What Quality Means to an R&D Organization


Kidd, Jr., George J.   (1987, ASQC)   Martin Marietta Energy Systems, Inc., Oak Ridge, TN

41st Annual Quality Congress, May 1987, Minneapolis, MN    Vol. 41    No. 0
QICID: 3333    May 1987    pp. 448-453
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Article Abstract

The application of quality principles to research and development (R&D) organizations is still in its infancy. Among the reasons for this are (1) the benefits are often somewhat abstract or obscure, (2) the people involved do not see an attractive benefit-to-cost ratio, and (3) it is frequently hard to do in the classical sense. The primary benefit of a realistic quality program is that it can be a key factor, along with cost effectiveness and timeliness, in demonstrating the marketability of the R&D function within the company. Much of the difficulty comes from an understanding of quality that is too limited. By defining quality in terms of both quantitative and qualitative components, an approach is developed that makes it applicable and useful to the R&D function.To see how the principles can be applied, it is necessary to understand the R&D function. The work is predominantly in new areas and is done only once. It is at the beginning of the product development cycle and does not have precedent. The people involved are generally motivated by a desire to "get the right answer," "get good data," and "develop a complete understanding."The work they do is far removed from the company's customers. Their results get modified many times in the transition from R&D, to design, to production, to marketing, making it practically impossible to associate customer satisfaction with their output in the usual sense. Rather, their immediate "customers" are corporate management and the engineering or design organization which is the next step in the product development cycle. More remote customers include their technical peers within the company and in the technical community in general and the company's production or operations units. Research and development people can also be their own customer in that they frequently use previous results as a basis for further studies. As such, they are often their worst critics.Quality principles can be applied to a wide variety of the activities in an R&D organization. There are numerous measures of quality that can be applied. Some are objective and therefore quantitative, while others are more subjective and must be more qualitative. Customers will do their own evaluations using their own criteria, and these will be different for each customer and may conflict. For instance, the technical community will often count publications and references in assessing the quality of an organization, while a company in a competitive market, attempting to maintain a proprietary position, will give high marks to an organization that does a good job of protecting company secrets. It is therefore necessary to understand each customer and address its needs individually.


Aerospace industry; Department of Defense (DOD); Research and development (R&D)

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