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Quality in R&D: How to Involve the Customer and Like It

Summary: The research and development functions of most U.S. companies rank among the most reluctant when it comes to embracing the principles of total quality (TQ). Often, researchers and research managers have argued that to be technologically creative and effective, they need to be independent of constricting customer requests and the control that is often imposed by headquarters.

This paper chronicles how several R&D professionals at Union Carbide Industrial Gases (UCIG) became involved in TQ improvement. UCIG, working in conjunction with Organizational Dynamics, Inc. (ODD, found that when traditional quality methods were translated into the R&D language and culture, the conversion enabled R&D professionals to understand how TQ related to their work and how they could use it to improve their work processes.

Further, we present a case history of one R&D quality improvement team at UCIG.

By applying a standardized quality improvement process, developed and implemented by ODI, the team reached an important conclusion: if, at specific points in the R&D process, project personnel had a better understanding of customer needs and market issues, they would significantly improve critical decisions on the selection, continuation, termination, and redirection of projects. We will outline the process that the team developed and implemented to help project personnel obtain a clearer understanding of customer needs and then use this information in project decision making. The training program developed by the team to educate project personnel will be summarized.

Finally, we will outline the reasons that R&D functions need to be more customer-sensitive. Our experience has shown that R&D professionals can be actively involved in TQ improvement and enjoy it as well.

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