The terms “tools” and “toolbox” have become common terminology in the workplace – regardless of industry. They refer to the collection of techniques and strategies used to aid in operation of a process or business. Below are three tools that every food laboratory should have in their toolbox and use on a regular basis.
1. Proficiency Testing
2. Data Analysis/Trending
3. Metrics & Visual Management
Many of us have probably not seen the inside of a classroom (other than for parent-teacher conferences) in quite some time, but we can all relate to the idea of being graded on assignments and exams. The grades were a measurement of competence in the subject matter. Proficiency Testing (PT) is the equivalent to that for a food lab. PT is a useful tool to provide objective evidence in the form of performance scores that can give this assurance. The key to getting the most out of PT programs is testing the samples as you would routine samples – follow your typical practices – to give a true picture of the results generated by your processes. Below is an example of Cherney's Proficiency Program.
All food labs generate data – lots of data! But what do you do with all of that information? My hope is that you are analyzing your data on a regular – if not real-time – basis to detect trends that can guide improvement and prevent problems before they occur. Statistical Process Control (SPC) charting is a common example used in manufacturing. ASQ has a good general description and template here. Trending environmental monitoring plate count data is one potential use of SPC in the food lab.
Figure 1 – Example of SPC Chart (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f7/ControlChart.svg/520px-ControlChart.svg.png)
Metrics and Visual Management
“The only people who don’t want to be measured are losers.” Harsh as that may sound, there is some truth to that quote from a former coach of mine. Metrics are put in place to allow measuring against a target. Without them, how do you know if you’re meeting your objectives? Determine the key performance indicators (KPIs) to manage your process and establish metrics around them that are measured at regular intervals. KPI examples: safety incidents, technician competency matrixes, productivity – samples tested per hour. The next step of using metrics: visual management. Display the results of your metrics real-time and use them to drive your processes. Good visual management allows people in your organization to immediately assess the same critical information. Consider the example shown in Figure 2. Without watching the entire game, you are able to look at the scoreboard and assess what has happened and the current state.
Figure 2 - Visual Management example (http://www.fair-play.com/wp-content/photos-drawings/BA-7136-2.jpg)
I hope that you see the value in these tools and can efficiently apply them in your organization. Remember, tools work best when they are used. Apply these tools and use them regularly – you will see the benefits and wonder how you managed without them. For more information, please contact us @ firstname.lastname@example.org.