Yesterday, I reflected on the challenges that many of us encounter while we are interacting lab personnel, particularly when it comes to communication. The ability to bridge that gap between QA Speak and the lab is one of the fundamental soft skills that a strong QA Manager must embrace.
In keeping with this idea of soft skills, and in honor of the upcoming football season, I propose that there are certain traits that truly effective QA Managers carry that cannot be highlighted in a job description, or on a resume. Instead, they can only be observed, in certain context, as displaying true potential.
This concept was recently cauterized for me while I was reading Blind Side: Evolution of the Game. Aside from the story of Michael Oher, the book discusses at length the position of the Left Tackle, and its role in the game as we know it today. Now, I am well aware that the there are opinions that counter the idea that the Left Tackle is the most valuable position in football. But I’d like to play on this analogy for the purpose of this post, and a few to come.
To those who play the position of Left Tackle, there is a lot of attention paid to their physical attributes, athletic ability and agility. As for their core purpose, they are to protect the Quarter Back… At all cost. The ability of the Left Tackle, to observe, react, and ultimately, protect on a moments notice, is key to their success.
I argue the same can be said about the ideal QA Manager, who is able to do the same service for the laboratory. Sure, we have a quality system implement, and that involves plenty of activities that might conjure up thoughts of Milton, Office Space nerd (If you haven’t clicked on that link… do it now… Tell me the office that houses your QA department doesn’t resemble that a little!).
The ideal QA Manager recognizes that the Quality System does need to be managed. There are many records to filed and numbers to be crunched and evaluated. Many will admit, however, that a large part of their time is spent troubleshooting, investigating, explaining, mitigating and assisting with damage control. These things are not written into our job description, but they are inherent in our function.
In many ways, the QA Manager is the Left Tackle of the laboratory team. We are in an league of our own. We have one purpose. Identify and mitigate risks to quality. Again, not written into our job description, but absolutely necessary. After all, it is much easier to mitigate the risks, and maintain a strong reputation, rather than the time spent repairing damaged relationships among clients and regulators. The beauty of the ideal QA Manager is that this risk is often mitigated simply by serving as the translator between the laboratory and the validator, regulator, or other quality-savvy client. This proves particularly useful since as I mentioned before, Quality professionals, and laboratory personnel don’t always speak the same language.
In that same vein, this “offensive – defense” often comes into play during audits and assessments. You would not believe how many times I have intervened between an auditor and an analyst, in order to prevent a miscommunication from resulting in a finding. I generally take a very hands-off approach to auditor interviews in the laboratory, but there have been times where I have had to step in to re-ask a question in language that the lab technician understood. A prime example of mitigating risk.