To drive improvement through Lean Six Sigma and other continuous improvement projects, it is imperative for practitioners to first determine what is important to the customers. The Voice of the Customer (VoC) is the comprehensive set of basic needs, performance needs, and delighters that the customers have with respect to the process. When tackling a new improvement project, it is important to acknowledge that the customers of the project are not always identical to the customers of the process. Quite often, the customers of the project are Senior Leaders and can be treated as the “external customer” while the “internal customers” are the internal functional groups that use the outputs from the process. This article will solely focus on the “external” Voice of the Customer.
External customers “pay” for the project by devoting resources towards the project, and as such, the project manager has a critical responsibility to ensure full understanding of all aspects of the external customer’s voice. Understanding this voice is so paramount to success that one would argue it needs to be explicitly allotted time in the project plan/ approval process.
Often times, leadership has a few key performance indicators (KPIs) of interest. While these KPIs are a very good starting point, it is very important to ensure they coincide with delivering value to the shareholders, consumers, etc. In addition to these KPIs, there are other high level requirements that may not be quantifiable. These should be gathered via a combination of interviews and customer experience simulations.
Interviews with a few key customers who will participate in the cross-functional team are largely preferable to surveys. Surveys are dependent on question wording, response bias, and are often costly. In contrast, interviews build rapport, include clarification to ensure understanding of questions, and allow the conversation to lead to areas the survey makers would not have thought of. The interviews can be used to generate a tool which is referred to as the “QFD Lite”.
External VoC Tool: the QFD Lite Matrix
Each KPI and high level requirement can be considered a “Big Y”. Separately, we assemble the team to define/ brainstorm critical to qualities (CTQs), similar to “epics” and/or “drivers”. Regardless of the 3 terms/ ideas employed, the concept will remain the same.
Here’s a hypothetical example around optimization of an internal IT Help Desk:
As you will see in the matrix below, the following Big Y’s (e.g. service level agreements) are included: Help Desk Monthly Cost < $X, End User Uptime % > 99%, Mean Time to Resolve < 5 minutes, and Satisfaction with Help Desk.
Once the CTQs/ epics/ drivers are complete, the next step is to tabulate their importance against the Big Ys. This can be done as a full quality function deployment (QFD); however, experience has found the additional complexity of a full QFD does not justify the incremental insight gain, so it is recommended that the “QFD lite” tool be utilized.
The interviewees vote on “Low, Medium, High” impact of each CTQ on each Big Y, populating a 1, 4, or 9, respectively. The sums are then tabulated for each CTQ to help prioritize.
In this example, the higher priority goes to call routing and quarterly Continuous Improvement Review. Additionally, in this example, you will notice that all the values ended up being close. However, in the field, when you have a good “vigorous” discussion with a diverse group of stakeholders, the values will tend to have a more telling spread to help prioritize which stories to attack first.
Using this tool in conjunction with sound Agile principles, the Voice of the Customer is more thoroughly integrated in the process improvement project, mitigating customer dissatisfaction risk.