In the late 1970s, a British inventor named James Dyson had a problem: his Hoover kept losing suction. His solution? Cyclonic irrigation, a process that meant a vacuum wouldn’t lose power as it picked up dirt.
When an inventor creates something to solve a personal problem, the customer-to-invention path is short and straight: the inventor is the customer, so they know exactly what’s needed. But what about entrepreneurs/business owners who want to innovate for someone other than themselves? How do they create something their customers truly want?
95% of new products fail, which implies the challenge is very real. Luckily, there are techniques to help you center your customer and create something that connects. House of Quality, which is an integral part of Quality Function Deployment, is one such tool. Here’s what you need to know.
What is QFD?
Quality Function Deployment (QFD) is the strategic framework within which the House of Quality tool sits.
Think of QFD as a broader product management methodology that brings customer needs to the forefront of every stage of product development.
It’s a systematic approach to design and development that prioritizes the voice of the customer (voC), translating their desires and expectations into relevant technical requirements.
Benefits of QFD
- Prioritize VoC: It keeps the needs and wants of the customer central in product development and service improvement processes.
- Boost collaboration: It creates an environment where different departments can collaborate efficiently and stay focused on common goals.
- Optimize resource allocation: It helps you spot focus areas and distribute resources according to priority/need.
- Develop competitive products: By aligning technical requirements with customer needs better than your competitors, you can create products and services that stand out.
- Facilitate communication: It gives a structured framework for communication between various parts of the org.
Key phases of the QFD process
Let’s take a look at the steps involved. The House of Quality spans steps 1-3; as you gather this information, you’ll add it to your diagram.
1. Identify customer requirements
This is the inception, where teams focus on collating customer needs, wants, and expectations. Here, interactions with customers, market research, and feedback analysis are paramount in pinpointing what the customer truly desires from the product or service.
2. Translate requirements into technical descriptors
This is where you make the leap from customer desires to cold, hard technicalities. Translate the gathered customer requirements into detailed technical descriptors. It’s about creating a coherent language that bridges customer expectations with the technical landscape, ensuring you address every nuance.
3. Competitor analysis
Once you’ve defined your technical descriptors, it’s time to assess the competitive landscape. Examining competitors’ offerings helps you spot gaps and opportunities for delivering a superior product or service. You’ll also want to come up with a competitive positioning strategy during this phase.
4. Develop product concepts
When you understand customer needs and the competition, it’s much easier for teams to develop coherent product concepts. This stage involves brainstorming and evaluating potential solutions, ensuring each concept is rooted in your customer needs.
5. Determine product characteristics
During this stage, teams define the product’s characteristics, features, and functionalities, ensuring every element reflects both customer needs and the wider business goals.
6. Create detailed design
This is where the rubber meets the road. Teams develop detailed designs, encompassing every aspect of the product, from features to functionalities. It’s about ensuring every element aligns with the defined product characteristics and meets customer expectations.
7. Develop production process
Finally, the focus shifts to the operational aspect. Here, teams fine-tune production processes, ensuring efficiency, precision, and adherence to quality standards.
What is a House of Quality?
The House of Quality is like the architect’s blueprint in the realm of product development. It’s a part of Quality Function Deployment (QFD), a methodology aimed at ensuring the customer’s voice is the loudest in the room when designing or improving a product or service.
In simpler terms, it’s a matrix, much like a detailed table or chart, where customer needs meet technical requirements, providing a visual representation of the relationship between what the customer wants and how the organization can meet those wants.
A House of Quality diagram helps you:
- Visualize the all-important customer-technical relationship: It offers a detailed matrix for visualizing and understanding the relationship between customer requirements and technical specifications.
- Translate needs into actions: It acts as a translator, converting customer desires into tangible technical requirements. These, in turn, translate into tasks.
- Identify areas for improvement: It helps you pinpoint the specific areas that need a little fine-tuning.
- Encourage interdisciplinary dialogue: It serves as a unified platform to facilitate conversations between varying technical landscapes and customer-centric viewpoints.
- Ensure quality and value: By aligning customer desires with organizational capabilities, it helps you deliver products and services of the highest quality.
How to make a House of Quality diagram
Below is a basic House of Quality diagram. To the left, you’ll list your customer requirements. In the columns to the right, you’ll typically find a series of ratings to help you prioritize product features, including importance ratings, technical requirements, and achievability.
A house of quality example. Image source: researchgate.net
To bring this process to life, let’s imagine we’re developing a new line of ergonomic office chairs.
1. Identify customer requirements
Objective: Start by identifying what potential customers are looking for in an ergonomic office chair.
a. To gather crucial data, carry out market research, user interviews, and run surveys using both qualitative and quantitative methods.
b. After collecting ample information, distill it to extract and list prominent customer requirements, focusing on aspects that users find most valuable.
Example: For our ergonomic office chair, we discovered that customers prioritize lumbar support, adjustable height, swivel capability, and cushion comfort.
Step 2: List technical descriptors
Objective: Translating customer requirements into technical terms will help guide design and production teams. You’ll list these along the top of the matrix. For instance, lumbar support could translate to the curvature degree of the backrest, and adjustable height could relate to the range of height adjustments available. This step involves diving deep into the specifics, ensuring every customer need has a corresponding, actionable, and measurable technical counterpart.
a. Identify corresponding technical specifications for each customer requirement.
b. Position these technical descriptors across the top of your matrix.
Example: For lumbar support, a critical specification could be the curvature degree of the backrest, and for adjustable height, we’ll look at the range of height adjustments available.
