“Why bother about process improvement? Let’s do it right the first time. We don’t need process improvement. We have to implement DFSS!” This is a common theme from engineering people in Six Sigma deployments. A common response from practitioners is that DMAIC should be implemented first; experience with the methodology should come before the introduction of Design for Six Sigma (DFSS).

A Little Background

Design for Six Sigma is a structured approach for product/service or process design. While companies around the world follow more or less the structure of DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) as the project steps in Six Sigma process improvement, there is not a universal process acronym in DFSS. But since the underlying phase deliverables are the same, it does not matter whether it is called DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify), IDOV (Identify, Design, Optimize, Verify) or other derivatives. IDOV is the approach referenced here.

European Approach to DFSS

The introduction of Design for Six Sigma can be made incrementally or “with a big bang.” Some companies have been successful launching DFSS with a high profile campaign, e.g., cutting the company’s overall marketing budget dramatically to introduce DFSS from end to end. (Message from the CEO: “We can’t market our products if we don’t get the design to the customers’ requirements. All new developments must use DFSS rigor.”)

In Europe, the more stereotypical approach is: “Let’s try it out small-scale and if this is successful, we’ll expand incrementally.” Small-scale can be either one DFSS project from end to end (marketing to operations), or introducing DFSS function by function. The latter means starting with the typical design functions first, i.e., engineering. The effect is that the full power of DFSS does not come to bear, but the principles of robust design and improved optimization lead to internal success stories first. Slowly the program can be expanded to project management and eventually to marketing/sales.

In the United States or in China, Six Sigma practitioners like the DFSS concepts of design scorecards and quality function deployment (QFD) flowdown. They look at this from the perspective: “What can I get out of it? How could this help improve our design processes?”

In many European companies, before the full power of scorecards and other DFSS concepts can be implemented (e.g., in France, Germany or Sweden), these questions need to be answered: How does DFSS fit into the company’s existing development roadmap/new product introduction process? What methodologies should be used to estimate the target capabilities? What are the respective roles of project manager, sub-project lead, Black Belt, Master Black Belt, engineering, etc.?

So, how “European” does a company need to be? Questions for implementing DFSS:

  • How does the company culture support either the scaled or a full implementation?
  • What other programs have been introduced in the design/development practice in recent years? Where does alignment to DFSS need to be created? (e.g., new product introduction process, CMMI, etc.)
  • What is the level of collaboration and integrated processes between functions? To what degree is process management versus departmental management in place?

Process, Service and Product Design

Another consideration when implementing DFSS is whether the program aims at product or service design or at process design (Table 1). While new process design may involve only a few of the organization’s functions or departments, the design of a new product or a new service has stakeholders throughout the company’s value creation process. For example, the finance department may want to design a new process for annual budgeting using enhanced web-based functionality. If the old system is mainly paper-based and entries are duplicated in different databases, this may be a DFSS project. The process has different internal customers and suppliers, hence the complexity is internal.

On the other side, if a bank considers offering a new online platform for customers to eventually generate more business from the additional services, this is a design project for a new service. This project involves sales, marketing, development, operations and support functions internally. Externally, it will need to have a high involvement from the customers to clarify their requirements.

The difference between product and service development is the level of detail and complexity mainly in the Optimize phase of the DFSS project. In product design projects, the Optimize phase is the phase when the design “becomes real.” First prototypes will be built; data must be collected on tangibles even if simulating the processes.

Advanced DFSS programs include a number of tools for the Optimize phase mainly for product design. Typical Six Sigma tools such as design of experiments may be advanced by robust design principles or mixture design concepts.

Table 1: Three Types of Design Projects
Process Design Service Design Product Design
Customers Internal External, business or consumer External, business or consumer
Number of CTQs Moderate High High
Involvement Necessary Varies, depending on the process: from departmental to company-wide stakeholders All core processes Varies, depending on the rollout approach: Mainly development functions or all core processes
Tool Sophistication Moderate Moderate High
Examples for Advanced Tools Concept generation, process simulation CTQ identification, QFD flowdown, process simulation CTQ identification, QFD flowdown, robust design analysis, Monte Carlo simulation

Questions for implementing DFSS:

  • What is the level of sponsorship and support necessary for successful project completion?
  • What is the realistic timeline for project completion?
  • What level of sophistication is necessary for the Optimize phase? What are the analyze/optimize tools that will help?
  • How many components does the overall system contain? How can the integration of the components be managed?

