Soft reliability in new product development : an ontological approach for utilizing field feedback to dynamically sense and adapt to evolving global markets

A. Koca

    Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 1 (Research TU/e / Graduation TU/e)

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    Today’s global businesses are prone to being both empowered and overpowered by the accessibility of various technological and market opportunities. For instance, the merging of digital technologies allows for the development of very innovative, multifunctional and adaptive products for use within rich socio-cultural contexts such as the high-end office, the digital home, and professional or personal healthcare. However, an important consequence is the growing market uncertainty regarding if, how, and when users can and will adopt such products. In fact, this uncertainty has already become an evident concern in the field where a large and rapidly increasing share of user complaints are reported that cannot be attributed to any violation of products’ technical specifications. Accordingly, the major portion of product rejections today tend to be not due to traditional (i.e., hard) reliability problems that can be resolved by repair/replacement of defective parts, but rather due to Soft Reliability (SR) problems that require instructional guidance for the user and adaptive redesign of the product. Nonetheless, current operational quality analysis and evaluation methods do not employ a SR perspective, and as such, market feedback from the field (about situational or contextual use factors) is not effectively utilized in New Product Development (NPD) processes to collaboratively improve the quality of products and processes. Consequently, unforeseen user experiences relating to functional, emotional, and social aspects of product use in various geographical, cultural, or situational contexts remain as a growing and uncontrollable problem. In this dissertation, it is argued that a whole new NPD approach to evaluation of product design is needed, which is based on the continuous utilization of field feedback from real customers, in order to dynamically sense and adapt to the (rapidly) evolving needs and expectations of global markets. In particular, two techniques are proposed; (i) continuous summative user experience evaluation based on the inflowing feedback from the field as gathered by the authorized after-sales service organizations, and the user reviews collected on Internet resources (e.g., public forums), and (ii) continuous formative user experience evaluation based on in situ feedback from successive field studies early on in NPD, involving functional prototypes. Both techniques aim at meaningful and structured longitudinal user experience data collection and analysis from the field that is scalable, standardized to allow comparisons and benchmarking, and that can be used to manage the field uncertainty that is growing due to the recently emerging market conditions. As a means to enable these techniques, an ontological model is developed to capture and analyze field data, which is motivated by the findings from extensive field explorations, and which is based on concepts from the related literature. The first part of the dissertation is about understanding the SR problem domain. The point of departure is described as originating from the Quality and Reliability Engineering domain, and the operational context of SR is presented by exploring the available SR information resources and flows in practice. The second part of the dissertation is about designing an ontological approach to modeling SR. The exclusive utilization of the ontological approach, as well as its combined utilization with other techniques such as the decision support problem technique for information deployment, remote product observation technique for capturing the relevant user interactions with the product, or semantic process mining technique for a rich and possibly combined analysis of user experience feedback in the context of user actions, are all demonstrated in industrial case studies in the last part of the dissertation, which is about operationalization of the proposed approach. As a result, meaningful and structured longitudinal user experience data collection and analysis becomes possible for both summative product evaluation after products’ release to the market, as well as for formative product evaluation during product development. There is a steadily growing body of detailed knowledge in the human-computer interaction domain about not just the usability of interactive products, but also -and as of more recently- about the holistic view of the psychological and social impact of products in people’s lives, i.e., the user experience of products. Nevertheless, operational models about the pleasure, fun, aesthetics, and hedonic qualities in the use of interactive products have not yet matured to be consistently used in practice. In fact, even the research on methods for the assessment of users’ experiences is only at its infancy, despite the wealth of methods and techniques that are available for assessing the usability of interactive products. Therefore, to help extracting the actual in situ user experiences from field usage of products, the proposed ontological approach proves as an operationalizable model that enables product developers to be aware of and to be systematically responsive to the growing and uncontrollable problem of unforeseen user experiences in the field.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Industrial Design
    • Brombacher, Aarnout C., Promotor
    • Mistree, F., Promotor, External person
    Award date19 May 2010
    Place of PublicationEindhoven
    Print ISBNs978-90-386-2242-2
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


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