team will focus its development effort to
achieve the customer value proposition (e.g. improvement goals, etc.). Use of related tools
such as conjoint analysis can also help to validate the value of certain capabilities to the
Issue 4: Product requirements and specifications are not carefully balanced against needs and
implications. Marketing wants it all when they create a marketing requirements document.
Specification target values can be arbitrarily established to exceed the competition without
regard to cost or the value proposition. Inadequate consideration may be given to trade-offs
among product parameters leading to additional cost and development effort. A requirement may
be established because the developer thinks it would be a good idea.
QFD Solution: Requirements (technical characteristics) are only established in response to
customer needs (stated or unstated but recognized). Technical benchmarking is performed to
help understand the competitive position and establish appropriate specifications (target
values). Trade-offs and cost drivers are analyzed in the interaction matrix. Risk and
difficulty is considered in establishing specifications (target values). In short, there
is a rigorous consideration of a variety of factors in objectively developing requirements
Issue 5: Insufficient attention is given to developing collaboration and teamwork. Team
members are assigned and thrown together in an Investigation or Feasibility stage, but
frequently little explicit effort is given to develop collaboration and teamwork.
QFD Solution: QFD is a planning and decision-making methodology that is performed by the
product team. It forces early communication, planning and decision-making among team
members. It requires open sharing of information, overcoming the hidden knowledge that
can otherwise plague a team. It bridges the gap between Marketing, Engineering, Manufacturing
and Quality. Team member's knowledge is "leveled" through this process. The initial product
planning with QFD leads to rapidly developing collaboration, teamwork, and commitment to the
product strategy and plan.
Issue 6: In the rush to develop a new product, inadequate attention is given to developing and
evaluating concept alternatives. Traditional architectures, technologies, and concepts are
assumed as the basis for the new product because time is short.
QFD Solution: QFD is oriented toward defining requirements (technical characteristics in a
global manner - independent of a particular technical solution so that multiple concept
alternatives can be considered and the best one selected. After the product planning
matrix is completed, the QFD process includes a concept development and evaluation step
with an emphasis on developing alternatives. The intent is to identify a more optimal,
and perhaps even a break-through solution rather than continuing with the traditional
concept used for past products. QFD provides a concept selection matrix using the
requirements as a basis for decision criteria. QFD places an emphasis on innovation
and providing innovative and exciting capabilities to customers.
Issue 7: Critical characteristics, process requirements and quality controls are not
effectively linked. Frequently, designs are tossed over the wall to Manufacturing and
Quality. They interpret drawings and define manufacturing processes and quality
requirements without necessarily understanding the critical product and part parameters
or critical processes. The result is that process and quality controls may not focus
on the most important issues.
QFD Solution: QFD is a flowdown process with the deployment matrix, process planning
matrix and process/quality control matrix. These subsequent QFD phases insure on-going
communication, planning and decision-making among team members and between the Engineering,
Manufacturing and Quality functions and with suppliers. Critical characteristics, process
requirements and quality requirements are explicitly identified, planned and communicated.
This assures alignment and commitment throughout the process and avoids some of the last
minute quality problems that occur during launch.
When one considers the time required to address these issues (or the risks and sub-optimization
if not addressed), QFD can not only save time and effort, but substantially reduce development
risk and increase market acceptance and competitiveness. QFD, when performed with full
understanding of the process and with adequate effort to collect and analyze the required data,
is a powerful tool that addresses the shortcomings that are common in product development.