Thursday, May 5, 2011


Recently I have been taking a close look at quality standards including ISO9001:2008, ISO15189:2007, and ISO17025:2005.  All of them have a lot in common.  First off, regardless of the decision for certification or accreditation, they are all mostly very useful reference sources for people who organize and operate laboratories.  Implementing quality management is a good thing to do.  Second, all of them recognize the importance of management setting the quality agenda based up information gathered through management review.  And third, all of them are future oriented documents that focus on ensuring the laboratory will be better tomorrow than it is today.  All that goes under the headings of planning, or prevention, or continual improvement.

Along the way, I noticed while all the documents make these points, there is one thing that they all seem to ignore or exclude, they are all weak on providing suggestions or recommendations for actually implementing business quality programs in an active laboratory.
So in that vacuum, I offer up my recommendation for inclusion of an organized look at the organizations Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats as a powerful planning and improvement program.  Done correctly, SWOT analysis is an extremely useful planning and monitoring tool for laboratory management to apply on a regular basis.  

In CMPT I have taken to doing a formal SWOT every 2 years.  That way I get a chance to see if I am actually making progress or just satisfying immediate concerns.

SWOTs have a lot in common with ROOT Cause analysis.  You can do them both in 5 minutes if you want to.  In both instances you get out what you put in.  A five minute job satisfies the piece of paper and gets a tick on the assessment form.  A more formal open discussion will take a lot longer, but the outcome should be worth it.

There are probably hundreds of ways to work through a SWAO Analysis.  I try to keep it focused on the areas that matter most to me and my operation.  I try to focus on 9 topics: Management, Personnel, Facilities and environment, Quality System, Products and Services and Clients and Satisfaction, Awareness, Competition and Collaborations, and Finances.
For each of those areas I first think about what we have and how it can make us stronger, and if our current action is making us weaker.  Are there new opportunities to make things better, and if I don’t act on those or make the changes that I need, what can cause  jeopardy.  
Once I have created my list, I look at what tasks I have created and then put them in a priority order, recognizing that over 2 years I can work or 5 or 6.  

For  me and my program, the process has worked fairly well.  It has created an organized  structure for me to identify the things that we are working on now which include (a) capitalizing on non-EQA projects to create more diversity and a stronger financial platform, (b) increasing the analytes we provide (c ) aggressively finding a new location and (d) increasing the energy we put into ISO9001:2008 and (e) putting a temporary hold on implementing tje new standard - 17043:2010.  Maybe I would have identified these issues anyways, but the stucture helped make them more obvious.

And then to ensure that I actually do something, I make the whole thing public through my annual meeting and annual report, and put it on the agenda for year-over-year discussion.  I can dodge and weave, but in the process of open forum, I cannot hide.

The process has been 98 percent excellent as a forward driving device, but not 100.  I still have the same weakness and threat that I identified now 5 years ago.  I have no succession plan in place for me, and every year that looms as a greater issue.  More on that another day.

But to bring me back to  where the comment started.  All the quality documents talk about planning and review but do not identify this as a useful, indeed valuable, indeed indispensable tool.  Lots of time wasted space for other tools of dubious value (like uncertainty of measurement), but none for how to make my planning process more effective.

I need to do something about that.

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