Quality is a paramount feature when it comes to production of new products in any market. Therefore, a company has to conduct market research in order to identify what the potential customers need. The process of making quality products has to involve the entire company or organization. This is because the process is multifaceted and requires contribution from all stakeholders of a certain production chain in order to include all customer wishes in the product quality. Quality Function Deployment (QFD) is the techniques used to translate customer needs into the product at every product development level or stage (Waterworth 2010). This means that certain customer needs have to be taken care of at every stage of the product development. For instance, product design involves a number of activities, like determining the shape, size, colour of the product, and others. Therefore, Quality Function Deployment is used to incorporate customer preferences with the features such as size and colour, which are addressed at a different stage of product development. This process is expected to give a final product whose characteristics have been determined using what customers want. Quality Function Deployment was for the first time systematized in Japan by Mitsubishi’s Kobe shipyard in the 1970s (Akao 2004). This strategy was used to ensure quality of the company’s needs in terms of manufacturing design, services, and other quality assurance factors.
According to Waterworth (2010, p. 233), Quality Function Deployment is a four-step process that first seeks to incorporate customer needs in the final product. However, Quality Function Deployment can also be applied when dealing with existing products, especially when an organization is looking forward to improving its performance in the markets. In this regard, the first step of Quality Function Deployment is known as product planning, which is dictated by a ‘house of quality’. A house of quality can be defined as a matrix showing how different customer-related requirements to a product interplay in the process of developing a product. This paper seeks to highlight the pertinent issues associated with the construction of a house of quality using Quality Function Deployment. The product used for the house of quality is a clothes design by a company that specializes in clothes production. The company makes a number of products, including men’s and women’s clothes, official and casual wear, etc.
Step One: Customer Requirements
The premises of Quality Function Deployment rest on addressing the customer requirements. Therefore, there must be a systematic way to identify the needs of customers. Such ways can involve groups, individuals, and available marketing information, among others. They also involve determining which sector of the market will be analysed by identifying the target customers. The information gathered is then organised and used in the construction of the house of quality.
Customer requirements are given relative weights in order to incorporate customer needs into the design of a product. This is because what customer says is a key component of what is expected from the design of a product. This is to say that customers look after their needs when buying a particular product. Failure to include such a requirement means that the final product will have little of what customer wants. Therefore, the product may end up not doing well in the market. In addition, this gives competitors a chance to get ahead, hence outdoing a poorly designed product. One obstacle in including customer needs into the product design is that the manufacturer has a certain capacity when it comes to manufacturing (Deros 2009). Therefore, the manufacturer may not have the production capacity to include all the views presented by the customers. This is usually due to limitations in resources, which may be unaffordable or even unavailable. Therefore, the manufacturer is usually advised to select carefully the most important needs of the customers. This is because the customer goes for such needs first, before considering other needs.
Similarly, it is practically impossible to satisfy all the needs of the customers. This is because they have varied tastes, fashions, and preferences that cannot be matched under normal circumstances. In such a case, the manufacturer could be capable of meeting such needs in terms of production capabilities. However, no product can satisfy all the needs. Therefore, the careful selection of the most crucial needs is likely to benefit the manufacturer and assist in making the product as satisfactory as possible. According to Madu (2006, p. 13), customer requirements can be grouped into two popular methods which focus on spoken word by the customers.
Quality Dimension Development
This approach utilizes the information on the needs of the customers by inferring that the attributes given by the customers about a product are considered requirements. The clothes design has several requirements that can be obtained from comments given by different people about the product. These requirements include comfort, ease of putting on the clothes, weight, ease of using the clothes loops, and attractiveness, among others. These are some possible requiremets of customers based on what they say or as described by Quality Dimension Development.
Use of Critical Incident
This approach utilizes the perceptions that a company creates among its customers, as based on performance (Madu 2006). This means that the positive performance will yield different customer requirements compared to the negative performance. This process is not common because it requires use of questionnaires to get feedback, which is later interpreted as a requirement. Therefore, they remain unchanged. However, design and features are the prominent requirements about the garment.
Step Two: Identification of ‘Whats and ‘Hows’
At this stage, one needs to ask about how the design of a product can be used to meet a particular customer’s requirement. However, the characteristics of the product as identified by a customer are controlled by the manufacturer and are called engineering characteristics (Madu 2006). In addition, these requirements are usually measurable. In the case of the clothes design, several whats and hows can be identified. They include the ability to meet set standards, available colours, the number of sizes, the strength of the material, and its thickness, among others.
At this stage, customer requirements have already been identified and included on the left side of the matrix as rows. Hows are put on the matrix as columns. The symbols indicating how these factors are associated with the customer needs/design requirements are used to show that correlation (Basu 2004). This step involves the addition of another column in the matrix that describes the importance of the product to the customer is relation to the identified requirements. It helps in identifying the most critical attributes that are cited by customers the most.
This step involves the addition of a correlation matrix to form the house of quality in order to illustrate the correlation between various designs, as indicated by customers (Madu 2006). These correlations could be positive or negative and use different symbols, for example, a zero and an X to signify negative or positive correlation. This correlation is usually done on the design requirements such as shape, size, colour, and portability, among others. These correlations are extremely critical when trying to establish feasibilities in design. That is, if a correlation is negative, then it is difficult to achieve the said requirement simultaneously.
