Part II - The Yearly Review

(Ref Id: 1419021249)

So you have completed the previous exercise and now have a short list with two sides. On the right hand side things you wanted to do with little notes next to that indicating whether those things were in or out of your control and on the left a short list of things you actually did with similar notes indicating whether they were part of a successful or failed project.

Out of (Your) Control

Frequently the fear of growth is firmly based on a tacit recognition of one's own inability to be a leader. Leaders have to make hard decisions. They have to look people in the eye, truthfully explain why something did not get done, and provide tangible assurances that it will get completed. When they find subordinates or partners lacking there needs to be a framework to get them onto the right track.

Tracks Depend on Entity

Employees and the like can and should be guided by some form of written standard operating procedures (SOPs) and something we'll call a 'Model of Quality (MOQ).' External providers need a MOQ and control points[3] that go beyond just controlling hazards. They should keep the provider's process in check so that poor quality does not reach your doorstep.

Let's look at employees and SOPs first.

SOPs

Standard operating procedures are essentially step-by-step instructions on how to perform a task. They should be fairly standard for an organization, relatively easy to access, and be frequently updated. Although this seems fairly obvious to most, small organizations avoid writing SOPs and suffer the consequences of providing poor and inconsistent quality as a result. Simple research into wikis or other web-based document management tools will assist in alleviating the technical hurdle involved in SOP development. The rest is solved by liberal application of 'elbow grease' and monitoring processes in order to extract best practices and step-by-step operational instructions.

The next time an employee fails to perform a task correctly and you cannot find the SOP step they failed to follow then the responsibility for such failure should rest squarely on your shoulders.

Model of Quality

If we agree that quality is "an outcome, a characteristic of a product or service provided to a customer" [1] then the sum of those qualities taken together forms a model. It is that model that can be preserved and presented to individuals and groups that will look to reproduce it in the future. Failure to meet the measurable qualities of that model should result in rejection. Ice cream that doesn't taste 'creamy' should, for example, completely fail to measure up to the ice-cream MOQ.

For employees the MOQ must be as easy to access as an SOP and should preferably be referenced within it. External partners however must also be able to access an MOQ. In fact, they should be introduced to the MOQ and changes to it periodically throughout the lifetime of your relationship with them.

Here's a quick example. A U.S. automotive parts manufacturer won a contract with a Japanese firm to supply parts. Shortly after an initial delivery the Japanese firm returned a box of parts to the manufacturer with a letter explaining that their previous contractor produced about one error in every 10,000 parts. Their initial order with the U.S. firm was for far less but there were six defective parts in the box. Clearly the U.S. firm's error ratio was higher then their predecessor. What was wrong with this story is that the Japanese firm should have been clear about their MOQ from the start. Second, and we'll discuss this in a minute, is that the Japanese and U.S. firms should have agreed upon control points that generate some data during the manufacturing process that could be pushed to the Japanese firm. This would have given them insight into the process without appearing to dictate that process. It would also save the Japanese firm from having to look for a new manufacturer (which involves time, expense, and let's be honest, increased costs).

Control Points

In food safety so-called critical control points represent "a specific point, procedure, or step in food manufacturing at which control can be exercised to reduce, eliminate, or prevent the possibility of a food safety hazard" [2]. The methodology can be employed outside of food production and the agreed-upon 'hazards' can be conditions that might be ruinous to your business.

For a small organization you are very likely going to have to deal with other independent/small companies to handle services for you. In fact, a growing trend is for small businesses to actually be dependent upon third parties for everything from partial manufacturing to business operations like accounting and legal. A small bicycle manufacturer may in fact simply be performing assembly operations with every other process being performed by external business entities.

Because these entities are external the amount of control one can exert upon them is nominal. Your yearly business may only represent a small portion of their yearly revenue. Your complaints about their process will likely go unnoticed, but replacing them may cost you a small fortune. What to do? Establish the MOQ and control points very early in your relationship. With today's computing technology it is possible to periodically deliver dumps of data from instruments or equipment to cloud-based repositories. Clients can then import and review that data for problem indicators.

Let's look at the bicycle assembly company for example. Wouldn't it be nice to know that a batch of ball bearings that were used in the manufacture of several bicycle parts actually failed multiple stress and metallurgical tests? Yes, if you know what you are looking for and have the data available for your analysis.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where LIMS is going in the future. Not every company in the future will need a LIMS for their own internal laboratories (they may have no laboratories). They will likely need a LIMS to aggregate and analyze sample data produced by third-party manufacturers as well as contract laboratories that are assigned with the task of keeping producers honest. For example, once in the not-too-distant past a coffee buyer spent a large sum of money on a particular type of specialty coffee only to learn from their contract lab that it was not at all what they were promised. That day most if not all of the money they spent on contract lab work paid for itself.

Summary

Looking back on the past year should be an activity involving reviewing where your SOPs failed to help your employees deliver upon your quality promises. It should also be an opportunity for you to review (or produce) your MOQs and take a stern look at the systems, processes, and practices you employ (using control points) with an eye toward reducing variation in your product offering. That means that if you had 80 clients this past year and 11% of them ran shrieking from your business because your products were 'miserable...' next year your aim is to reduce that number down to 0.02% or whatever is slightly below your competition. If you do this enough your business will grow. If you do this enough you will grow.

There were quite a few new terms and topics to digest here so we'll hold off on mapping out projects until a later post. Visit some of the links provided in this post; think long and hard about SOPs/MOQs/Control Points and quality and once you are bursting at the seams with it visit back and look for a post on future planning.

[1] http://www.thecqi.org/The-CQI/What-is-quality/

[2] http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/critical-control-point-CCP.html

[3] http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/HACCP/ucm2006801.htm

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