“They gave us world class, but all we needed was the basics.”
Last week I was speaking with a VP of Quality at a small medical device company at which point he politely complained to me about a recent experience he had with a consultant their company brought onboard. The company was implementing a new online quality management system (QMS) and was utilizing this consultant to get it up and running.
The VP shared with me his irritation about how the consultant came in and took on the project as an expert in the field. The consultant had done many QMS implementations prior and came with good recommendations of his work. As the conversation went on the VP share further irritation about his experience working with the consultant. He brought in an expert to do a job that was rather straight forward yet that’s not what the company got in the end. Unfortunately, the consultant failed to understand one of the most important aspects of his job – understand the needs of the customer and implement accordingly.
“We’re a small company, we don’t need all the bells and whistles right now [from a QMS system]. We just need a system that keeps us in compliance while making things easier from a process flow standpoint.”
The VP was sharing with me a painful experience he was having as a result of someone doing work for him and not understanding what was actually needed in the moment to be successful on that project.
Sometimes what’s needed is the basics, not world class. The key is knowing when each of these is appropriate.
All to often we show up to a project or work with the idea we’re going to dress up the proverbial pig ready for a fancy night out on the town. This pig of ours is going to look amazing, amazing because of the work we did to get it there. However, we end up missing the mark because we don’t bother to ask the right questions along the way. If we had bothered to ask the right questions to understand what was truly needed by the company and the key stakeholders we may find out the ‘pig’ just needs a new pair of shoes, not a whole wardrobe change.
Here’s how this played out in the scenario above with my client and VP…
Here’s the rub on the situation.
If the consultant had bothered to ask the vital question of their client upfront “What does ‘success’ looks like at the end of the project?” he would have found out the client needed a practical QMS which met the basic needs of their product and regulatory requirements yet did not need a lot of the fancy bells and whistles larger companies utilize with their QMS.
Basically, this small medical device company needed a QMS that was straightforward, basic yet allowed them to upgrade their company to meet the regulatory requirements for their product. The client wanted a no frills, basic system yet what they got was a world class system they’ll probably never fully utilize.
Don’t assume your work or project requires you to put forth world class service. Sometimes ‘good enough’ is all that’s needed. Knowing the different between ‘good enough’ and world class work outputs is a vital skill to develop and implement in your career.
Before you begin your next project at work think to yourself “what’s really needed here? The basics or something more?”. Then actually go ask the key stakeholder in charge. Doing this shows an ability to think big picture with an appreciation for what’s best for the company, not what’s best to make you look good as a result of the work you can do.
Remediation in the medical device industry often adopts a similar saying you’ll hear motorcyclists say when referencing laying their bikes down [accidents], “it’s not if it will happen, it’s when”.
With so many companies over the years going through major remediation efforts one would think by now most people in the business would have a good appreciation for what a successful process looks like to navigate through FDA remediation projects. Yet, many people will tell you the remediation projects they’ve been a part of were messy, unorganized and a galactic waste of money. Unfortunately, when we’re faced with remediation there is no choice other than to mend our broken wings before flying home for the summer.
One of the biggest issues with remediation projects is many people in the company look at it as a ‘quality’ issue. Meaning, “it’s the quality departments problem, let them deal with it because we have our own projects and deadlines.” Shocking as this may be, I literally was told this several years ago from an R&D Director whose company was going through a sizable remediation overhaul. Needless to say he wasn’t operating as a team player and certainly wasn’t aligned with what was best for the company.
Which sparks an interesting question – if I have a remediation project ready to get underway, what are the things I can do in order to ensure it succeeds? Regardless of the project size, these are the four things you must consider as a top priority in your next remediation effort:
1.Establish clear, consistent and easy internal communication protocol for the project
This is one of the most overlooked parts of a large scale project. It’s especially important when considering cross functional company divisions and the people accountable to working towards successful completion. When people are misinformed or don’t know what’s going on you can be certain it will slow your project down and cause further product quality and procedural issues down the road.
2.Get a GREAT ‘lobbyist’
You’ll need someone acting as the liaison between your company and the FDA. Typically, this person comes from your QA/ RA group, but is that the right person? Don’t assume your de facto executive in QA / RA is the best for the job. Ensure your company aligns itself with a proven individual who has relationships within the FDA and knows how to play the game. This will pay off huge dividends in the end as they’ll know how to navigate delicate situations, get continuances and or leniencies where able.
3.Ensure your entire company (especially executive management) is onboard
Everyone in the organization, bottom up, needs to understand why this project just went to the top of the work list. Everyone needs to be bought in and rowing in the same direction, otherwise you’ll experience cumbersome internal issues as mentioned above, which waste time, money and energy.
4.Learn how to manage cost early on
Often companies will use a consulting group to lead or help work through their remediation efforts. All to often the selection process for that supplier comes down to a key relationship within the company which basically side tracks any formal vetting process of other possible suppliers. Cost becomes a 2nd or 3rd consideration over a relationship. This can be disastrous as selecting the wrong supplier to help you with a remediation project can end up costing you thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars extra down the road. Case in point – when you use suppliers that fly in consultants to project work you are literally paying more than double the cost for that service just because those resources weren’t local. Flights, housing, food, per diems, auto travel, etc. adds up incredibly fast. I’ll admit, sometimes the best solution is an out of town supplier, however be sure to do your homework here before you settle on the one supplier that’s going to get your company back on track.
Key Take Away:
If you’re heading into a FDA remediation project it is paramount to set up a company wide communication protocol which provides detail to everyone
Remember – it’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’ you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’re stuck going through FDA remediation. Therefore, you must be proactive. Before you need the help, begin compiling data on suppliers that could help with a possible remediation projects. Compare their capabilities, learn how they would approach a potential project, how do they charge, etc. Once you’ve done your homework you’ll then have all the necessary information upfront to make a strategic and informed decision when it comes time to dive into remediation.
[Note] this article intentionally does not cover the tactical approaches to FDA remediation as there are hundreds of articles and sources providing that information. This article covers the intangible parts of projects of this nature, the ones that most often go overlooked.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.