Originally developed and documented as an ‘automotive standard’ in the late 1980s, Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) is today, equally applicable in any organisation that needs to manage the introduction of new products and processes to satisfy customer requirements.
Faced with changing customer expectations and new market opportunities, the ability to respond by improving your products and processes becomes a critical success factor for your organisation. Without a disciplined approach to product and process development however, the technical and commercial risks of failure rise as product complexity increases.
APQP provides the disciplined approach to the development of new products and production processes required to prevent poor product performance, programme delays and cost over-runs that destroy profitability. By reducing the risk of project failure while simultaneously accelerating the development process, APQP creates a competitive advantage - as users become more responsive to changing market conditions and are able to exploit new opportunities.
The concepts of Lean Manufacturing, which continues to transform manufacturing industry to this day, were advanced by Womack1 and his colleagues whose research identified the critical success factors driving the most successful companies. Those familiar with Lean Manufacturing will appreciate that its success is counter-intuitive – and organisations must build a management culture that supports ‘lean thinking’ – to avoid creating bureaucratic empires.
This challenge cannot be ignored in Lean Product Development because processes only add value when the information flows to (internal or external) decision makers, and poor decisions can have far reaching, and sometimes fatal, consequences elsewhere. Though often overlooked by traditional organisations, Lean Product Development enables companies to become more responsive to changing market requirements whilst avoiding the chaos, disruption and customer complaints caused by poorly executed ‘product and process improvements’. APQP enables organisations to move into lean product development by providing a stable process for creating and managing the development of new products and processes - without stifling creativity.
Taichi Ohno, at Toyota, argued that you cannot start to improve a process until you have established standard and repeatable methods of work. So, in product development we need ‘standard processes’ that encourage creative thinking, whilst avoiding the unacceptable risk of design and process changes that are not fully validated.
These risks are illustrated by the number of innovative products and processes that become commercial failures because they are delivered late and over budget or fail to satisfy customer expectations. Phil Stunell, BywaterExcel’s Core Tools tutor agrees: “In the most extreme examples, producers are forced to recall products, because the design requirements have not been met or the process capability is inadequate.”
Phil states that “APQP integrates sub-processes with well-defined inputs and outputs to manage the creation and flow of information and documentation from concept design through to production and customer support.” The process is described in terms of the flow of information required to support decision making about the product or process design. In this process model each sub-process is described by the:
- Information required to execute the process.
- The purpose of the process as a decision-making tool.
- The information and documentation provided for use elsewhere in the process.