Quality in Radical Innovation

Q: Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) involves the discovery, development, and understanding of critical to quality areas and fosters innovation. However, studies have shown that using focus groups, interviews, and etc., based on current users only bring forth ideas relative to incremental innovation, as the only knowledge that most customers have is of current products. But we know that the greatest potential for return is in radical innovation.

My question is: what useful tools are there for determining critical to quality areas of radical innovation products, or products that are new to market where customers have little to no knowledge of?

A: These are great questions that are not easy to answer as posed.

One of the dilemmas I’ve seen with companies building radical innovation without enough knowledge to identify the important quality aspects is that the company is often under intense pressure to get to market. In some cases, the innovation presents clear aspects that have to be controlled to create an acceptable product. In some cases, the issues are unknown.

I do not agree the work within a group only reflects the knowledge already present. One of the best tools in these situations is carefully crafted questions posed to those most familiar with the new technology. Given my personal bias, I would ask: “What will fail? Why?” and then ask about material, process, and feature performance variation. Focusing on the failure mechanisms and variation will often lead the team to uncover those aspects of the product that require well crafted specifications and monitoring.

Not a fancy tool, just a question or two. Yet, the focus is on what will cause the innovation to not meet the customer’s expectations. What could go wrong? Make it visible, talked about, and examined. Creating a safe atmosphere (no blame or personal attacks) to explore failure permits those most vested in making the product work examine the boundaries and paths that lead to failure.

Once the process of safely examining failures starts, a range of tools assist with the refinement and prioritization. Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) and Highly Accelerated Life Testing (HALT), provide means to further discover areas to explore the paths to failure. I mention creating a safe environment first, because using FMEA and HALT when someone’s reputation or status is threatened generally leads to these tools being very ineffective.

One more thought on a safe environment for the exploration of failures. Focus on the process, materials and interaction with customers and their environment. “How can we make this better, more resilient, more robust, etc.?” Not, “Why did you design it this way?” or, “This appears to be a design mistake.” All involved have the same goal to create a quality product or service, yet there may be a lot unknown related to those conditions that lead to product failure. An open and honest exploration to discover the margins and product weaknesses is most effective in a safe environment for those concerned. And, by the way, this includes vendors, contractors, suppliers, and all those involved with the supply chain, development and manufacturing processes.

Fred Schenkelberg
Voting member of U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 56
Voting member of U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 69
Reliability Engineering and Management Consultant
FMS Reliability

Editor’s note: Want to read more about innovation?

Check out these open access resources from the ASQ Knowledge Center:

Browse books about innovation from Quality Press:

Design for Six Sigma

Control chart, data, analysis

Q: I am preparing a short training session for my company on the topic of Design for Six Sigma.  I am interested in looking at some examples of how other companies or organizations have used DFSS.  Is it possible to get case studies from ASQ on this topic?

A: Thank you for contacting ASQ and the Quality Information Center.  Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) can be defined as “robust design that is consistent with the applicable manufacturing processes to assure a fully capable process that will deliver quality products” (from The Quality Improvement Glossary by Donald L. Siebels).

The ASQ Knowledge Center has over 1500 case studies on various topics.  I have listed some case studies below that deal specifically with the topic of Design for Six Sigma at companies/organizations such as Ford, Delphi Electronics, and the University of Miami:

“DFSS Lights the Way”, Six Sigma Forum Magazine, May 2009
Abstract: Delphi Electronics, a global supplier of automotive electronics and safety systems, uses many problem-prevention and solving methods to achieve flawless product launches and reduce variation and waste. When assigned a particularly challenging project, Delphi’s development team quickly determined that the Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) method offered the best opportunity to develop a process that would meet internal and customer requirements. DFSS minimized development costs by guiding the team to use a very efficient experimental strategy. As a result, capital equipment requirements were reduced, customer performance requirements were exceeded, and the team achieved greater than 6 sigma process capability.

“Six Sigma Saves Nearly $1 Billion, Key Customers, and a Company”, Case Study, Sept. 2006
Abstract: Just months before severe business conditions threatened the company’s economic future, Cummins Inc. deployed an all-encompassing Six Sigma program. Using three versions of Six Sigma, (Technology Development for Six Sigma, DMAIC, and Design for Six Sigma) Cummins has saved nearly $1 billion through the completion of nearly 5,000 improvement projects. While Six Sigma is commonly used to improve internal production processes, Cummins extends this quality methodology to every facet of its business and beyond, to both customers and suppliers.

“Design for Six Sigma at Ford”, Six Sigma Forum Magazine, Nov. 2004
Abstract: Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) is a product development approach that complements Six Sigma problem solving methodology. Many companies developed their own DFSS processes before a standard template became available, but all versions share fundamental strategies and tools. Ford Motor Co. developed its program in 1999 with emphases on the training of black belts and the completion of DMAIC projects. Implementation began at Ford’s Powertrain Division, but soon other divisions were launching DFSS as well. Issues with training and execution of projects highlighted assumptions that required reevaluation, including DFSS rationale, project integration, process flexibility, and training. DFSS implementation at Ford showed the challenges to be more cultural and organizational than technical. DFSS at Ford has emerged as an enhancement to the present product development system that reinforces the company’s Six Sigma skill base.

“Designing New Housing at the University of Miami: A ‘‘Six Sigma” DMADV/DFSS Case Study”, Quality Engineering, July 2006
Abstract: The two methods employed in Six Sigma initiatives to attain a high standard of quality are the define-measure-analyze-improve-control (DMAIC) method and the define-measure-analyze-design-verify (DMADV) method. In this case study, the DMADV management model is used to design a new dormitory concept at the University of Miami. Its purpose it to provide a roadmap for conducting a Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) project.

“Design for Six Sigma and Product Portfolio Optimization”, Six Sigma Forum Magazine, Nov. 2007
Abstract: DuPont recently undertook a Six Sigma Project designed to optimize its customer service and keep supply ahead of demand. Run primarily in a design for Six Sigma (DFSS) framework, the project was as much about developing a product portfolio performance analysis process as it was about identifying areas for improvement in the portfolio. The project’s findings were used to help decide which poor performing products could be dropped from the portfolio and to help improve the performance of other products. Overall, the project identified initiatives that when implemented could deliver additional manufacturing capacity needed to improve customer service.

“Combine Quality and Speed to Market”, Six Sigma Forum Magazine, Aug. 2004
Abstract: Samsung Electronics Company recently adopted Six Sigma DMAIC methodology to prevent anticipated problems and gather feedback data for mass production. Market demands required the company to complete a chip redesign project within six months. The main challenge was to adapt the DFSS methodology to a semiconductor process development that typically takes one to two years. Samsung credits its success with the DFSS project to factors including allowing sufficient time, organizing cross functional teams as needed, not being bound by tools, and guaranteeing process robustness and process margin.

“Seizing an Opportunity”, Six Sigma Forum Magazine, Feb. 2009
Abstract: The U.S. Coast Guard applied design for Six Sigma (DFSS) to redesign an operational requirements process that provides the basis for acquisition programs to develop major assets. A cross-functional integrated process team was formed to initiate a Six Sigma project for developing a new requirements process, but they faced challenges when applying Six Sigma to a knowledge process in a headquarters situation. The team modified the DFSS method and tools to fit a long cycle-time knowledge process with few metrics. The Coast Guard’s modification can serve as a model for applying DFSS to similar processes in many organizations.

I hope that you find these case studies helpful.  Please contact the ASQ Quality Information Center if you need additional assistance.

Best regards,

ASQ Research Librarian
Milwaukee, WI