4-phase QFD model (part 3 of 3)

Next QFD model

Quality Function Deployment is taught to an estimated 150,000 design students every year. Its taught principles have contributed to success in many thousands, possibly millions, of design projects – although also to some that failed. Of all the design projects that have applied the QFD principles, only a fraction have used an established QFD model approach in its entirety – i.e. performing its every method from start to finish.

Basically, the QFD principles are widely applied, but the currently established model approaches are not! The models are recognised, but they are not formally practised in mainstream design and development. Here are some suggestions why this might be:

Although the QFD principles make good sense, the current models do not visually reflect the workflow of a practical design and development project. They depict a series of cascading step-by-step activities, where product design appears as an isolated activity coming before process design. In a more natural workflow, product and process design is a concurrent activity, with parallel thinking and iterative linking back and forth between the stages – e.g. when choosing a material then we immediately think about how it will be processes; and when developing the process then we may ask for parts layout changes, to facilitate better access for assembly and process efficiency. Robust Engineering Design (RED), for example, fundamentally spans the product and process development and cannot be separated into two isolated activities.

The user has to overcome the confusing distinction between ‘approach’ and ‘process’. QFD cannot simply be picked up and put to use – it is too abstract. As per requirements in ISO 9001, a QFD-based design process and its interfaces to other local organisational processes should be defined first. None of the established QFD model approaches, nor the high-level flow chart defined in the ‘young’ ISO 16355 standard, do yet picture or describe where and how the QFD approach fits within a wider process-based management system. ISO 16355 expressly does not specify a design process or management system – just the guiding principles, to be implemented within a user’s own defined processes.

Established QFD approaches infer their use in time discrete projects. The role of QFD in the post-launch design review is unclear. The wider Design Management System commonly features a PDCA loop, periodically referring products and processes back to the designers for corrective actions over the full life-cycle. The Comprehensive QFD model [Akao] has a flow from post-launch defects back into reliability design; but this is not the whole scenario of reasons for reviewing a product. Reviews frequently result from an accumulation of small drifts in the naturally advancing customer preferences and/or an evolution in the operations technology. In yet other scenarios, the first new product design has to prioritise time-to-market over absolute optimisation; with a deliberate view to take the product back into design for further optimisation, if and when it reaches a sizeable market penetration.

Mismatch to a free-spirited ‘designer culture’. The systematically guided QFD approach, often including an algorithmic HoQ element, can appear objectively dispassionate and disempowering. The HoQ helps evaluating and visualising the requirements at each development stage, but it does of course not bring out any design details. Similarly to any other value creation process, the QFD approach depends highly on people talent and engagement for its success. We should be mindful of reserving space within the QFD project for playing around with and allowing a naturally motivated exploring of the design problem. Before we let ourselves lose on creating from the heart, however, the HoQ is there to help us first develop and share a targeted and realistic game plan for roaming within, to assure that we keep our project’s value creation on an optimised track. The less formulated that a work process is, the more intense the supervisory management intervention can tend to become. A well formulated systematic approach, therefore, can in a sense ‘liberate’ self-managing people to deliver their best. This idea is contained in the spirit of QFD – but is not always well practised.

The Evolved 4-phase model that I presented in part 2 of this series has attempted to address some of the issues, but I doubt this is enough to make any real difference in QFD reaching the next level of mainstream use.


I am not clear what it will take to get a QFD approach to the next level of mainstream use. But, simply promoting more of the same will not do it. There is a call for fresh thinkers to develop and test new model approaches. A suggested, non-validated belief, here, is that such new approach should define or depict the following:

  • The ISO 16355-1 high-level process stages (while ignoring its current “discussive” techniques and Annex);
  • Generic in nature – i.e. non-prescriptive and universally applicable to any type of product, service and organisation. It could optionally suggest associated tools for different types of developments.
  • Reserve organised space for playing around with and allowing a naturally motivated exploring of the design problem. Dependence on artistic freedom is of course a myth; but the designer must not feel artistically constrained either. The QFD approach and tools must remain subordinate to the development team and never feel the other way around.
  • Concurrent design of the product and its production processes, in the concept and layout design stages – e.g. we think about the production/delivery process when selecting materials and when arranging mechanical layout. There must be space for robust engineering design and process efficiency objectives, which have parallel thinking and integration between the product and process development stages. This can be prioritised into the HoQ context weightings;
  • Sequential design of the product and its production processes, in the detailing stage – i.e. the product design must be fixed, before the final process details can become fixed, and so on;
  • Interfacing or integrating the QFD ‘process’ into a PDCA-based Design Management System and/or wider system.

What could QFD 2.0 look like?

Possibly, the scope of QFD could be widened, for it to become the Design Management System – as the founders of the original model had intended it. QFD is nearly there. It does link vertically to strategic planning, and it links-up the organisational functions horizontally. It just does not clearly define a complete process or system.

The header image at the top of this post suggests a draft model depicting QFD as a design and development process, ready to be integrated into a wider PDCA-based management system. The project management element can perform the ‘Check’ and ‘Act’ functions, at design level.

4-phase QFD model (part 3 of 3)

How does QFD integrate with the Design Management System PDCA cycle?

4-phase QFD model (part 3 of 3)

How do processes that contain elements of the QFD approach interface within the Organisation’s wider management system processes? Note how Management Review has a leadership function in driving the PDCA.

In a post-launch design review, the original deployment charts – e.g. HoQ – can facilitate the ‘Plan’ element in the PDCA cycle. Simply reviewing the prior input customer requirements and the what/how contexts, in light of the new situation, will fast produce a prioritised plan for the re-design activity.

4-phase QFD model (part 3 of 3)

The alternative draft model here is a suggested design management system reflecting PDCA, concurrent and sequential process elements in a development project.

There is still a lot to get on with in advancing QFD and good design practice!