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Management

Still Struggling With Quality Metrics?

You’re not alone

Published: Wednesday, May 10, 2017 - 12:01

The importance of quality management cannot be overstated. It enables companies to increase efficiency, lower risks, achieve compliance, and build better and safer products. Yet many quality management teams struggle to communicate the value of their operations to other departments and executive leadership.

This inability to communicate the positive outcomes that result from quality initiatives is not only frustrating but also diminishes their value. The fact is, the quality department may be the most transformative within the company. However, without the right numbers to tell its story, it can’t be an effective agent of change and will be seen as another cost center.

So how common of a challenge is this? In a recent blog post, analyst Dan Jacob of LNS Research revealed that 37 percent of LNS survey respondents had answered that quality metrics were not effectively measured at their companies. Jacob notes that the results of that survey had changed little over time.

Similarly, our experience has shown that despite access to sophisticated reporting and visualization tools, many teams struggle with metrics for a variety of reasons. Let’s discuss how companies that are struggling to capture and interpret quality metrics can begin to turn the corner.

Problems with the consistent capture of quality-related data

The first challenge many encounter is the consistent capture of quality event data. This can be caused by lack of process, lack of process adoption, or a lack of enablement tools. The first two are straightforward: There either is a process for reporting a quality event, or there is not; if there is a process, your employees are aware of it and adhere to it, or they don’t. (Of course in the real world, process and adherence to it are highly variable, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s just go with this.)

Now let’s consider this common scenario: Tim, a worker at your manufacturing plant, comes across a puddle from a leak in the roof. Tim is aware of the process for reporting this quality event, and proceeds to write down the incident on a loose-leaf paper in a binder the manager keeps beside his desk.

The roof might get repaired quickly, but there’s a good chance the incident record takes weeks or months to make it into your quality management system, or that it never makes it into your QMS at all. But if Tim had access to an incident reporting form on his mobile device, everyone would have visibility into the incident and subsequent actions. And, while you may not be able to guarantee adherence to the process 100 percent of the time, you can at the least provide a common system of record.

Problems with nondigital systems of record

The previous example highlights the importance of defined processes, process adoption, and enablement tools for consistent data capture. But it also illustrates the danger of using disparate and nondigital systems for quality management.

Companies that have yet to adopt an integrated QMS software platform rely on paper, fax, email, phone, spreadsheets, and Word documents to manage quality. This patchwork of interoperating applications and channels works fine if your company:
• Is currently small with limited operations
• Does not compete within a regulated industry
• Does not adhere to international or regional standards
• Has no desire to grow or become more efficient in the future

If all of the above are true, well, you should probably stop reading this article. But the point is, you can’t create a report that demonstrates the value your department brings to the company unless you have a consistent and common system of record to pull from.

Note: In the real world, you’ll seldom have one data source to draw from. In fact, it’s beneficial to integrate your QMS with other core applications. But this shouldn’t deter you from attempting to eliminate nondigital modes of data capture. Unless, of course, you enjoy transcribing phone calls and reading chicken-scratch handwriting from notebooks.

Problems with storage and retrieval

Now that we’ve discussed the importance of consistent data capture within a common electronic system of record, it’s time to address how you store and retrieve that information. Many companies store data in what is known as a data warehouse, or in a data lake.

This approach allows one to store vast amounts of information, but forces quality teams to rely on IT for on-demand reporting. These requests can take weeks or even months to fulfill. Thus, much of the information stored cannot be used for timely decision making, which diminishes its value in the face of constant regulatory, internal, and marketplace pressures.

The answer is to empower users with self-service reporting and analytics. To do this, companies should employ data synchronization and data modeling tools. When information is accessible, timely, and actionable, it helps drive a cultural shift in the organization away from being reactive to being proactive.

Problems with understanding which metrics to report on

Finally, many companies struggle to decide which metrics they should report on. Often, this is the result of not knowing how to synthesize the vast amounts of information at their disposal. In other words, there is a lack of understanding about how information can be placed into context to create positive outcomes for the business.

To begin to address this, you start by having an open dialogue with leadership and other departments. When you begin to understand their objectives and challenges, you begin to understand how to present your quality metrics in a way that is beneficial in the short and long terms.

Regardless of that, you may still struggle to understand exactly which metrics are beneficial to report on. If that’s the case, we encourage you to register for our upcoming webinar, “Seven KPIs Your QMS Should Provide.” During it we’ll discuss the key performance indicators (KPIs) that leading quality management teams use to benchmark operations and create actionable insights that decision makers can count on.

Join Sameer Kadam, Mickey Shah, and Dirk Dusharme for “Seven KPIs Your QMS Should Provide” on Tues., May 16, 2017, at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. Register here.

Discuss

About The Authors

Sameer Kadam’s picture

Sameer Kadam

Sameer Kadam is a senior solutions consultant for Sparta Systems Inc., developer of enterprise quality management software solutions. Leveraging nearly 20 years of IT and consulting experience, Kadam is responsible for working with clients to devise solutions that meet their business needs. In his previous role as an implementation specialist at Sparta, Kadam analyzed and documented customer requirements and then configured TrackWise to meet those requirements. He also assisted with validation activities and trained administrators and end users on TrackWise. Kadam is a recognized quality and regulatory expert on topics such as product registration tracking and correspondence and commitment tracking.

Mickey Shah’s picture

Mickey Shah

Mickey Shah is the co-founder of Process Stream and its managing director of business development. This business process and technology consulting firm works primarily with pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device companies developing life sciences IT solutions. Shah is responsible for growing and maintaining new revenue streams for Process Stream, including managed services, streamLYTICS, and cloud development. Shah says his time with Process Stream has been nothing short of adventurous—just ask him about his wild flight home from his business trip. Process Stream is a partner with Sparta Systems Inc., developer of enterprise quality management software solutions.