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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. 

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