September 18, 2012

A Lifecycle Perspective on Product Quality

A Lifecycle Perspective on Product Quality offers a framework to manage the…
Avatar Dr. Michael Grieves

Quality is one of the most important characteristics of products today. Companies spend a great deal of time and effort in an attempt to build quality products. No discussion by a CEO of a product company is complete without a mention of quality. Yet defining what “quality” actually is can be somewhat complicated. Just look in the dictionary to see what I mean … has 19 different definitions. These varying definitions can be reconciled if we view product quality as a lifecycle of characteristics, where each preceding characteristic maps to and implements the following one. In this fashion, quality is derivative of and dependent upon how well the following phase implements the previous phase. This concept can be best described as Product Lifecycle Quality (PLQ).

Product Lifecycle Quality

Product Lifecycle Quality starts and ends with perceived value, which is what we evaluate a product against. This is the essence of what quality really is. If we perceive a product as meeting our expectation in obtaining something we value, then it is a quality product. The closer the product delivers what we value, the more quality we think it has.

The next stage of PLQ is defining what product requirements are needed to produce the right perceived value. Mapping a list of requirements to perceived value is not an easy task. In some instances, the perceived value is not fully formed until the product is put to actual use, creating a significant challenge in determining what a product’s requirements should actually be. Once a product’s requirements have been identified, a product design can then be created. At this phase of PLQ, the task is to map a product’s requirements to physical shapes and components as a design to build the product. Designs are realized in specifications, which are quantifiable descriptions of the material and the operations on and in the material to create the product. The goal of these specifications is to realize individual physical products, the instances, from a virtual product, the design.

Challenges with PLQ

From a PLQ perspective, the quality of the product is dependent on the product meeting the perceived value test of the product user. Herein lies the challenge. By focusing only on specifications, there may be new information being obtained from the usage of the product indicating that the product created to the current specifications does not produce the requirements now desired by the product user. Too often, under today’s siloed approach, there is little visibly of this issue in the manufacturing phase. Manufacturing will typically be busy producing product that by their standards is of the highest quality, but in reality is simply expensive scrap. Using a PLQ methodology can at least alert manufacturing to the issue that there is a problem with the product, which can then allow manufacturing to make better decisions about whether to continue production or at least identify where problem products exist.

Embracing a PLQ methodology to manufacturing is a great way to identify perceived value, and then proceed to produce quality products that meet the expectations of end users. As these perceptions of quality evolve over time, a PLQ strategy can ensure changes are incorporated in the next product version, with the ultimate validation of a product being perceived as having the highest possible quality in the marketplace.

If you are interested in learning more about the concept of Product Lifecycle Quality, I would encourage you to read my latest book entitled “Virtually Perfect.”

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