7 Performance Metrics to Optimize Laboratory Quality and Productivity

The majority of successful laboratories have two common traits; they are effective and efficient. They accomplish their tasks faster than other laboratories and they get it right the first time. This balance of quality and quantity is the result of hard work, dedication, and leadership.

Many view quality control as a problem that reduces productivity. However, an effectively managed program can be used to increase production through optimization. Optimization is the result when a system is evaluated to accomplish a goal as efficiently as possible. Therefore, re-examine your quality program to increase productivity through the evaluation of quality metrics.

To learn from our mistakes, we must identify what caused them. To identify the cause, we must adequately frame the problem, formulate solutions, implement corrective actions, collect and analyze data, make decisions, and monitor the results. Below is a list of performance metrics that every laboratory should use to improve quality and productivity.

infographic01 Uncertainty Analysis
When it comes to measurement, quality is important. In scientific measurement, it is customary to include a quantified estimate of measurement uncertainty when reporting measurement results. The amount of uncertainty reported is perceived as an exhibition of the quality and confidence in the measurement result. It is commonly inferred that lower uncertainty equates to better measurement quality. Therefore, it is important to identify the measurement capabilities that your laboratory specializes in and focus on reducing the measurement uncertainty for these disciplines.

02 Turnaround Time
Turnaround time is a critical factor that directly influences customer satisfaction. Many customers claim they are searching for the best price. However, every customer wants their equipment or test results returned to them as quickly as possible. By reducing your turnaround time, you are more likely to create repeat customers and attract new clients. Knowing your turnaround time allows you to gauge the performance of your laboratories throughput. If you know where you currently perform, you can identify ways to improve laboratory processes that reduce turnaround time. Calculating and tracking turnaround time will allow you to identify problems and indicators that decrease throughput, allocate resources to compensate workloads, and increase customer satisfaction.

03 Customer Satisfaction
The key to earning repeat business is providing great customer service, superior quality, and creating a unique customer experience. To gauge your performance as a laboratory and a business, you need to elicit feedback from your customers. Customer feedback is the true measure of performance for how your business serves its clients.

Most businesses send customer survey forms after the completion of a service. However, many laboratories never evaluate the feedback they receive from their customers. They store them in a binder or folder and never look at them again. I recommend that laboratories assess the scores they receive in their customer survey forms. Evaluate your feedback scores for trends that may indicate increases or declines in customer satisfaction.

When a customer indicates that you did a poor job, make it a priority to contact them and find out why they were dissatisfied and what you could have done to improve their experience. If a customer claims that they are extremely satisfied, find out why. Use your customer feedback to improve your customer experience and your quality system. Your quality of service and unique customer experience is your advantage over the price war.

04 Nonconformities & Complaints
Nonconformities and complaints are an important metric for evaluating the quality of your laboratory processes. However, many laboratories do not want to admit that these events have ever occurred. The result is most of these events go undocumented and unrecorded. The problem with this practice is you are only hurting yourself and your customers. Not reporting and investigating nonconformities and complaints does not allow you to identify the problems that caused these events. Without identifying problems, you cannot formulate and implement solutions. Therefore, your processes continue to operate while continually repeating the same nonconformities. These practices diminish the quality of work and the reputation of the laboratory.

Laboratories should document their findings, statistically monitor for trends, and investigate to identify the root cause of their problems. Never be ashamed that these events have occurred; no laboratory is perfect. Instead, be proud to claim that your quality system works, and that you are able to identify problems and improve your processes. It is always better to identify problems in house rather than allow a customer or an assessor to point them out for you. No one wants to be caught with their pants down. Do not allow it to happen to you. Take the initiative and fix your problems before they fix you.

05 Technician Throughput
Technician throughput is an important measure to identify your laboratory’s top performers. Most laboratories have production goals and must learn to effectively balance quality and quantity. Identifying the top performers in your laboratory is necessary to improve process efficiency. By identifying your top performers, you can evaluate their methods to determine where they are succeeding over their coworkers. Use their methods and practices to redesign laboratory processes and train other employees to be more productive.

06 Customer Retention
Measuring customer retention is an important aspect to staying in business and monitoring growth. If you continuously drive customers away, you will eventually go out of business. As a rule of thumb, 20% of your annual revenue must be generated from new business to maintain last fiscal year’s figures. This infers that most laboratories only retain 80% of their client base, on average, each year.

If you business is losing customers, you need to know why. Beyond customer feedback surveys, you need to evaluate your client base annually to determine which customers you retained and lost. Make it a priority to reach out to your lost customers to determine why they have decided to take their business elsewhere. Use their feedback to improve your processes and increase customer retention.

07 Equipment Failures and Interval Analysis
Most laboratories use their equipment to perform measurements and generate revenue. Over the course of time, equipment begins to fail. The ability to evaluate past performance and predict future failures is the key to ensuring measurement capability and quality. Therefore, it is important that laboratories track, monitor, and evaluate equipment failure rates.

An excellent method for accomplishing this task is through the use of interval analysis. This method allows laboratories to establish service intervals that more effectively identify or prevent equipment failures and out of tolerance conditions before they produce nonconformities. Preventing and identifying failures is an important aspect of quality control. Equipment failures can be costly, but unidentified nonconformities can be far more severe and bear devastating consequences.

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About the Author

Richard Hogan

Richard Hogan is the CEO of ISO Budgets, L.L.C., a U.S.-based consulting and data analysis firm. Services include measurement consulting, data analysis, uncertainty budgets, and control charts. Richard is a systems engineer who has laboratory management and quality control experience in the Metrology industry. He specializes in uncertainty analysis, industrial statistics, and process optimization. Richard holds a Masters degree in Engineering from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. Connect with Richard on Google+ and LinkedIn.

3 Comments

  1. I found this article very succinct and adequate, removing all ambiguity from Key performance indicators. The true challenge is maintaining a balance between quality and business throughput.

    • Hi Ebere,

      I am glad that you like the article. Balancing quality and business can be challenging. However, if you use optimization methods and experimentation, you dramatically improve the balance. At the very least, start A/B testing.

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