Friday, April 10, 2015

Attending Quality Conferences



Julia McIntosh of the American Society for Quality has created a really nice summary on why attending meetings promotes networking [see: http://asq.org/blog/2015/04/the-pros-and-cons-of-conferences/ ].  And many thanks for pointing to my blog on one of the challenges of meeting travel [see http://www.medicallaboratoryquality.com/2014/07/quality-standardization-and-mh17.html ]. 

To be clear, let me underscore that I absolutely agree with Julia.  First and foremost, I know there are some inherent risks, but on greater balance, attending meetings is  critically important to Quality and Communication.  As the old adage goes “the most important part of a meeting is that people meet”. 

When people get together, creative juices flow and innovation and collaboration and synergy opportunities abound.  It is tough (but certainly not impossible) to duplicate that over a telephone or by watching and participating through a computer or tablet screen.

But it is also fair to say that meetings can have costs which have to go into the planning mix.  Yes, even attending meetings is a Deming PDSA opportunity. 

You can’t be in two places at the same time, and sometimes urgent things can happen while you are way, and the longer the meeting, the greater the risk.  Also, it is pretty clear that the more flight legs it takes to get to a meeting, the higher the probability of a problem.  Lost luggage, missed connections, jet lag, and common colds, phlebitis, and more recently it seems, measles, can mess up your meeting.  And let’s not even talk about flying in or out of the North-east anytime between mid-December to early-March (?) with predictably unpredictable weather. 

And then there are the financials to take into consideration.  In my world, an average 3 day meeting can consume between 4 and 5 thousand dollars, for travel, hotel, registration and per diem costs.   

So I can agree that attending meetings is important, and you can optimise the up-side benefits and reduce the downside hazards, with the following:
1.    Ensure the meeting is worth the risk.  Are the people that you want to meet or listen to likely to be there?  In my world, ASQ meeting are right up at the top.
2.    And as an extension to the above, if you go to a meeting and talk only to your friends, or even worse, talk to nobody, that is opportunity lost.
3.    Look for meetings in the sweet spot, May-to-October, (maybe avoid August) to reduce risks of weather.
4.    Make it a meeting worth your while by balancing travel time against meeting time.  Do you really want to travel for hours-and-hours just to attend a one-dayer?  And on the other hand, do you really have the time to be away for 4-5 or 6 days?
5.    Look for meetings in locations that you can get to on one or two flights.  More than four flights is probably a guarantee for at least some lost luggage or a missed connection.
6.    And as another extension, look for meetings in places where you might like to visit. 
7.    Look to save some cash.  Book meetings at the Early-bird registration rate.   Usually the meeting hotel is going to give a good discount and sometimes, meals are included as part of the meeting. 

So ASQ World Conference on Quality and Improvement in Nashville, in a few weeks for most folks in North America would meet all those criteria. 

Where also would be an ideal meeting to consider, if you are in the medical laboratory/healthcare/safety business, is to think about visiting Vancouver BC and the UBC Program Office for Laboratory Quality Management Conference in October 28-30, 2015. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Encourage the Next Generation of STEM Professionals



ASQ asks the question about the next generation of STEM (Science,Technology, Engineering and Math) professionals.   My personal experience is that STEM is very much alive and well, with lots of opportunity to grow, especially in Canada and the United States.  

On a personal note, mentoring and motivating is what I do all the time.  
More importantly, both my sons went through science programs in their university years.  One moved on to the world of high tech and internet start-ups and the other to medicine (In an on-line survey [ http://scienceblogs.com/terrasig/2009/12/06/do-you-consider-medicine-and-t/ ] that asks the question are medicine and allied health professions STEM disciplines(?), over 80 percent vote to the affirmative).  Both have great careers, and importantly have integrated Quality and Improvement into their professional activities and development.

At my university, Engineering is thriving very well.  It continues to have far more applicants than places and continues to require extremely qualified students.  The faculty apparently offers courses in a broad diversity of sub-disciplines at a variety of levels, and apparently all are filled to capacity.

It is difficult to talk about how well or unwell STEM disciplines are doing.  In another fairly recent study [see: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/details/education/graduates-science-math-computer-science-engineerin.aspx] it appears that there is opportunity for growth in STEM education in North America (see the figure), although I have to say that if this figure is an example of the state of STEM knowledge we have a very serious problem. 


Measuring by percentage of graduates has to be just about the poorest application of statistical analysis, ignoring more important issues like, population size, numbers of universities, variety of faculty choices, and many more important variables.   Without looking too deeply, one can say with absolute and total confidence that the United States creates many, many, many fold more STEM graduates than does Finland. 

If we have an apparent increase in vacancies in STEM positions, I think there are a variety of factors that need to be taken into account, at least in Canada, and probably the United States.


  • At one time the United States dominated in science and technology positions.  Today the positions have become far more internationally distributed. 
  • Since the economic downturn in 2008, the pace of manufacturing job increase has dropped dramatically.  While certain parts of the sector, especially high tech has grown significantly, many other jobs are either sitting, or have left the continent.    As the economy becomes more stable and a sense of confidence returns, many positions will open.  They may look very different from what they looked like in the past,
  • The costs of university education have continued to climb, and many people are questioning the wisdom of leaving school with debt of $200K or more.  Scholarships can make the entry decision easier, but having the confidence of an opportunity when the smoke clears is probably at least as important.

  • If the classifiers of STEM disciplines classify their positions narrowly, they are excluding many graduates that are indeed science oriented. Fields including biotechnology, genetics, pharma, nano-tech, tele-health, are making revolutionary change who we are and what we do and will continue for many years to come.   







