#152 from R&D
Innovator Volume 4, Number 4
Teams—They’re Not “Outsiders”
Mears and Kemelgor are professors of management at the University
of Louisville. Dr.
Mears is a former Malcolm Baldrige Examiner, and provides quality
improvement workshops. Among his books is Quality
Improvement Tools and Techniques (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1995). Phone
organizations use Total Quality Management (TQM) to increase their
performance. A key
principle of TQM is to serve the customer.
But the customer is not just somebody who buys whatever
product or process your company sells; the customer includes
individuals or groups within the company.
We find that it’s quite common that internal service
departments are ignored as an organization attempts to enhance
environment for quality improvement and high performance is
created when all
departments adapt their services to meet customer needs.
Even within a transnational organization, there’s no
excuse for not meeting internal needs--whether they come from the
next floor or the next continent.
With the fax, phone, and email, communicating across
continents should be as easy as communicating with the next floor.
many companies, internal service departments (e.g. computer
services, legal, safety, human resource, or analytical testing)
don't seem concerned about providing high-quality services.
For example, when was the last time computer services asked if their instruction manuals were satisfactory?
Or when analytical testing services asked
if their data was in the best format?
By calling these
people "internal customers," we stress that
organizations cannot meet the needs of their external customers if
the output passed between employees--from an internal service team
to its internal customer--is inadequate.
To achieve Total
Quality, you must know who these customers are, what they expect,
and how well you perform from their
point of view. Then
you must exceed the customers' expectations.
If it's sometimes
hard to identify external customers, it's often more complex to
identify internal customers.
For example, a technician working on a sequential
production process knows that if he or she passes on a defective
product, a fellow worker will provide immediate feedback --in the
form of a complaint or suggestion.
But what happens
when someone in an internal service team, such as a computer
services, isn’t responsive to a scientist who has an urgent
request? What happens
when the analytical testing department doesn’t respond quickly
to a request from research? Does
the computer expert or analytical technician realize that, like
the production worker, the scientist has needs that must be met
for the organization’s success?
departments (particularly the sales department) have frequent
interaction with external customers.
A friendly, positive attitude, and a smile, go a long way
toward ensuring customer satisfaction.
Unsolicited comments, or short surveys, commonly help
fine-tune the process.
By their nature,
internal service departments are seldom in direct contact with
external customers. This
isn’t bad in itself, but many service groups compound the
problem with procedures that further isolate them; in fact,
isolate them from internal customers.
For example, a research team wants the analytical
department to perform a new type of analysis.
This would require adding new people and new equipment to
the analytical department. The
requesting department (research) must the furnish data, not the
analytical department. A
natural consequence is a barrier to communication.
A third group, perhaps the executive group, evaluates the
executive may ignore discussing the issue with the analytical
department; but, rather, will respond directly to the research
The hurdles in
these situations slow the process of adapting to internal customer
needs. It's not that
requests for personnel and equipment shouldn’t be reviewed, but
rather, internal departments must start seeing themselves as
service departments and move into proactive
stance in the drive to improve quality.
The analytical department must be aware of what the
customer (i.e. the researchers in the previous example) needs, so
that recommendations come from
the analytical department, not to
them. Or, the
request is jointly made by the research and analytical
service departments aren’t in direct contact with users, they
receive filtered and relatively ineffective information. For example, suppose a researcher realizes that a certain new
assay will lead to data that can decrease production costs.
Will the analytical department see the new request a burden
instigated by eager-beaver researchers; or will they see the
request as burden that's necessary
for product and company success?
Do they even know
why the request was made?
There are ways to
improve the flow of information and overcome such barriers.
Instead of relying on other departments for information,
internal service departments should open their own lines of
communication with all users.
Various departments will help them identify specific
customer segments. Like
in sales, surveys and focus groups can provide feedback about
various service activities.
analytical department contacted production, it would have
understood—first hand—the importance of these new analyses,
and thus would have been likely to be more helpful in implementing
them. Without that
understanding, they only grudgingly provide what “those
Internal Customers into Quality
departments believe they produce high-quality work simply because
they respond to requests. Yet
they’re operating reactively, not proactively, since they lack a
formal system for determining customer needs and often take a
“business as usual” approach to problems or special requests.
How can an
internal department take a more proactive stance? We have successfully applied this six-step involvement
process, leading to a formal survey:
Create a design team.
They’ll be responsible for evaluating the process, and
will help obtain the “buy-in” that’ll be needed to implement
Identify internal customer segments.
In the example, analytical testing must realize its value
not only to research, but to other segments like production.
Write a few focused questions to identify the needs of each
may expect analytical to respond immediately to changes because of
special market needs.
Conduct a pilot test on a customer segment.
Interview customers (e.g. in marketing or research) to see
if the questionnaire is clear, and revise it if needed.
Survey your customer segments.
Then analyze responses to assess the relative importance
and satisfaction each segment has with each service.
Using these data, identify opportunities for improvement.
Discuss the feedback with staff members and customers so
quality improvement efforts are focused on specific needs.
One of the tenets
of TQM is that a high-performing workplace depends on successful
employee involvement at all levels and across
all departments. Empowerment
occurs when authority and responsibility go to employees, who
experience a sense of ownership and control over their work.
This means that service departments not only have to
understand their role in the overall company goals, but also to
understand the role of other departments, and to determine how
they can be most effective. Don’t
have your analytical (or legal, computer, safety, etc.)
departments look upon researchers as “those guys;” rather,
have them see researchers as “our teams.” And that attitude will more likely be reciprocal—and
necessary—for a high-performance workplace.