This is an advanced stage of making a house of quality and it involves the addition of two extra features, namely technical evaluation and competitive evaluation. The two features are really valuable when it comes to evaluating how a product is doing alongside other similar products. In other words, the manufacturer uses the two features to compare and benchmark his product to that of competitors. In addition, comparison can be done based on what customers have identified as requirements. For example, in this case, some of the features include memory size, portability, screen resolution, and shape, among other design-related features.
Before drawing the house of quality, it is essential to introduce other decisive factors that are useful in measuring customer requirements (Basu 2004). Rating is encouraged in order to form a platform for a relationship matrix. In this process, customers should be asked to rate the importance of a product, especially with regard to what they have identified as requirements. This will make the house of quality more accurate, as it will not likely include exaggerated figures.
This should be followed by the inclusion of competition rating into the table. It is usually done by asking the customers to respond to how a product is rating compares to other products. In this case, comparison will be done by looking at companies such as Nokia, Motorola, and LG, among others. However, it is always advisable to use the companies that seem to offer the most aggressive competition. This gives the organization an actual feeling of how their customers view other companies engaging in similar business (Borror 2008). Therefore, this rating is important in establishing same market conditions associated with competition.
Organizational difficulty is another important feature to consider. This reflects organizational difficulties that are likely to elicit conflicts within an organization. This is presented as a rating where an organization can derive some decision-making tools to avoid conflicts. For instance, an organization can consider adding the number of sizes to a product it offers, if its stock policies allow that.
On top of a house of quality is a correlation matrix that makes it look like a house roof. Although this is the least used tool in application of different customer demand-related items, it is useful for engineers of the product because it is used in examining how technical descriptions afffect each other. It is accomplished by looking at the different relationships between technical descriptions and physical preferences given by the customers.
Importance of a House of Quality
The most notable benefit of using a house of quality is that the products manufactured usually embrace what the customers want. It means that such products represent what markets want and thus increase their sales. According to Dorf (2001, p. 167), a house of quality enables manufacturers to come up with products whose qualities are driven by customers and not hearsay from the management of a company. This way, the manufacturer increases sales and, at the same time, wins more people into using the products as they address what customers want. This is, perhaps, the most critical factor that has enabled Japanese automakers to come up with the best products, which have done well in all parts of the world.
Attraction and retention of customers is guaranteed by proper preparation and observation of a house of quality. Although this may sound basic, it is worth noting that things that many people would assume or consider irrelevant can affect customers. For example, some people may assume a quality such as colour is not relevant to customers (Olewnik & Lewis 2008). However, this is a crucial requirement, especially in the world of fashion where people prefer matching what they hear with what they are carrying or driving. Therefore, identifying such a factor and ensuring a variety of colours of the product is available addresses the need for colour of products. After all, the most valuable thing is to increase profitability of the company by ensuring that the products meet customer requirements, no matter how easy or complicated they may appear.
It is evident that the clothes design has a medium relationship between the number of sizes with the movement and the ease to put on the clothes. Hence, in designing clothes one needs to make sure that the sizes developed address the issue of movement of the clothes and the ease of being used. This means that many customers prefer the attractive clothes and, at the same, those that come in many sizes. This knowledge can help in determining the ways of increasing production of different sizes. Secondly, it is also observable that the design be adjusted to fit.
Problems in Using and Preparing a House of Quality
Market diversity is among the most common challenges encountered by a manufacturer, especially when there are many players in the markets (Dorf 2001). First, targeted populations may be from different cultures, meaning that they could even be using different languages. Therefore, descriptions of customer needs may vary, hence being difficult in determining the exact meaning of some needs. For example, people may have different interpretations of quality based on what their culture dictates. A light garment could be of high quality in a section of a population, while some people may consider it poor. This presents a very challenging moment to the manufacturer since there is no clear presentation of facts or there is a clash of ideas. Since the two have to be served, a compromise should be reached and the most powerful need adapted. Alternatively, a company could consider the needs by analysing and understanding them. This may lead to creation of different products that will ensure that the contradicting needs are addressed effectively.
Another problem encountered by companies when handling the house of quality is the process of aggregating the collected data soon after it has been collected (Dorf 2001). This is because the process needs to come with one answer that incorporates all necessary customer needs in a certain product. This is because data should be handled in the most sensitive manner without omitting some of the most critical issues. First, an organization needs to reduce data into sizeable quantities that are classified in terms of hierarchy of needs, as indicated by customers. This ensures that the most sensitive needs are left for product development. Therefore, procedures such as aggregation of ideas are vital in pooling the needs of customers. Otherwise, if the process of identifying the most sensitive issues is not addressed, some significant views that affect customer needs could be omitted.
The use of the house of quality is also lacking effectiveness when it comes to the use of quantifiable data. This is because the qualitative data provided by customers are based on the gross assumption that the customers are giving the accurate information (Olewnik & Lewis 2008). This means that engineers or designers may interpret the quantitative data wrongly and hence misdirect the process. Therefore, there is the need to research and come up with better methods to improve the quantitative aspects of the house of quality.
In conclusion, the house of quality can be said to address customer needs effectively, as it embraces the most critical issues that a customer would want to see in a product. However, there should be keen considerations when it comes to identifying the most critical needs. Otherwise, the house of quality is the perfect way for product designers to address customer needs and hence boost their sales.
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