When products and services do not fully meet customer, market or an organisation’s own expectations, it is typically because of some insufficiency or oversight in the designer’s thought-process. Fixing product specification problems too often become a post-launch activity, where with benefit of hindsight the designers can be heard saying: “Why didn’t we think about this earlier; it is so obvious and could so easily have been designed in from the very beginning”?
The Gap Model depicted above (adapted from Zeithaml et al 1990) illustrates how the quality and innovation gaps that are experienced in the customer’s world, will result from an additive effect of organisational gaps:
Gap 1 – Inventiveness gap: Not thinking beyond the current expectations, because customers are not yet asking for it.
Gap 2 – Listening gap: Not knowing the current expectations, resulting in an imperfect perception of customer needs.
Gap 3 – Specification gap: Poor translation into design requirements. Misinterpreting the standards.
Gap 4 – Development gap: Weak project planning and prioritisation. Lacking solution. Lacking testing and validation.
Gap 5 – Performance gap: Inadequate resources and/or poor performance in the delivery system.
Ideally, we would want the actual perceived delivery to meet the expected and unexpected quality – i.e. to end up with no customer gaps at all. The elimination of the quality gap is a prerequisite to customers becoming excited about any innovation. The appropriate sizing of the inventiveness gap (gap 1) only really becomes important once the various other gaps (2 to 5) are assured.
If we under-respond to the innovation gap then our product will not excite customers and it will fail to grow its success. If we over-respond to the innovation gap then our product will risk becoming too ‘alien’, where prospective customers will not recognise their need for it. This is because customers have a relatively short horizon-span, in which they see their needs mainly in relation to what they know already. ‘Needs’ and ‘wants’ are not always the same thing.
The 5 organisational gaps have some root causes:
- Lacking customer insight and ‘empathy’.
- Functional divisions, lacking integration between the development stages.
- Oversights, from a disorganised haphazard approach.
- Lacking or inability to apply skill, knowledge and experience (competency).
- Non-engaged people, who have stopped caring.
The Quality Function Deployment (QFD) approach described in my earlier posts addresses all of the root causes behind the Gap Model. QFD will of course not increase our designer technical skills, but its more effective planning and prioritisation of our abilities can in part compensate for lacking skills. It will help identify where the skills shortages lay and would need to be supported.