Step 3: Analyze competitor offerings
Objective: Before jumping into relationships and correlations, analyze the competitive landscape. Evaluate how competing office chairs meet the identified customer requirements. This comparative analysis gives you insight into existing gaps in the market, as well as opportunities for innovation and differentiation. Leave no stone unturned: product specifications, user reviews, and market positioning of competitor products are all good places to look.
a. Select a range of competitors’ products and list them for comparison.
b. Assess each product against the identified customer requirements, and document this information in the corresponding section of the matrix.
Example: We compare various ergonomic chairs from different brands, focusing on how well they align with the outlined customer requirements.
Step 4: Establish relationships
Objective: It’s time to connect the dots between what customers want and the technical attributes that meet those needs. In the main body of the matrix, connect the customer requirements with their corresponding technical descriptors. Use symbols to denote the strength of each relationship, marking strong, medium, or weak correlations. This step necessitates a nuanced understanding of how each technical specification impacts the fulfillment of the customer’s desires and expectations. It’s crucial to be precise to ensure the final product genuinely aligns with user needs.
a. Use the body of your matrix to create symbols denoting the strength of the relationships (e.g., strong, medium, weak).
b. A consistent legend with circles, triangles, or squares can help depict the strength of each relationship.
Example: We carefully examine how the degree of backrest curvature impacts lumbar support.
Step 5: Determine the weight
Objective: Based on the research and feedback collected, assign weights to each customer requirement based on its importance to the user. For example, if lumbar support is a high priority for the target audience, it would receive a higher weight relative to other requirements. This weighting process is crucial as it guides resource allocation and focus throughout the development stages, ensuring alignment with user priorities.
a. Utilize your market research data to ascertain the importance of each requirement and assign appropriate weights.
b. Input these weights in the designated area of your matrix.
Example: Lumbar support is highly valued by our target audience. This means it’s assigned a higher weight compared with other requirements.
Step 6: Set target values
Objective: For every technical descriptor, establish clear, specific target values. If lumbar support is translated into curvature degree, decide the exact degree that the chair should offer. Setting these target values provides clear goals for the design and production teams and serves as benchmarks against which the product’s success can be measured.
a. Determine the exact specifications your ergonomic office chair should meet.
b. Document these precise target values in the corresponding part of your matrix.
Example: We specify the exact curvature degree for optimal lumbar support and the allowable range for height adjustments.
Step 7: Assess the correlation
Objective: Lastly, assess how each technical descriptor correlates with the others. Understand if enhancing one aspect may affect another adversely, such as increasing cushion comfort potentially compromising on the chair’s breathability. These correlations, whether synergistic or conflicting, need careful consideration to balance different elements effectively and deliver a harmonious, well-rounded final product.
a. Explore the interdependencies among technical descriptors, identifying any synergies or conflicts.
b. Use symbols (e.g., ‘+’ for positive correlation, ‘−’ for negative correlation) in the roof of your matrix to represent these relationships.
Example: A critical assessment reveals whether enhancing cushion comfort might compromise the breathability of the chair.
Once you’ve completed and reviewed your matrix, it should offer a cohesive overview, linking customer desires to actionable technical specifications. This diagram will act as a beacon, helping design and production teams to align their endeavors with customer expectations and market needs for the ergonomic office chair.
Don’t hesitate to revisit and adjust your matrix as needed to keep insights in the forefront as you navigate the product development phases.
House of Quality diagrams: best practice
- Define customer requirements clearly
Focus on clarity and conciseness when articulating customer requirements. A well-researched and precise foundation is crucial for the whole process to run smoothly.
- Maintain open communication between departments
Facilitate collaboration to keep all departments aligned. This cohesive approach helps in addressing concerns and refining ideas effectively.
- Be prepared to revisit and revise
Understand that a House of Quality is dynamic and may need adjustments. Stay adaptable and refine your approach as customer needs evolve or new information comes in.
- Use diagramming tools
Employ tools like Cacoo to create visually intuitive diagrams. Diagramming software helps in making the process faster (drag-and-drop interfaces are a godsend), ensuring ease, speed, and accuracy. Create and share with a few clicks, add comments, and stay on top of version control.
Who should use QFD?
Quality Function Deployment (QFD) isn’t just for engineers or product designers; it’s a versatile approach that benefits a broad range of professionals and organizations aiming to align their offerings with customer needs.
If you’re in marketing, QFD helps you understand what the customer really wants, which in turn helps shape your messaging and promo strategies. For those in product development or manufacturing, it helps translate those ever-elusive customer desires into tangible, actionable design specs, ensuring the final product aligns with audience expectations.
For leaders and decision-makers, QFD offers a customer-centric method for driving innovation. It also helps foster a culture focused on continuous improvement and customer satisfaction. It brings clarity and direction, anchoring product development in real-world needs, thus reducing the risks associated with new product development.
QFD is an essential business survival tool
In a marketplace brimming with choices, understanding and responding to customer needs isn’t just good practice — it’s a survival tactic.
QFD, with its structured approach to integrating customer requirements into every stage of product development, offers a competitive edge. It helps you spot opportunities for innovation, reducing development costs by identifying and resolving issues early, and accelerating time to market.
So, whether you’re crafting marketing strategies, refining products, or making high-stakes decisions, integrating QFD can be the catalyst for delivering products that not only meet but exceed customer expectations, strengthening brand loyalty and ensuring your business is in the 5% that create winning products, and not the 95% that don’t.