The purpose of this article is to show different examples of internal corporate dynamics that an internal quality leader must successfully navigate. These extend beyond the typical hierarchies of executive, manager, and front-line worker. In the cases described, different stakeholders within an organization have particular priorities and objectives. While most of these are complementary and contribute to greater synergies, sometimes these can conflict with each other.

The success or failure of an organization is evaluated with different metrics. Pursuits towards customer delight and complete satisfaction may come at a higher expense, affecting costs and profitability. The ready availability of parts and services may require a higher carrying capacity for inventories and idle resources, ready for immediate deployment.

In this narrative, some recognizable dynamics will be profiled, based on actual experience.

1. Product Development And Professional Services

During this period, the quality function reported internally to the vice president of product development. However, the outcomes from quality were critically influential to the success of professional services. In this dynamic, the mutual global goals were consistent: deliver innovative products and systems to customers, to address their business and technical requirements in a satisfactory manner.

The separation of interests was best reflected in the scheduling and prioritization of activities. Since product development was tasked and measured on the rate of product releases and the progress of the overall product development roadmap, the monitoring and measurement would be provided in the context of items completed and verified, and readiness for release.

The professional services group were immersed in the customer’s operations and demanded rapid resolution of any escalated defect resolutions or enhancements. These were scheduled and assigned concurrently with new product development. In most cases these actions were complementary, as product upgrades were targeted to resolve issues from previous releases.

The quality function had to be very robust and versatile. The proximity to professional services was very influential on the test planning and tactical approaches to product verification and validation. Known deficiencies or shortcomings were applied to updated versions to confirm and reassure that reported problems were fixed. The product development vision was also influenced by the ability to successfully deliver reliable solutions. This dynamic influenced the adoption of rigorous change controls, automated software testing, constant release configurations, and other practices (i.e. DevOps) to ensure technical readiness and customer satisfaction for product releases.

2. Commercial, Operations, And Finance

These are broad business categories in an organization, within which the quality function must operate. One delineation explained was about the contacts with the customer: commercial handled everything from the quotation to the order; operations took over from the order to delivery; and finance managed the transactions from delivery to payment.

Since the quality function straddled across all three of these areas, it was essential to be aligned with the distinct priorities of these functions, along with the global vision of the organization. One technique is to understand the key process indicators (KPIs) or objectives and key results (OKRs) associated with each group.

One area of divergent views could be represented in the debate between customization and standardization. The commercial function would promote the offering of unique and tailored solutions, even in the smallest of volumes. This conflicts with the standardization mindset of operations, which prioritizes predictability and throughput. These all must be successfully reconciled and confirmed for the finance function to realize the returns on the effort and deliveries.

In this dynamic, the quality function operates successfully if it complements the larger functions as a liaison or “bridge,” enabling consistent communication and interactions. From the exposure to all areas (through the quality management system), the quality function can impose controls and limits to help avoid misalignment and promote consistency and predictability. For customized solutions, the quality function can facilitate the management of exceptions, and navigate the necessary tailoring and waiving of otherwise standardized restrictions.

3. Consulting Partners For Functions, Clients, And Geographies

The consulting industry is driven by strong leadership at the executive or partner level. There are organizational and financial incentives to be a top performer, and to lead top performing teams. Consequently, the leaders of these segments are driven to compete and succeed, both internally and externally.

Functions could represent a particular skill or capability (i.e., information technology for large-scale communications providers). For these leaders, the priority is to have both thought leadership and technical superiority to show that the solutions are not only competitive, but impactful. The clients and geographies also want the top results, as they benefit from success stories.

One potential area of conflict comes from advocacy, specifically which priorities are advocated most strongly. The partners for clients are targeting revenue and margin levels, while geographic partners may have different concerns with respect to worker placement, distribution of efforts, and compliance to community and society goals. In cases where these priorities conflict, the quality function must be objective and seek ways to contribute positively across all these items.

For example, the partner for a country leader may impose diversity, equity, and inclusion targets that could affect which staff members receive which assignments. If these labor allocations alter the technical capabilities of the teams or the ability to deliver successfully to the client in a timely manner; these are considerations which must be addressed. One approach for the quality function is to expand the knowledge base, permitting new participants to quickly learn and be mentored for successful performance, thereby mitigating the effects of introducing new personnel to the delivery team.

4. Interactions With Multiple Functions

The organizations and systems that operate in complex environments have highly complex stakeholder dynamics. For example, in a healthcare environment, the quality leader must contend with the clinical practitioners, information technology, biomedical engineering, records management, along with the more rigorous healthcare administration function. For oil and gas, the quality leader has many intermediaries between the practitioner and the end client: the contractor, systems integrator, site leadership, technical advisors, and the layers of regulatory control.

Document control and records management may appear to be onerous and overwhelming, but for these environments both practices are essential. Whether managing risks and issues, deploying new technical solutions, or migrating to new technologies, the quality leader should be transparent and have traceable documentation. One example of such records are the progressive and internally linked failure modes, effects, and criticality analysis studies which are conducted and repeated at different phases of design, production, implementation, and maintenance.

The current range of applications permit these controlled documents and records to be accessible and updated online, reducing the need for costly and cumbersome printouts. If artifacts are uploaded to and accessible from a mutually agreed source or location, that will also reduce any mishaps from reviewing obsolete versions.

To summarize, a quality leader within an organization must be an adroit navigator. Through the quality techniques of test planning and product reliability, facilitating communications as the voice of X (i.e. voice of the customer, voice of production), establishing the knowledge base and employee mentorship, and controlled communications, the quality leader can effectively manage up and across the organization to realize successful outcomes.