Innovation or Design to Specifications?

Whether designing services or products, it is important to consider where a new design is in the range between innovation and design to specifications. In many cases, the field of business determines that. (Are the final customers consumers or companies?) For example, consider a maker of mobile phones that is designing the next generation phone. What are the requirements of the customers? What are the CTQs that should be designed into the product? There is not a clear answer. The mobile phone maker is dealing with multiple customers (different segments of consumers and mobile phone service providers that are selling the devices and therefore also have requirements) and trying to augment the future. The same situation is true for automobiles, appliances, consumer banks, insurance companies, retailers, textile companies, etc.

Contrast this with a maker of turbines for power plants. When asked about product requirements, its customers are able to articulate in a very specific way what they are looking for. The people responsible for marketing and sales generally are technicians. The situation is similar, for example, to a risk insurance provider who issues policies to rental car companies.

The DFSS process helps to structure the design process from identifying requirements to ongoing operations. In innovative environments, it is critical that the DFSS process includes more involved voice-of-the-customer tools, including customer research, conjoint analysis and verification of ideas.

Questions for implementing DFSS:

  • Who are the customers for the design? Are they fragmented? Are there natural segments or do they need to be segmented strategically?
  • Are customer requirements currently identified by salespersons face-to-face with the customer or by the “sophisticated gut feeling” of persons who know the market?
  • What are the best approaches for gathering the voice of the customer? Is consumer research necessary?

DMAIC First? Six Sigma Works Here

Some organizations consider going for Design for Six Sigma right away and not starting with process improvement (DMAIC). This seems attractive: DMAIC always means searching for problems that can be solved – and a lot of organizations (responsible persons?) do not want to admit to having problems.

Nevertheless, there are a number of good reasons for starting with DMAIC even in a creative or engineering environment: Budget-effective financial savings can be reported within a limited time frame, a number of projects can be executed simultaneously and internal success stories can be created, proving that “Six Sigma works here.” (Table 2)

Table 2: Differences Between DMAIC and IDOV Projects
Number of CTQs for a Project Few Many
Training Participants Belts (project leaders) Project leaders and project teams
Projects Each Belt has a specific project to improve existing process Project teams work on a scheduled development project
Financial Benefits Bottom line savings, risk reduction, or topline growth, quantifiable Hard to quantify (the project would have been done also without DFSS)
Project Timeline 2-4 months (Green Belt), 6-9 months (Black Belt) Depends on complexity of the design, 2 months to several years
Project Team Limited number of team members, limited number of team meetings, data collection and analysis can be made by individuals Larger project team with varying members, long and frequent team meetings (e.g., to collect qualitative data and analyze in the team)

Questions for implementing DFSS:

  • Is there a need to create quick success stories?
  • What is the best mix of projects based on benefits? What is the proportion of projects that deliver hard savings to projects with benefits that are difficult to calculate?
  • Is it possible to find worthy projects in transactional/non-operations areas?
  • What is the strategic direction regarding cost reduction versus revenue growth?

Implementing DFSS

While it fits typical U.S.-company cultures to drive an initiative by laying out the initiative’s goals and providing appropriate support, most European companies are better off building the implementation of DFSS on considerations like the above. Based on them, the implementation consists of these steps:

  1. Identify scope of the program (process versus service/product design).
  2. Assess potential impact of DFSS on the organization (type of involvement necessary).
  3. Decide on the implementation approach (scaled or full; marketing to be part of the initial program or phased in later).
  4. Establish steering board for the implementation (by business sector?).
  5. Train program Champions, project sponsors, Belts and project teams.
  6. Coach Belts, teams and project sponsors through the successful completion of their first projects.
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