A Day in the Life

What it’s like to be an ITEA judge

by Narahari Rao

ASQ’s International Team Excellence Award (ITEA) is a global benchmark award program. It provides organizations from around the world with a platform to showcase the success of a process improvement project their organization successfully implemented. The program also gives organizations the opportunity to assess their performance against other organizations. And yes, there’s even a prize.

The ITEA, which originated in 1985, offers global recognition to organizations against an accepted team excellence framework. With participation from thousands of teams from more than 30 countries, the ITEA enhances and shines a spotlight on the results of any project-based approach to improvement.

I found out about the competition in an email from ASQ asking for people to apply to become an award judge. The minimum qualifications to be a judge are:

  1. You must be an active ASQ member.
  2. You must possess team process experience as a team member, leader, facilitator or through another type of team role.
  3. You must have experience evaluating results against criteria, either as a judge or quality auditor.
  4. You must have strong written and oral communication skills.
  5. You must be involved in an organization’s team process.
  6. You must have previous judge training and experience at the organizational, state, national or international level.1

Two weeks after I submitted my application, I was selected to be a judge. From there, I attended a two-day session where, on the first day, I was trained with the other judges on the ITEA criteria—how to score, what tools are used, how to work toward building consensus with fellow judges and the expectations of preparing a feedback report. On day two, we worked in panels to score and reach consensus on one or more team presentations and helped prepare a written objective feedback report for each team.

The ITEA award criteria focus on a performance excellence framework that determines how well:

  • A team explains the motivations behind its project selection.
  • A team details the overall architecture of how its project is organized.
  • The project satisfies its key stakeholders.
  • A team understands its overall project, including the key metrics used to gauge the project’s success.
  • The project has been presented.


The teams weren’t present during the evaluation phase, so a proxy read the project transcripts as the presentations played on a screen. As the presentation played, we noted our scores against about 45 criteria and any comments we had. There was a strict time limit of 45 minutes for each presentation, and any additional time counted as a penalty against the team.

After the initial presentation and a 10-minute buffer for us to finalize our initial ratings, a pre-consensus entry was made into a spreadsheet. This was the undiluted, raw version of how we rated each criterion. We had in-depth discussions for each criterion with a spread of ratings or lack of consensus, using persuasion, logical reasoning and our personal interpretations of what the participants were trying to say versus the expectations of the criteria to convince others of our point of view.

Personally, this was an illuminating experience on how well I could make an elevator pitch justifying my rating. I learned to speak more effectively while also listening actively.

After we resolved all the criteria for which there was lack of consensus, we accorded a final rating to the criteria, and the spreadsheet automatically calculated the teams’ scores.

Next was the all-important and crucial task of writing feedback. It was imperative we provided sensible feedback for all criteria we rated either below or above certain thresholds. This helped the teams understand our rating for each criterion.


As tedious as it may seem, the entire process provides an excellent platform for teams to present their projects with the assurance of a rigorous, fair and time-tested judging framework. I highly recommend applying for the ITEA competition—all it takes is judiciously following the prescribed criteria, which not only helps you do well in the competition, but also equips you with a framework to use for future projects.

If you’re like me and have a strong quality and process improvement background, apply to be a judge. Not only will you add value to ASQ’s ITEA judging process by sharing your experience, expertise and insights, you’ll also aid your own personal growth.2 Being a judge gives you a ringside view of the whole process. If you later decide to participate as part of a team, you are well versed in the criteria and how they are judged.

The entire judging process is a microcosm of teamwork and consensus building. I appreciate that as the biggest takeaway from the judging process. The preliminary round of judging involves critically analyzing the participating teams’ presentations. As a judge, I had to summarily digest the context of the presentation quickly while scoring for each criterion. During the consensus period, if your scoring differs from that of your fellow judges, you must explain why you scored in that way and listen to the other judges’ perspectives.

You also get to meet and network with other judges who represent other Fortune 500 organizations in varied industries. As a true quality professional would say, the judging process is a perfect way to continuously improve your overall standing in the quality profession.

Reference and Note

  1. ASQ, “Team Excellence: Judging Process,” asq.org/programs/team-excellence/judges.
  2. For more information on the International Team Excellence Award application process or how to become a judge, visit asq.org/programs/team-excellence.

Narahari Rao is a business process architect at Schlumberger in Houston. He holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University in College Station. He is a member of ASQ.

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