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Establishing Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) in IATF 16949

Listening to the voice of the customer is what Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) is all about. The purpose of APQP is to get a clear understanding of customer wants, needs, and expectations regarding the product, and to develop necessary plans to ensure customer product expectations are met in every way.

Failures are always possible when designing a complex product. APQP provides organizations with a structured process to ensure customer satisfaction with new products or processes.

In order to implement a Quality Management System (QMS) according to IATF 16949, an organization needs to implement APQP, because it incorporates five core tools that the standard requires (for more information, see: What are the five core tools of IATF 16949?). Even if you exclude design and development of products, IATF 16949 doesn’t allow the exclusion of design and development of processes, so APQP is still a valuable tool. APQP will minimize the risks inherent to the production processes, such as process failures, and effective risk management brings better quality control and business success.

A brief history of APQP

Major players in the automotive industry started using APQP during the late 1980s. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler all had an APQP deployment and saw the need to come together to create a common core of product quality planning principles for suppliers. Considering the importance of supply chains to the automotive industry, the aim was to ensure that supplier partners also met the demands of customers in terms of quality.

As a result, these manufacturers created a set of guidelines in the early 1990s to ensure that APQP is applied in a standardized way. Since then, APQP has gained momentum and the interest of manufacturers in many industries. The latest update of the APQP guidelines was published in 2008.


APQP is meant to cover all automotive OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) requirements for planning activities into one process. Suppliers apply APQP to ensure the quality of their new products and to drive continual improvement.

APQP provides a framework for a structured approach to product and process design. It represents a standardized set of quality requirements that enable suppliers to design a product that satisfies the customer. The primary goal of product quality planning is to facilitate communication and collaboration between engineering activities.

APQP requires the engagement of a Cross Functional Team (CFT) that includes marketing, product design, procurement, manufacturing, and distribution. The objective is to ensure a clear understanding of the Voice of the Customer (VOC), and to translate it into requirements, technical specifications, and special characteristics.

APQP provides a standardized way of sharing results between suppliers and automotive companies, as well as guidelines for an effective development process. APQP comprises three basic phases: Development, Industrialization, and Product Launch.

How does it work?

The aim of APQP is to enable an organization to achieve one task, and that is to develop a product quality plan for developing and producing products aligned with customer requirements. According to APQP standards, this planning uses a five-phase process that includes:

  1. Product Planning and Quality Program Definition – In cases when the customer requires the introduction of a new product, or changes to an existing one, preliminary planning is the first step, far before discussion on the product design or redesign. The aim of this phase is to clearly define customer requirements and expectations regarding the product to be designed or redesigned.
  2. This phase includes obtaining necessary information and data to determine customer requirements. Once the requirements are identified, the quality program can be defined. The result of this phase is product design, reliability, and quality goals.
  1. Product Design and Development – The goal of this phase is to finish the product design, as well as the feasibility assessment.
  2. Process Design and Development – This phase covers planning of the manufacturing process for the new or improved product. The goal is to consider product specifications, product quality, and production costs when designing and developing the production process. The process must be able to operate efficiently and produce the expected quantities to keep up with consumer demands.
  3. Validation of Product and Process – This is the test phase for validating the manufacturing process and the final product. The end results of this phase include confirming the capability and reliability of the manufacturing process, and the product quality acceptance criteria. Trial production runs are made, and product output is tested to confirm the effectiveness of the deployed manufacturing approach. Any needed adjustments are reconciled before moving on to the next phase.
  4. Production Launch, Assessment, and Improvement – The full-scale production launch occurs in this phase, with an emphasis on evaluating and improving processes. Activities such as reducing process variations, identifying issues, and starting corrective actions to support continual improvement are mainstays in this phase. Collecting and assessing customer feedback, as well as collecting data related to process efficiency and quality planning effectiveness, is important in this phase.

Benefits of APQP

APQP supports the never-ending pursuit of continual improvement. The first three sections of APQP focus on planning and prevention, and make up 80% of the APQP process. The fourth and fifth sections support the remaining 20% of APQP, and focus on validation and evidence. The fifth section specifically allows an organization to communicate its findings and provide feedback to further develop the standard and processes. A list of APQP benefits are:

  • Direct resources by defining the vital few items from the trivial many
  • Promote early identification of change
  • Enable intentional change (what is being changed on purpose to bring value to the customer)
  • Evaluate incidental change (in the environment, customer usage, degradation, and interfaces)
  • Avoid late changes (post-release) by anticipating failure and preventing it
  • Reduce design and process changes later in the product development process
  • Produce on-time, quality product at the lowest cost
  • Provide multiple options for mitigating the risk when found earlier
  • Enable greater capability of verification and validation of a change
  • Improve collaboration between design of the product and processes
  • Improve the Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFM/A)
  • Provide selection of lower-cost solutions earlier in the process
  • Enable legacy capture and reuse, advancement of Tribal Knowledge, and standard work creation and utilization

Besides the requirements of IATF 16949, all these benefits make APQP appealing to organizations that are not part of the automotive industry, but want to improve their design and development process.

Use this free IATF 16949:2016 Implementation Diagram to learn when to use APQP during IATF 16949:2016 implementation.

Advisera Strahinja Stojanovic
Strahinja Stojanovic

Strahinja Stojanovic is certified as a lead auditor for the ISO 13485, ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and OHSAS 18001 standards by RABQSA. He participated in the implementation of these standards in more than 100 SMEs, through the creation of documentation and performing in-house training for maintaining management systems, internal audits, and management reviews.