Sunday, March 8, 2015

Quality and the Quality Conference




Quality oriented conferences have become prolific these days, even in the Medical Laboratory arena.  This actually makes a lot of sense because Quality has become a very relevant issue at almost every level.  It is a HOT topic.

There are so many aspects of Quality that touch the Laboratory arena include Costs, Clinical Relevancy, Patient Safety, Culture, Risk.  It has become near impossible to keep up with moving trends and recent advances if you are not connected to the Quality community.  

For those of you that visit this site from time to time, you may recall a post that I wrote about 9 months ago:  see http://www.medicallaboratoryquality.com/2014/07/quality-standardization-and-mh17.html  in which I argued the downsides of conference travel including cost, and risk.  Perhaps you may think that my now planning on hosting a meeting might seem a bit hypocritical.  

I would not agree.  Thinking in terms of Risk, one can look at conferences from both a occurrence/severity perspective and a risk/benefit perspective, and I can argue that if a meeting has high enough value of information and is held in a really nice and low risk environment and at a fair cost then the balance of factors leans strongly to the side of hosting and attending.  

So I will start from the positive high value side, or as Crosby would say it “Quality has to be defined as conformance to requirements”.  Will the meeting meet customer requirements?

In a short 2 and a half days, we will have speakers talking on Health-Quality-and the Law, on Safety as the Quality Imperative, on Modern Tools for the Modern Quality Manager, and on techniques to solidify the Culture of Quality.   It will be difficult to find a meeting that will provide a better array of topics.  Within those subjects we will talk about Teaching Quality to Adult Learners, reducing risk through Conflict Resolution, Establishing real time inventories of laboratory error and safety accidents and injuries,  We will look at calculating true costs of poor Quality (how Crosbyesque is that!) and determining risk in pre-and post examination processes.  

We will have presentations and roundtable discussions, and presenter contact time and the opportunities for posters and sponsor interactions.  All in all, this will be a high content conference.  This is exactly the structure that meets the Andragogy criteria for Adult Learning. 

In terms of the potential for bad outcomes by every measure they are very small.  The conference is being held in one of the most picturesque cities in North America (Vancouver BC) at a time with little risk for inclement weather, and essentially no risk for personal adversity.  Vancouver is an ideal city; big enough to be world class, but not so big that you get swamped and hit with major costs.  It is a major travel destination, with easy access from across Canada, the United States, Western Europe and Asia.   Thanks to the recent Olympics there is a truly beautiful and efficient airport, to be sure.  

 So it would be fair, reasonable and accurate to say with conviction that the potential for downside risk from either the occurrence or severity perspective is low-low-low.  

Some of you will want to know more and for those of you interested the preliminary website is available now at:  http://polqm.ca/conference_2015/home.html .

I look forward to meeting with some of you in Vancouver from October 28-30, 2015.  

More information will be available shortly. 
I will keep you informed.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Why Should Quality “Go Global”?




Bill Troy asks an interesting question about the global nature of Quality, although I might argue the question could equally be framed in a number of other ways:  “Does Quality have a national identity?” or “Is the world being well served by the global nature of Quality?” or “Can Quality become even more global in 2015?”  or “Is there a global Quality community and what does it look like?”

Like most people I know who are involved in the Quality arena, Quality was something that I discovered long after my education and training.  If I had any prior experiences they tended towards the negative images:  “Quality means don’t use white-out, or don’t make scratch-outs when you write”.  But I was lucky and the opportunities for initially an interest in Quality found me (rather than the reverse).  Overtime that interest became passion and commitment in almost every aspect of my career. 

As I  moved along, I learned to appreciate that much of the modern Quality narrative is told from an early American perspective (Shewhart, Deming, Juran, Crosby, Feigenbaum) but almost as quickly the narrative takes on international focus through organizations like the Japanese Union of Science and Engineers (JUSE), and British Standards Institute (BSI) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) and the International Society for Quality in Healthcare (ISQua) and of course (waving my own national flag!) the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).  So from the very get go, the international community as been on-board and very active with the Quality movement.

The last several decades has seen great strides in Quality adoption, especially in the arena of healthcare, and in my particular little part of that world, the medical laboratory.  Through programs and initiatives including, but certainly not limited to World Health Organization, and the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, the landscape of laboratory Quality in many African countries has jumped forward through active programs in Quality Management (including the recently developed Strengthening Laboratory Management Toward Accreditation (SLMTA) initiative).  And importantly one can point to the activities and leadership of my friend and colleague through the Saudi Quality Council.

In my own small way I get to participate in providing training in Quality Management for participants around the world on a near daily basis through our own university based course and through international training provision in Proficiency Testing.  And hosting the UBC POLQM Medical Laboratory Quality Conference in October 28-30, 2015 (More on that later!!).

So that there is strong and active Global interest in Quality is not in question.  But the larger questions of coordination of efforts that could lead to more effective integration is still an open topic. 

Personally I see great hope for integration.  First off, within the limitations and realities of resources, the message around the world is the Quality is Quality, and matters not who is the messenger. 

As I get to move from meetings to conferences and on to international committees, I more and more see many of the same people, all working in a variety of roles surrounding Quality Partnerships.  One day the topic is standards, the next quality management, and the next quality assessment or quality assurance.  And all are involved in the arena of Quality Knowledge.  What this means is that many of the barriers that have existed between Quality Partner groups are very much breaking down.  The broad topics with Quality Partnerships are harmonizing.

And that is a good thing.

And if I have not made my point clear enough, let me be very specific.  ASQ has been a leader in Quality for a very long time, and its broadening interests to the arena of International Quality can and will and does may Quality better.