Retiring the House of Quality

It is time to retire obsolete tools And make the ultimate upgrade in innovation

House of Quality White Paper Abstract

By Tony Ulwick

Quality Function Deployment (QFD) was conceived in Japan in the late 1960s by Yoji Akao and Shigeru Mizuno as a method for assuring quality in new product development. In 1972, to support this paradigm shift for designing in quality, the first QFD matrix, the “house of quality,” was added to QFD as a new tool. QFD spread to the United States from Japan in 1984, and in 1988, John Hauser and Don Clausing described the use of a simple subset of QFD by U.S. automotive parts suppliers in the classic Harvard Business Review article “The House of Quality” (May–June 1988). The traditional house of quality they presented is a matrix that has been used by thousands of companies in the United States as part of their implementation of QFD. The theory behind the QFD system is that companies should be customer-driven in executing the product development process; that is, they should begin with customers’ needs, not with technology. By taking customer needs into account, companies are more likely to design products that customers value. To accomplish this, everyone involved in product development must work together throughout the development process to focus their best efforts on what matters most to customers. The result is a product or service superior to the competition, and which satisfies customers by providing value. This can only be achieved when product developers accurately understand the true needs of the company’s customers. The QFD system was developed to assure this, and in the last decade, QFD and its tools have become widely adopted as standard Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) practices for product development.

Since its introduction, companies have also used the house of quality to help execute the innovation process, a related, but distinct, discipline. After years of use, the house of quality has become a de facto DFSS standard practice for this discipline as well. Today, with innovation and product development emerging as the keys to company growth, increasing numbers of companies are attempting to use the traditional house of quality to help execute these complex processes. But as a handful of companies discovered years ago, and as other companies are quickly discovering today, the traditional house of quality is not the best tool for the innovation process or even the best tool for the product development process, where it is most commonly used.

With modern methods available to execute the innovation process, specifically those integrated in the outcome-driven innovation methodology introduced by Anthony Ulwick in “Turn Customer Input into Innovation” (Harvard Business Review, January 2002) and further described in What Customers Want (McGraw-Hill, 2005), companies are finding that the traditional house of quality is no longer necessary for concept innovation.

Companies are also finding that the traditional house of quality requires renovation to be an effective tool in today’s complex product development process, and they are discovering the process often works better when it is begun with the maximum value table. (See Richard Zultner, “Blitz QFD: Better, Faster, and Cheaper Forms of QFD,” in the October 1995 issue of American Programmer.) The maximum value table is made even more effective when the inputs to the table are those made available by the outcome-driven innovation methodology.

Given these facts, the time has come to retire the traditional house of quality from active service for concept innovation and to adopt these new successful tools and a renovated version of the house of quality for product development. By adopting these new DFSS standard practices for innovation and product development, both processes can be improved, resulting in greater value for customers and a competitive advantage for the firm.

Download the full white paper, “Retiring the House of Quality.”