Internal Customers vs. External Customers [transcript]

You’re listening to an installment of the Quality during Design “Versus Series”. In this series, we’re comparing concepts within quality and reliability to better understand them and how they can affect product design engineering. We have eight episodes in this series, which means we’ll be reviewing at least 16 topics. Let’s get started. Hello and welcome to Quality during Design, the place to use quality thinking to create products others love for less. My name is Diana Deeney. I’m a senior level quality professional and engineer with over 20 years of experience in manufacturing and design. Listen in, in, and then join the conversation. Visit and subscribe.
Hi, welcome to Quality during Design, for products, others love for less. I’m your host, Diana Deeney. We’re within a “Versus Series” where we’re comparing different quality and reliability ideas and topics, and seeing how they fit into new product development and design engineering. We started talking about controls, design engineers using controls to reduce or eliminate the risk failure or of a safety mechanism. Controls like design requirements, specs and tolerances. We also talked about how the controls and design decisions made by the design engineers early on in the project, have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the organization, including costs like material, labor, and overhead costs. Then we talked about measures of those controls and how they would be implemented. And considering the different data types and the precision that we’d need in the results of our data.
Today, we’re going to review who our customers are and what type of information they need from design engineers to ensure that they’re performing their tasks to produce a high quality product, and to be able to use our product appropriately. Really we’re talking about design for excellence or design for X. This is really all encompassing of all the DF “fill in the blank”s: design for manufacturing, design for assembly or disassembly, design for the environment…These are all initiatives that can be considered under the umbrella of design for excellence, and they have our internal and external customers in mind.
Let’s consider a very simplistic design process where we design something, then we make it, we sell it, then we use it. And then at the end of the product’s life cycle, it gets disposed or repurposed to make something else or recycled. We also have a feedback loop from the field operations and use of our device back into design. So we can iterate on our designs and make them better or develop new ones to fit a different need. Now, instead of thinking of this process as “these are the kinds of steps and information we generate for our design during its development”, we can reframe the process to think about “who is involved at each step of this process and what are the activities they’re doing to be able to ensure the quality of our product?” Let’s talk about who these people could be.
First, our internal customers are the people that we’re probably most likely to work with within our company. They are the quality control and quality assurance people or the test lab, people who are testing our products against requirements. They’re ensuring and monitoring the quality of product against the design specs and information that we set about the design. Other internal customers are the people actually making the product, the manufacturing floor people. They need to know what specifications they need to manufacture this design within. And it’s based off of the design spec. I also consider component suppliers as internal customers because they’re receiving the design information and specifications and making product per those specs. Other internal customers are later in the design life of our product. Think of the complaints people: the people that are receiving the complaints and then determining root cause for those complaints. Those are also recipients and internal customers of design information.
External customers…well, we first and foremost think of the end user, because that’s who we’re ultimately designing for. But there are other external customers for our design information. There are shipping and handling people involved in making sure that our product gets from point A to B and that when it is received by our end user, it’s still functional and safe and usable. Within the shipping and handling think of the distributors and the stockroom people. And, also, the storefront people that are displaying the product for sale. Other external customers include people that repair or install our products. And also at the end of life of our product, again, we have external customers who are trying to dispose of our product in the correct waste stream or recycle it or repurpose the components of it.
All of these internal and external customers are customers of design information being created at the onset of design. Now, what kind of information do each of these groups use? Our internal customers use the most design information, to be able to produce and distribute the product to the field. Internal customers need to know the design features to monitor and how to measure them. This could include people that are testing the product, the manufacturing production people, and also people in the field. Do they need to be monitoring any special design features or characteristics to make sure that the quality product is being produced over time. Internal customers also need to know the definition of a failure for the design and its associated risk. For quality control, they might use this information to determine if something they’re inspecting is a minor, major or critical defect, and this would affect how many samples they look at and inspect, or how often they inspect it. This can also be used to determine confidence levels for tests. Internal customers also need to know the potential causes associated with failures. And this is really to identify root causes. If there’s a failure during test, what is the root cause of the failure? During quality control, they’re seeing something that is unusual; what could be causing that and how do they fix it? And also with field failures: this is happening in the field, and what is the potential of that happening? Knowing the potential causes associated with those failures would help them identify the root causes. Internal customers also need to know how the product’s supposed to be built and if there’s any controls around the assembly process. They need to know the reliability expectations: how well and how long is this product going to be performing? And they need to know the controls to maintain for quality. Like, if there are any supplier management controls or any special process controls of either the supplier or of the in-house manufacturer.
Internal and external customers share some in information about the design, they both need to know the potential failures and or hazardous situations of the product or the procedure. They also need to know the operational and environmental conditions or limitations. Think of storage and shipping and handling, and maybe our product can’t be used in a certain environment. Internal and external customers also need to know how to repair a product – external customers, because they may repair it on their own if it is repairable, internal customers because the product might get sent back for repair. Both customers also need to know how to dispose, recycle, or reuse components and the design itself. Maybe they go into different waste streams, maybe things get recycled…both internal and external customers could benefit from this information.
External customers need to know the instructions and the training requirements for use of the product. They need to be able to install product. They need to be able to use it safely and they need to perform maintenance on it. All of this is information that needs to be communicated to external customers so they can use the product.
As you can see, there is a lot of design information from design engineers about the product that gets used all along the design process and the design development process. When not just for development, but also for the recurring manufacturing, maintenance and use of the product.
So what’s, today’s insight to action. Well, when determining design controls, requirements, specifications, and limits, think of all the customers of that information. Take a different viewpoint of the design process. And instead of focusing on what’s happening/when, focus on who is doing what with the design information. That will help you think of the customers of your design, as you’re developing the requirements and specs. Product designers have many customers, both internal and external.
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