Sunday, August 7, 2011

Embracing Quality

I was putting in time sitting on the airplane, reading their airline magazine and came across an interesting note ascribed to an hotelier Jaume Tapies.  People only embrace what they help to create.  It’s important to share projects with those who are invested in them.   This caught my eye for a number of reasons in part because I was just returning from a successful quality assessment project and second because I know that successful hoteliers understand the importance of customer satisfaction as part of the quality process.

The notion of people embracing what they create is a really important concept as we build laboratory quality systems.  Many laboratories create quality teams who create documents and quality system trees either on-paper or on-line that are consistent with one organization or another, without ever engaging the people who are going to be expected to use the system.  Then they spend their time “communicating the system” by talking at the staff or worse emailing the staff about how user friendly the system is.  “This is how to read our new SOP.  I know it seems long and looks complicated, but it has everything you will ever need.  Trust me.  Trust me.”

This is rarely a path to embracing and engaging in the quality system.

How often do you hear comments in your organization like “Oh that’s quality.  Talk to Pat.  She’s the quality person”, or “Talk to Shirley.  I know where the Quality stuff is, but I never actually use it”.  Even worse, “this stuff is a joke.  I do it because I have to, but what a waste .  I could be doing real things, important things”.

Laboratory quality teams need to keep a few concepts in mind.  Quality is based on a very few guiding principles.  How they get manifested is up to the organization.  The quality system does not exist to meet the expectations of qualitologists or ISO or accreditation bodies; it exists to help the staff prevent errors from occurring and when they do, to catch them early, and fix them and learn from them and move on.  Quality systems that capture the guiding principles and at the same time fit the needs of the staff are good systems; and more to the point, quality systems that don’t fit the needs of the people who are supposed to use it are bad systems. 

There is another concept to keep in mind.  Embracing quality is different than being engaged in quality.  Being engaged is doing the steps you have to do.  Embracing is understanding the concepts behind doing the steps you have to do.  For lots of situations if you can get folks engaged that is pretty good.  There are all sorts of ways to get staff engaged.  You can give them pizza prizes, you can give them little gold stars.  You can remind them about filling in the forms when they forget.
Getting folks engaged can be a lot of work, but will get things done. 
Getting folks engaged is a success.

But getting the message shared and having folks understand why it’s important and how it makes their lives easier and improves the outcome of their effort is always better.  Getting folks to embrace quality is an accomplishment.

So I am interested in receiving comments from folks who have ideas about the things that we can do to get laboratory staff to embrace quality.  Twitter length (140 characters) is good but not essential.


  1. I've been following this blog for several months now, but I still don't actually understand what you actually mean by "Quality" and I still can't see how this vague concept has any bearing on my blood counts.
    Perhaps you might give some tangible examples of "Quality in action" ?

  2. I love quality! I also love you may suspect, these two concepts do not always go hand in hand. One factor that would make me embrace quality (even more) at my work place would be to involve staff BEFORE new protocols get written or rolled out. How many times have I witnessed a new protocol announced or implemented (usually by someone other than the bench tech) and within three minutes it was taken apart and mistakes identified by those intended to use these protocols. Would it hurt anyone to have protocols read and trial'd before implementing them - preferably by those actually using them? Would it not save time and hassle having to re-write them (and having them re-checked...and approved all over again...and again...until its right?)

    Just a thought!

  3. Another thought crossed my mind as I was re-reading this post.

    From a lab tech perspective I embrace quality on two levels.

    One, because I live by a certain standard - imposed on myself by myself, and the quality work I produce is based on my personality with help of good guidelines/protocols and such provided by 'the company'. (I'm sure there is a technical term for this, but lets call it 'quality from the inside out')

    And the other level is the based on a reward system (ie. 'quality from the outside in'). If I produce good quality work - ie. correct patient results in an effective and efficient manner, and I get rewarded (via recognition, free pizza, a good performance review, a smile from a microbiologist, a promotion, etc...) then I have greater want and need to continue higher levels of quality. On the flip side, if I were to work extremely hard to uphold good quality techniques and results and management does not acknowledge work well done....perhaps my incentive to perform quality work would not be as high as it could be.

    Again, just a thought.

  4. I'd like to suggest that "quality" means that:
    Doc ordered the right test
    Lab drew the right specimen on the right patient
    The test result is right (correctly reflects what is going on in the patient)
    The test result is sent to the right person
    The price/cost is right (we're spending taxpayers money)
    Anyone like to add to this?


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