Reverse R&D for Lean Six Sigma

A few months ago Business Week had an interesting article about how Dow cuts their R&D risk by finding out what customers want. Sounds oddly like Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) and Quality Function Deployment (QFD).

Seems the apparel market wanted a new fiber with a "soft stretch, cottony feel, and resistance to heat and chemicals. Until then, Dow had assumed that the big money winner would be a fiber that undercut rivals in price. The result was a fiber called XLA which will appear in fabrics this year. Estimated new revenue: $1 billion per year.

What is Reverse R&D?
Well, instead of developing new products in a vacuum and hoping customers love them, "Dow starts with what the customer actually wants and works backwards."

Step 1: Listen to the customer. Dow gathered 26 industry leaders together and picked their brains for insights into the ideal fiber characteristics. (In QFD, this is the first step: determining the product characteristics.)

Step 2: Identify unique opportunities that are unmet by existing products. (In QFD, this is part of the competitive analysis).

Step 3: Choose the most lucrative opportunities. (In QFD, the various weights applied to each characteristic lead to selecting the ideal combination.)

Step 4: Develop a prototype and test it with key customers. (Phase two of QFD helps develop the part characteristics.)

Step 5: Commercial production. (The third and fourth phases of QFD develop the process and production requirements to deliver the product at a quality level somewhere around 4-to-5 sigma.)

You can't make the dogs eat the dog food
I worked with a guy that worked at Purina at one time. He knew that "you can't make the dogs eat the dog food."

There's a risk in starting with a clean sheet of paper and trying to create something totally new. Or you can minimize your risk by starting from customer requirements that aren't being met in the marketplace and develop from there. Obviously, every business needs to do some of both. You don't want your future riding totally on either long-shots or clear-shots.

The goal is simple: Maximize the return while minimizing the risk. DFSS and QFD can help you do both.

QI Macros for Excel contains templates for Design for Six Sigma tools including: QFD, the Pugh Concept Selection Matrix, FMEA, and DOE.

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537,"

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