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Episode 403: Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) (Free)

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M Ericson
Marygracesoleil Ericson

Advanced product quality planning (or APQP) is a framework of procedures and techniques used to develop products in industry, particularly the automotive industry.

This interview about APQP with Marygracesoleil Ericson (LinkedIn Profile) was recorded one day before the excellent Project Management Institute (PMI)® Global Conference 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.

Marygracesoleil was an attendee of the congress (not a speaker) who contacted me and suggested that we do an interview on a topic relevant to her industry. She is the PMO manager of a car audio equipment manufacturer, leading a team of program managers who build designs and coponents for the audio divisions in the automotive industry. If you have a premium sound system in your car then you might be using their speakers.

For more information about APQP please visit the APQP Wikipedia Page.

Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.


Cornelius Fichtner:   In this episode of the Project Management Podcast™ we look at APQP which stands for Advanced Product Quality Planning. A framework of procedures and techniques used to develop product particularly in the automotive industry.

Hello and welcome to the Project Management Podcast™ at . We are coming to you live and one day before the excellent 2017 PMI Global Conference in Chicago. I am Cornelius Fichtner and with me right now is Marygracesoleil Ericson. Hello, Marygrace.

Marygracesoleil Ericson:   Hi, how are you?

Cornelius:   I’m doing very well, thank you. And thank you so much for stopping by a day before the conference.

Marygracesoleil:   That’s right.

Cornelius:   And doing this interview.

Marygracesoleil:   I’m very excited.

Cornelius:   So, you are the director of Program Management for a car audio manufacturing.

Marygracesoleil:   That’s right.

Cornelius:   That’s as much as we can say.

Marygracesoleil:   Yeah. I lead a team of program managers that builds designs and builds component on the audio division for the automotive industry.

Cornelius:   So, anybody listening to this podcast right now, driving somewhere on the freeway, listening it through their car speakers, there is a chance that it comes from your company.

Marygracesoleil:   That’s right. Only the good speakers.

Cornelius: [laughs] Right. We wanted to talk today about APQP—the Advanced Product Quality Planning. Ooh, that’s a mouthful. What is it?

Marygracesoleil:   APQP is basically the disciplined approach to develop PM launching new products. So, it’s the process that we follow from cradle to grave. How do we build components from when we receive the scope from the customer, how we design it, what deliverables we have up until we launch it into mass production. So that’s what we follow.

Cornelius:   And when you say the process that we follow, who is “we”?

Marygracesoleil:   All automotive industries follow this. All components that deliver to the automotive OEMs need to follow the APQP process.

Cornelius:   OK. So, we’re talking Ford, Chrysler, Toyota—whatever car you’re driving.

Marygracesoleil:   Yeah.

Cornelius:   If you are somebody who delivers components for those cars, that’s the process you follow.

Marygracesoleil:   Right. And in some of the Fareast customers—they might not call it the APQP but the deliverables are the same.

Cornelius:   OK. And my understanding is that APQP came into being because there are so many suppliers who not only supply to one car manufacturer but to multiple car manufacturers and they did not want to have to follow through your four different set of processes and so the car manufacturers actually got together and said, “OK, we may be competitors but we better come up with something to help our suppliers here”.

Marygracesoleil:   Right. It’s more standardized.

Cornelius:   Exactly.

Marygracesoleil:   Yeah.

Cornelius:   OK. The process that we have and that we can hopefully place on the website has a number of steps in it. It begins with a planning cycle then a product design and development stage, a process design and development stage. After that we have the product and process validation from where it goes into production. This all looks very much plan-driven, a lot of thinking is done upfront before anything happens. Is that the case? Is that what the idea is?

Marygracesoleil:   Yes, we have to plan how we design, validate and manufacture the components that get delivered to the customer. And this is what we use as the APQP. So, for my program managers, we make sure that 1). we understand the scope of what the customer wants to produce and then we make sure that we plan, we design to the requirements of each of the customers. So, each of the OEMs have different requirements in terms of how they want it to function, what type of temperature does it need to not fail—to still function and also what type of manufacturing they want or capacity they want to produce our component. So, yes, there is a lot of planning involved.

