Most businesses have a good understanding of the markets that they operate in and have developed deep expertise in Product Development, Product Delivery (through manufacturing or service delivery) and Customer Service. But this leaves a gap that, in our experience, creates problems in the delivery of new products and services. The gap creates a weakness in the connection between Marketing and Product Development, because customer needs have not been thoroughly understood or are not translated into the development process, resulting in disappointments or last-minute panics. The process that should fill that gap is called Design.
The underlying idea is to connect customers’ needs and expectations to every step of the design and development process, and so ensure that products and services deliver what is expected of them right from the start. Design for Six Sigma does this in three ways:
Mapping customer needs to design decisions
DFSS uses a technique called Quality Function Deployment (QFD) to link the results of market research to the measures that will be used to evaluate the final product or service and the functions that need to be performed in order to serve customers’ needs. This enables the design teams to prioritise effectively and hence ensure that extra effort is put into the things that really matter
QFD has a second purpose – it drives the team to a systematic way of thinking that makes it likely that things they have forgotten will be uncovered at an early stage – and long before it becomes costly to correct the mistake.
Linked to this is the need to make the design process robust. Just as it is vital to understand all the customers’ needs, it is equally important to understand all the sources of risk, both internal (such as business priorities and resource availability) and external (such as market or legislative conditions). Once these have been assessed, mitigation plans can be developed in good time.