Voice of the customer, six sigma blackbelts, and garbled "strategy"
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Abstracting House of Quality Thinking to Identify Sustainable Competitive Advantage

This is Chris Halliwell from the Technology Marketing Center for the 3rd of 3 posts on using voice of the customer to align resources on sustainable competitive advantage.

The last post talked about the current QFD-driven fad of using House of Quality as the primary display format for voice of the customer insight, and I lamented that, however valuable for feature prioritization, the HoQ format might obscure strategic sources of sustainable competitive advantage.  Below is the traditional HoQ format annotated with ideas on why and how to abstract this thought process to provide competitive insight across multiple products and families, i.e. across a product roadmap.

For those who have participated in an HoQ project, the bottom line is that I'm advocating taking the HoQ approach, but doing the exercise at the Affinity Group (what I call "value driver" level) to identify the basis of strategic competitive advantage.

In my days as a semiconductor product manager, someone at Intel called these value drivers, or Affinity Groups, the "ilities".  Business/industrial customers don't just buy a product, they buy a past reputation and a promise about future support and product enhancement. 

Promises over time are "ilities", for instance, promises about reliability, scalability, extensibility, affordability, quality, maintainability, usability, and so on.  Customers care about all these ilities, but depending on the maturity of the technology and environmental trends in the industry, some ilities deliver much higher value to customers.  As an example, a common technology market situation is a maturing technology for whom continued market growth depends on usability so that demand can spread beyond super technical end users.  In this case the product roadmap over the strategic planning horizon with the most effective improvement in usability will gain share across the product family.  The implication for market/product strategy teams is that incremental improvement in other ilities should be avoided in favor of better-than-competition execution in ease of use.

HoQ Pix

My second  complaint about the HoQ thought process, even for a the prioritization of functionality on a single product at a single point in time, is that the display format does not lend itself to consideration of non-product development value, nor value from market partners.  In other words, it does not promote whole product thinking. I'm not a QFD/HoQ expert by any means, and those who are may argue that there is a way to encompass value chain and value network or ecosystem value into the HoQ format.  There probably is, but I'm betting 99 out of 100 times it's not done.

Would love to hear others' thoughts on this topic!





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