Manufacturing | APQP

Advanced Product Quality Planning – An Introduction

Words by Alex Matheson
Advanced Product Quality Planning – An Introduction
Graphic illustrating the APQP framework

Our last series of in-depth articles looked at lean methodology. This time we’re going to take a few weeks to dive deeply into the world of advanced product quality planning (APQP).

What is APQP?

Advanced product quality planning is a framework used to develop products or services that will satisfy customers. It is used mainly in the automotive industry but has been adopted throughout various other sectors.

According to the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), the purpose of APQP is “to produce a product quality plan which will support development of a product or service that will satisfy the customer.”

Where did APQP come from?

APQP was created by a commission of industry experts gathered from and around the ‘Big Three’ of the American automobile industry in the 1980s: Chrysler, Ford, and GM.

Representatives from these three institutions, as well as from the Automotive Division of American Society for Quality Control (ASQC), formed the Supplier Quality Requirement Task Force and began developing a common understanding on topics of mutual interest within the automotive industry.

This commission spent five years analysing the contemporary automotive development and production status across the globe. This work resulted in the APQP framework, adherence to which became a requirement for Tier 1 suppliers in the US automotive industry.

What are the five phases of APQP?

The APQP framework is commonly represented as five steps steps or phases:

  • Phase 1 – Product Planning and Quality Program Definition
  • Phase 2 – Product Design and Development
  • Phase 3 – Process Design and Development
  • Phase 4 – Validation of Product and Process
  • Phase 5 – Production Launch, Assessment, and Improvement

Let’s take a closer look at each of these five phases and why they’re important when it comes to developing a product or service that satisfies a potential customer.

Product Planning and Quality Program Definition

This first step is all about getting a preliminary understanding of what the service or product you’re aiming to produce is going to look like. You’ve spotted a need for your customer that your company can potentially satisfy, how does that product or service look?

A big part of being lean or agile is getting an MVP created and iterating from there, but without a preliminary plan, things can go off track very quickly. This step gives you a guideline for what the product will look like, and your reliability and quality goals.

Product Design and Development

This is your prototype phase. Even if your initial goal is an MVP from which to iterate, you’ll need to design and test something first that can be pushed to market. Product design and development in a lean world should be kept as rapid and focused as possible.

Many ventures get bogged down here. It’s easy to get panicked by the prospect of a product going to market that’s imperfect, and then you can enter versioning hell. This step should be tight, focused on meeting the needs of your customer, and getting you to the next phase.

Process Design and Development

This phase is all about mapping the processes you are going to use to create the product or service you’re aiming to deliver to the customer.

It’s important to take into account who the main stakeholders are, what roles and responsibilities your teams or departments are taking on, and ensuring that clear communication is a priority from the very start.

Flexibility is key as well. While you’re planning out the processes needed to produce your product or service, understand that these may change over time. Your original design for your processes might place pressure in unexpected areas or miss potential opportunities for innovation. Be ready to iterate your processes as well as your products.

Validation of Product and Process

Here you’re going to be validating the actual product as well as the processes used to produce it. Is the product meeting your initial goals? Are the processes operating as efficiently as possible?

In an agile or lean environment, this is where iteration is key and this phase shouldn’t be a one time thing. If you’re constantly evaluating (or validating) your product and processes, you’re continuously improving.

Production Launch, Assessment, and Improvement

Whether it’s a soft launch or a full blown event, this is where your product is hitting the market. Whether you’ve chosen to be fully agile or follow a more traditional development route, this phase is where you find out how successfully you’ve met, or are meeting, the needs and desires of your customer.

Ideally you’ve positioned yourself to iterate from here. Feedback from your end customer is going to be the most valuable feedback you get. The initial goal was to create a product or service that satisfies your customers, and now you see how well you’re achieving that goal.

What’s next?

Continuous improvement is the path to success. You’ve planned, produced, and delivered a product or service. Now you need to evaluate how successful each step has been. Can you improve the design or functionality of your product? Can you make the processes used to produce it more efficient? Can you improve on the satisfaction you’ve provided to your customer?

This is just the first article we’ve got covering the APQP process and we hope it gives you a good overview of the framework. We’ll be back next week to take a look at a vital element of APQP, the production part approval process.