The day the certificate arrives in the mail, it finally sinks in – all that hard work, extra time in the office, hours spent preparing has finally paid off! As you adjust to the idea that the fruits of your labor have finally (FINALLY!) been recognized, another realization begins to come to light. Along with the satisfaction of hanging your accreditation certificate on the wall, you’ve also come to the realization that the journey has just begun. As with any complex and detailed structure, your newly accredited quality management system is going to need continued TLC to guarantee its success.
For all the quality-minded folks out there, this most likely brings to mind continual quality improvement. After all, CQI is a requirement of both ISO 9001 and ISO 17025, so it seems to be a no-brainer that even upon achieving a significant goal such as accreditation continual improvement of the quality system should kick into hyper drive. As someone tasked with helping to maintain and promote the overall health of a laboratory quality system, I know status quo is not enough. However, this can be a harder idea of which to convince others; to many it is, “YAY! We are accredited” rather than “YAY! We need to maintain our accreditation!”
So how do you go about endorsing continual quality improvement at the same time as implementing it? For me, it is all about communication. First everyone within the organization must understand that the quality system is not static. Just as a lab must continue to grow and improve to be successful, so must its quality system. There are several key ways for continuous quality improvement to be communicated to others, including corrective/preventive actions, quality objectives, customer communication and management reviews. By utilizing these tools, the importance of growth and maintenance of the quality system is effectively delivered to all personnel from the top to the bottom.
Too often we allow ourselves to be distracted from the future by the here-and-now. With each new procedure, customer protocol, or technological advancement the quality system must expand to encompass the new requirements while striving to continue to meet (and hopefully exceed!) previously defined requirements. As long as everyone within your organization commits to evolving with the quality system and its parameters, continual quality improvement will be a natural process. So go ahead and celebrate – you have definitely earned it! But don’t let your celebration distract you from the bigger task at hand…the “now what” of continual quality improvement.