Who's worked with DFSS: Design for Six Sigma?

Who has experience with DFSS?

I’m suspicious… Please tell me why I shouldn’t be.

I am in the thick of working in an organization that embraces DFSS and CQM based techniques such as concept engineering etc. I’m one of two people doing IDHF for our company (myself, ID, and another HF guy). You can imagine the tides of bullshit I swim through every day….

The process itself is at base a quantification of what industrial designers, design engineers, good marketing people and program managers have been doing and continue to do. I first thought that DFSS ‘robs’ ID people of “OUR” process. I was suspicious and naive once. I now see it as very data driven when done correctly. It is also very expensive and slow. Also, most of the people doing it have no idea what they are doing. I work with people who drive the process to try to ensure that my functional needs and requirements (in terms of my role and job) are met. I tend to be the gadfly. And, it’s typical that people driving the process know very little about HF and User Research or ID research methods using concept models and direct environmental observation, even though part of concept engineering preaches “getting in the fishbowl”….

Let’s face it. ID is only one part of the very large pie, or web, or team wheel or whatever you want to call it. DESIGN is a very broad term (save the ignorant and speculative web thread rants on the definition of design for some other time). What I see in DFSS is a move towards total transparency and a flattening out of the product development process in large companies.

I have lots to say about this subject. But it’s a can of worms and I don’t have the energy at the moment to get into all of it. There is too much to simply paraphrase.

The funny thing is, it took four or five years for this DFSS thing to catch on in the business world, and most ID people have no clue what it’s about, let alone students. The ironic thing is that it’s old hat- innovation, is the key baby. Now…. let’s all get in the fishbowl.

beesign, since you’ve been in the thick of it, are you aware of a single breakthrough product that has resulted from DFSS? It seems like the standard answer to that question is “it’s still too new.”

I’m also having a hard time finding any product design or development gurus who endorse it. Know any?

I’m suspicious that DFSS is in fact the result of consultants looking for ways to profit from the success of Six Sigma. It seems easy to sell to executives who don’t know about design, but recognize that they have problems that DFSS promises to solve.

Like you, I am worried that Quality is hijacking design in corporate America. Is DFSS friend or foe?

I agree with much of what you said regarding other parts of an organization trying to impose process. Seems like typical corporate near-sightedness as usual.

It’s tempting for me to be cynical or skeptical about processes that are mandated because management spent too much money on the set of bibles they bought from the guy going door to door to dump them in the recycling bin…

In my situation, DFSS and six sigma is a mandate that must be used on all NPI projects. The way ups were sold on a case study done within in our organization to sell the whole thing. The result was not abreak through product, but simply a well designed product. It was still ugly. DFSS, no matter what the case, tends to force design by committee. I see some main points concerning DFSS in my experience.

• It makes ‘designers’ out of just about anybody, as anyone on the project is encouraged to play one. no god or bad here, but can be big trouble if there is no real design leadership. marketing people love this shit unitl they have to throw down and actually do work.

• Ethnographic research and real HF based research tends to be watered down by the inane and excruciatingly tedious steps in the so called design process. here, if possible, the process can be broken up, and only parts should be used that best fit the need.

• The main goal of DFSS is to extract hard requirements out of ‘fuzzy’ customer input. The process contains a step by step way to do this. again, it’s about rigor and consistency.

• People get really excited about doing the up-front-fuzzy-front-end-get in-the-fishbowl-language-process-and-come-up-with-wow-factor-solutions-to-all-of-it work. But, as things progress and people get sucked into various function related workflows, the DFSS process falls to the wayside. The problem with this is that DFSS is supposed to generate a paper trail where evidence of making all the right decisions about the design is clear. It’s all the bureaucracy that ends up fizzling things out. Rigor is key to carrying it through. There needs to be a dedicated function dicking around with it full time to make DFSS work.

• I think DFSS works if the scope of the project is small and the product contains few variables in design. A thermometer for a baby’s butt for instance is a good one for DFSS. Developing a new ventilator with new software, UI, and hardware architecture is a completely different thing.

• DFSS can work if a company is willing to allow teams to work with the parts of the process that make most since to the context of the project. VOC, language processing, and concept development can work very well to justify design decisions but get tricky when outside design and HF firms are used. The outside firm’s process for research will butt heads with internal ignorance. AND, and, if marketing is driving it, it is one step from going to hell once a market research firm gets involved. TIGHT oversight is needed to make sure the data is gathered and refined to fit into DFSS process.

As for breakthrough products? I don’t feel organizations that use DFSS are capable of breakthrough products, it’s a bit dichotomous. there may be a few out there, but who is going to say that DFSS was the reason for success. Most people have too big an ego for that, so the director of R&D seems more likely to claim the prize. Unless, it’s the consultant who is trying to sell DFSS to some big giant sompany for millions fo dollars to bring it online.

One thing is for sure, DFSS can end up employing a lot of people. Operational excellence, research teams etc. If folded in well enough, It can be a very powerful process.

There is so much more to it. I deal with management groups that are blind to ID, but blurt out in a big meeting “We need more Innovation, Call IDEO, they did the Ipod right?”- no shit, for reals.

In the end, there are good parts of DFSS, basically process and tools that were literally lifted out of the pages of process manuals from traditional ID excellence such as IDEO, Teague, Human Factors International, etc…oh, gotta go, I need to go innovate or I’ll lose my bonus.

What I’m really hearing is that corporate America hasn’t been investing in design, and now they’re paying the price.

Six Sigma has won the quality war, but the new war is about differentiation. Their solution is to take whats worked before: bring in some “black belts,” and teach everyone how to do design.

So I’m still looking for case studies. How about in your company? Are your products better or worse than they were before, and why?

I know in GE world this is their god, this is what they worship - Six Sigma! And it really propelled that company. But CG, I agree with the hijacking thing about design. And it’s a ashame!

It’s hard to tell whether the product is better or worse off with DFSS. I think an important reason why DFSS is so popular is that management perceives it as a way to de-risk the design process, and get design work out of the hands of people who aren’t really “data-driven” in the way they would like projects to be. ID and other functions that traditionally operate on sound experience and QUALITATIVE input to design are now being locked down by management and quality groups that want EVERYTHING to be quantified.

There are many products on the market in different industries that have been developed with Six Sigma. Polaroid, Palm, Tyco, Motorola are only a few. I can’t point to direct examples I know of for confidentiality reasons.
But I’m sure CQM or other teaching orginizations can supply them.

Products that are developed with this process may not benefit by way of ’better design’ from an ID filter. And certainly, differentiation plays a role in the process. But, the process does not use the concept of design as we industrial designers are trained to understand it from an emototive POV. The products Iv’e seen seem to lack that je’n sais quois…

DFSS trys, but it seems to end up watering down the product’s effect on people’s emotional base. (The end result has to of course be a strong enough offering to gain market share…)

this is where ID comes in. If we can play nice with DFSS, the contribution we can make can be striking.