Is Quality Function Deployment still useful

Are Quality Function Deployment, Voice of Customer and Kano Models still relevant? In an upcoming podcast with  Robin Lawton I asked the question: “You talk about two failures in QFD, which is Quality Function Deployment. They’re determining who the customer is and how to define and separate customer desired outcomes from product functions and features. I have a lot of people listening that looks at Voice of Customer, QFD as the answer to understanding customer outcomes.”

Robin Lawton:

The methodologies that were developed by Yoji Akao and of course, many people are familiar with what they refer to as the Kano model, which is simply a graphic, are helpful and were helpful when they were developed 60 years ago. They were developed for engineers, primarily. In QFD, the quality function deployment, which is really a very systematic, highly structured and highly complex system for translating what are believed to be customer priorities into product design, that is manufactured product design, that system is so complicated that the average mortal is simply not going to go through it. You have the issue of complexity of the system to begin with. Then, you have the basic assumptions behind the system, which is that a customer wants the product we are going to be asking them about.

Again, that gets back to this issue of the buggy whip. We assume that. Nowhere in QFD do you actually have the requirement that you have to test that assumption. That’s a flaw. It’s a flaw in the system. It’s a weakness in the system, and it can be a fatal flaw. That’s one. The thing about the customers, you’re absolutely correct, there are statements in these other methodologies developed by Japanese experts decades ago, there’s an assumption that we know who the customer is. Unfortunately, that’s not true. We don’t know who the customer is.

There are three roles customers can play for any product. There are end users. They’re the people who actually use the product to achieve some desired outcome. There are brokers, who pass the product to the end user. Then, there are fixers. Those fixers have to modify, correct, or change the product at some point in its life cycle, for the benefit of end users. In the QFD methodology, you will not find any differentiation like this for customers. They don’t use that terminology. As a result, it is not applied anywhere. The result of not having it specifically defined and segmented in this manner means that by default, we are likely to satisfy the interests of the customers who have the most power. That power is primarily held by brokers, not by end users.

You have all sorts of things going on here. QFD doesn’t help you with that issue. It doesn’t help you to identify that you must talk with end users. You must segment the end user population, according to key demographics that are related to changes and expectations regarding the product. When you ask questions of them about what they want, you must be dealing with outcomes. What are the desired outcomes they are trying to achieve with the product?

Rob’s book, Creating a Customer-Centered Culture: Leadership in Quality, Innovation, and Speed offers some valuable insights even though it was written 20-years ago. I still use it on a regular basis and find it valuable in assisting people to more service centered thinking. For more information contact Rob at International Management Technologies.

The original work of Yoji Akao was published in the book: QFD: Quality Function Deployment – Integrating Customer Requirements into Product Design.

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