I’m looking into the possibility of changing the name of my department from quality improvement to something else. Do you have any suggestions for an appropriate title? When you think of a quality department, what title do you associate with it? Is it quality management, quality assurance, quality improvement or something else?


There is a guiding principle in architecture that my father taught me when I was a child: "Form follows function." That is, the design and shape of a building should be based on its function. The same principle applies to naming your department. 

I would recommend stepping back and answering these questions:

  • Who is your customer? Are they internal or an external end user?
  • What services do you provide?  Do they include reporting; analytics; quality assurance (training, testing and quality management systems); quality control (inspection and audits); or continuous improvement?
  • What is your department’s value proposition? That is, what is it about your department’s services that make them compelling in the eyes of your customers?
  • How do your customers perceive your department? Is it reactive or proactive? Is it siloed or integral to the business?
  • What services should your department offer?

Conducting a voice of the customer (VOC) analysis with your internal customers is a great way to answer these questions, particularly the last question. The VOC is a quality tool that helps you understand who your customers are, identify their needs and link those needs to what you should be providing. The ideal way to conduct VOC analysis is in a facilitator role with your customers. As a facilitator, you are explaining the VOC, guiding the conversation and asking relevant questions rather than directing your audience.

If your audience is vocal and comfortable in group settings, use open-discussion brainstorming.  If not, try the nominal group technique (NGT)—a structured method for group brainstorming that encourages contributions from everyone. Essentially, have participants write down their responses on yellow post-its. No discussion is allowed. Collect the post-its and place them on a white board in their natural categories (affinity mapping). NGT is a great way to generate ideas and conversations.

Figure 1 is an illustrative VOC framework. Starting at the left column, describe your customers in general, qualitative terms such as who they are (demographics), their role and work environment, and demands placed on them. Put yourself in their shoes.

Figure 1

Ask what your customers’ key needs are. Needs can be tactical, operational or strategic. After you have identified their needs, think of the drivers that must be in place in your department to satisfy those needs.

Ultimately, you will arrive at the critical-to-quality requirements (CTQ) that translate those needs into specific requirements. Good CTQs are specific and usually quantitative. Numbers, percentages and time-bound metrics are tell-tale characteristics.

At this point, evaluate the VOC output with your department’s current services, and modify it appropriately. You may be able to fulfill some needs, while other needs may require additional resources and time to put in place. 

The last step is to name your department. The name should embody the CTQs you have identified with your customer. While I’m not an expert in marketing, you will probably discover that going through the above process will make finding a name much easier. Good luck!

This month’s response was written by Peter J. Sherman, managing partner at Riverwood Associates in Atlanta. Visit them at www.riverwoodassociates.com.

Have a quality-related question that requires expert advice? Let us help. Submit your question at www.qualityprogress.com, or send it to editor@asq.org, and our subject matter experts will help you find a solution.

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