Cornelius:   Remember we’re only talking about the car audio here. We’re talking about the stereo, the amplifiers, the speakers and you are delivering to that but then there are other suppliers who have similar specifications and follow the same process but they deliver the tires or whatever their particular specialty may be.

Marygracesoleil:   Yes.

Cornelius:   In your business, when I look at this cycle here, I can’t really tell how long it takes but at the end, production begins and the planning is on the far left—how long does it take from the initial planning to the production?

Marygracesoleil:   In a perfect world, this sometimes could take up until three years.

Cornelius:   OK.

Marygracesoleil:   So that’s in a perfect world. We can build head units, or speakers and amplifiers for about three years but that’s in a perfect world. In reality, the timing is shorter. There’s a few reasons for that. One is, maybe the customer is not ready to give the award of business. It could potentially be because the technology changes and they want to catch up on that technology so the scope of the component changes or it could be packaging issues. Maybe they want to prioritize on one technology but they can’t package it in the car so they’re still working on it and so that makes a delay also for when we have the final scope of the components we need to deliver.

Cornelius:   But if it takes normally three years, and suddenly they’re squeezing it into—what—two years, one year, shorter even?

Marygracesoleil:   Yes. So, there are projects that I’ve worked on where it takes two years. There actually is one particular project that was actually condensed from a three-year project to a seven months project.

Cornelius:   Why?

Marygracesoleil:   Yes. [laughs] you know, there’s a lot of things to be done and we only have seven months and tooling alone is sixteen weeks and I’m sure that some of your listeners understand that. So, we have to plan and work with even our suppliers to make it happen.

Cornelius:   Does this basically mean that you have to get started with all the other processes even though you don’t have the award of business yet? Basically, you say, “You know what, we’re probably going to get this but we can’t wait any longer. If we want to, we have to start now”.

Marygracesoleil:   Right. There are core designs so whether or not some of the key elements are not finalized, there’s always that core design that we can start with but again there’s a risk of changing that core design, right? Or did we use the correct IC to have enough memory for what they’re asking for—something like that. So, that changes. But again, the core designs are already there, there are some validation that we do during the engineering design phase, which is earlier on to the development but again it doesn’t change the fact that we are pushing our sub-suppliers as well to make sure that we can deliver on time—on target for our customers. 

Cornelius:   Interesting because one thing that I read here is on the history of APQP, it says that this has an emphasis on upfront planning.

Marygracesoleil:   Right.

Cornelius:   Meaning—there’s a lot of planning that happens upfront yet I hear you talk about changes and things that—and when I then look again at the various steps, planning kind of stops at some point. Physically, that arrow for planning stops and says, “After this, there’s no more planning”. At least here in the drawing but that’s obviously not the case.

Marygracesoleil:   Right. So, we can only plan so much, I guess. [laughs]

Cornelius:   [laughs]

Marygracesoleil:   …for the scope of the project but we also need to move forward. Right. We need to move forward so that we can direct or lead our suppliers into making sure that they can build their tools so that we can deliver an actual part to the customer. So, yes, the planning in a perfect world is in the beginning but there is also a lot of recovery plan—is what we call it—where we’ve planned one thing, there’s some changes, it could be driven by the customer, it could be also driven by us as well and then we have our recovery plan. How do we make sure that the end-goal, which is the part that we deliver to the customer, they still receive at the time when they’re expecting it?

Cornelius:   OK. Interesting side note here: Each of these phases has inputs and outputs—so very PMBOK Guide-like—and one thing that I was wondering here at the end of the plan and define phase, it says one of the outputs, design goals, the quality goals, special characteristics, timing—who signs off on these at this point?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete PDF transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

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Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, is the host and the author at The Project Management Podcast. He has welcomed hundreds of guests and project management experts to the podcast and has helped over 60,0000 students prepare for their PMP® Exam. He has authored dozens of articles on and PM World 360. He speaks at conferences around the world about project management, agile methodology, PMOs, and Project Business. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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