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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Heresy?

 American Society for Quality has a number of  journals, and some excellent, and others pretty good.  One of the latter category, at least in my opinion, is the Journal for Quality and Participation.  Without wanting to be harsh, I tend to find articles, while generally interesting,  tending to be more  opinion than fact.  (The irony of me, an opinion oriented blog writer making this distinction is not lost!).

Nonetheless there were three interesting articles in the October 2010 edition that I received today.  One was “Improving Project Performance with Three Essential Pieces of Information” by Portnoy, and another “Creating a Self-Confident Workforce” by Denton.   The last one is  "Training on Trial” by Kirkpatrick and Kirkpatrick.  

I don’t intend to go into any (the journal is available at www.asq.org/pub/jap) in detail other than to say that the first article made the point that when designing a project briefing (the deliverable) it is useful to make it brief and unambiguous.  The point was that the more the number of words and the more jargon included, the more variable is the document's interpretation.  The training article was making the point that training can have a lot of challenges demonstrating that it actually provides a service that will address significant business results.  And the third article made the point that workers are more self-confident with less stress when they are empowered to make certain decisions on their own.

I can support all those points.

Which brings me to the heresy. 

At a laboratory where I was working, I often found myself in conversations that suggested that some of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) were so detailed and so “precise” that in my opinion, they were largely unfollowable.  Even with an adjoining process map they were unfollowable.  They were better when pictures were added in,  but especially better when pictures were used in place of words.  In the process of trying to make SOPs that were all encompassing, I felt we were laying the foundations for error.

And so I started to think that maybe it is not so important to tell microbiology technologists how they have to hold and streak a petri dish, but to let that happen on its own.  And defining precise colony counting methods was so rigid that it likely wasn’t followed anyways.  And trying to define all the combinations and permutations of bacterial growth was confusing.  
Now there are many procedures involving many pieces of highly precise equipment that do need precise instruction (I understand that) but if we pollute those instructions that are challenging to follow, I think we run the risk of some documents  that need attention and clarity getting lost in the shuffle.  

So my point is that SOP writers and trainers and supervisors need to take a closer look at the procedures that they create to make sure that they actually are useful for training, and more importantly allow the business purpose of the procedures to come through.  Its not only about the value stream, but also creating documents that give technologists the professional autonomy.  Smaller and selective documents, it  seems to me, make the procedure and much of the decision making process both more efficient and more effective.

And how heretical is that?
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