A Complete Guide to APQP

Explore the essential APQP framework, its significance, and the critical strategies to overcome production challenges to enhance overall product safety and quality.

What is APQP?

APQP or Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) is a systematic structure used in product development and manufacturing to ensure that products or processes created will measure up to the company’s quality standards and customers’ specifications. The framework assists managers in organizing relevant documents and allocating resources throughout the project timeline, from the planning phases all the way to monitoring feedback for continuous improvement.


Developed in the 1980s by Ford, GM, and Chrysler (collectively known as the “Big Three”), APQP underlines the importance of the customer’s wants, needs, and expectations in automotive manufacturing. It is one of the core tools of the International Standard for Automotive Quality Management Systems, specifically IATF 16949. Here are some specific reasons for its conception:

  • Improves product quality – When a process is meticulously structured, workers can methodically follow it. Despite the complexity of a product, manufacturers can ensure quality when they use a comprehensive APQP checklist
  • Promotes collaboration – Product development often requires cooperation among various teams. Admittedly, this can be very challenging. Because APQP provides clear delineations of responsibilities, departments know their precise tasks, increasing operational efficiency. 
  • Enhances risk mitigation strategies – Because the framework is created early during the planning phase, managers can pinpoint potential risks and proactively address them by developing preventive and corrective actions.
  • Reduces costs – The plan details the resources required during production, helping managers prioritize tasks and adequately allocate assets and supplies.
  • Fosters a zero-defect mentality – When everyone involved in the production is aware of their client’s expectations and apprised of the strict standards, they will work towards that goal and be more conscientious in their tasks. 

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Key Phases

There are five distinct phases of APQP. Each has its own objectives and detailed activities so that the personnel involved can check the quality from the beginning to the end. 

Planning and Definition

The first stage of APQP involves defining the goals and specifications of the project based on the Voice of the Customer. Requirements may include function, performance, and aesthetics. By outlining these in a detailed checklist, managers can lay the groundwork for the entire APQP process and come up with benchmark data, assumptions, and marketing strategies. 

Best Practices:

  • Conduct comprehensive market research and obtain in-depth feedback from stakeholders to get a complete grasp of consumers’ expectations.
  • Enumerate and clearly describe the project’s objectives.
  • Develop a realistic project timeline, carefully plan resources, and inform clients about this roadmap.  

Product Design and Development

This is the phase where various departments come in: designers come up with blueprints for manufacturability and assembly. Engineers create prototypes, and the management validates their concepts based on the initial specifications.

Best Practices: 

  • Strengthen collaboration among cross-functional teams to substantiate design feasibility.
  • Use APQP tools like FMEA (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis) to identify potential issues that may impact manufacturing.
  • Run several prototypes and testing to demonstrate performance and functionality.

Process Design and Development

This part of the process covers the planning for manufacturing, with considerations for product specifications like packaging, comprehensive costing, process flow chart with instructions, training plan, and quality assurance. Managers should also ensure that the process can operate for an extended period at optimum levels so it can match the customer’s expected quantity. 

Best Practices:

  • Optimize processes by using Lean and Six Sigma principles.
  • Create detailed flowcharts that describe the process and control plans that help in monitoring and detecting issues.
  • Conduct pilot runs to evaluate the manufacturing process and make the necessary changes or improvements.

Product and Process Validation 

At this point, both the product and service processes are tested to check if they, indeed, meet quality standards and the customer’s requirements. Adjustments or refinements must be made before proceeding to the final phase. 

Best Practices:

  • Perform comprehensive testing, evaluating factors like safety, durability, and reliability.
  • Do production trials and measurements to evaluate the manufacturing process.
  • Conduct PPAP (Production Part Approval Process) to verify the company’s capability for mass production with consistent quality assurance.

Launch, Feedback, and Continuous Improvement 

The final phase involves the launch or the production proper. The focus of this should be on ensuring quality, minimizing any variations, and improving processes. Everyone involved must be ready with the planned preventive and corrective actions to manage any issues that emerge. 

Best Practices:

  • Address all complaints and issues by establishing a solid feedback loop.
  • Conduct regular process assessments and quality audits.
  • Leverage analytics to identify areas for improvement.

APQP Challenges to Look Out For

Despite having a well-formulated APQP checklist, it can be difficult to implement it because of the complexity of staging new projects and the unique composition of organizations. Here are some of the most common problems that could arise during any stage of the process. 

  • Resource allocation – On top of the difficulty of allotting specific equipment and supplies for a new product, companies often struggle with creating a team dedicated to the APQP for an upcoming project, mainly because most of their employees are already working on something else. Scheduling tasks judiciously and providing support can help mitigate this issue.
  • Communication breakdowns – While miscommunication is expected in cross-functional working environments, it can and should be minimized by establishing clearly defined roles and well-described responsibilities.
  • Resistance to change – Establishing new workflows and adopting different strategies are hard mainly because people are more comfortable and confident with what they are used to. Engaging workers through open communication and empowering them through continuous learning can help them navigate these changes.
  • Sustainability – Quality deteriorates because of a decline in discipline when following the rigorous process. Monitoring and regular audits prevent workers from slacking off or neglecting even the smallest detail in any APQP stage. 
  • Data management – The most challenging of all is tracking the information exchanged among teams and workflow documentation. Digitization is the best way to handle this problem.

FAQs about APQP

While APQP was developed to support companies in the automotive industry, other sectors are adopting this framework and customizing it according to their needs. This includes aerospace, pharmaceuticals, and even healthcare, specifically those in medical device production.

AIAG or the Automotive Industry Action Group, with over 4,000 members under their purview, maintains the APQP standard. Check out their website to sign up for training sessions and workshops to equip your company with the right tools to understand APQP, implement the process successfully, and achieve compliance.

PPAP (Production Part Approval Process), one of the last steps in the key phases described above, is an output of APQP. If the PPAP does not meet the expectations of the customers, the APQP should be carefully reviewed from the beginning to find where the problem is. Modifications must be made to ensure that the initial requirements are provided.

In the simplest terms, APQP ensures that the requests of the customer are followed, while DFSS is a methodology that minimizes defect rates during the design phase. Manufacturers go for APQP when creating redesigns of existing products. On the other hand, DFSS should be employed when formulating a completely new product or process.

Eunice Arcilla Caburao
Article by

Eunice Arcilla Caburao

SafetyCulture Content Contributor
Eunice Caburao is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. A registered nurse, theater stage manager, Ultimate Frisbee athlete, and mother, she has written a wide range of topics for over a decade. Eunice draws upon her rich, multidisciplinary background to create informative articles about emerging topics on health, safety, and workplace efficiency.