Six Sigma–Cutting To the Quick with CTQ


In their book Six Sigma:  The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations, the authors Ikel Harry, Ph.D., and Richard Schroeder discuss in chapter six the issue of changing what it is that companies measure.   One of the ways that companies can “measure” customer satisfaction is with a set of characteristics called “CTQ” or Critical-To-Quality.

Archimedes, the Greek mathematician and engineer, once said “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”   In the world of manufacturing, you want to be able to move customer satisfaction, because that is what will get the customers buying your product and making your company profitable.

In the world of quality, the lever with which you move customer satisfaction is “CTQ” or “Critical-To-Quality” characteristics.   These are the characteristics which correlate with customer satisfaction.   And where is the fulcrum, the place you position the lever?   That is determined through Six Sigma–you have process metrics which reflect how well your processes are creating products and services which meet the CTQ characteristics and thus have a positive impact on customer satisfaction.

The problem is “satisfaction” is a quality internal to the customer, and so you must interpret what features in the external world correlate to that inner sense of satisfaction.   This is where skillfully written surveys, or even better yet, focus groups come into play.   Sometimes the customer cannot articulate what it is about a product that moves him or her to buy it, because the features may trigger some unconscious reaction that the customer, by definition, is not consciously aware of.

Note that creating a defect-free product, which is what people normally think of as “quality”, is a necessary condition for a product to create customer satisfaction, but it is not a sufficient condition.   In other words, if a product has no defects but is not what the customer ordered, well then the customer isn’t going to buy it no matter how defect-free it is.

So the key here is make the following links:

customer satisfaction ↔ critical-to-quality characteristics ↔ manufacturing and/or business processes

Companies who either don’t find out the CTQ characteristics that correlate to customer satisfaction, or who don’t correlate their process improvement with those same CTQ characteristics are going to find that their “quality wheels are spinning without any traction.”

To go into this matter further, let’s discuss the “customer satisfaction” part of the equation in more detail, which I will do in the following post.

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