Kevin Pagenkop

Kevin Pagenkop

Story Vault

By Kevin Pagenkop

Quality assurance professionals are not always the most popular people in the center; fellow workers do not compete for their attention but, rather, they avoid it.

In most communications centers, the staff demonizes the QA support, and management challenges the QA process when it comes time to propose the annual budget. But how can a strong QA/QI program be proven as the reason for high compliance percentages without abandoning the program to show that quality will indeed decline? It’s akin to a patient taking medication to address the symptoms. The symptoms go away five days into the 10-day prescription, and the patient quits the medication. Without the medication, the symptoms return.

The return of a painful sore throat, or whatever else might ail the patient, reinforces the need to continue prescribed medication. Unfortunately, the same “test” can’t be applied to QA. Putting a hold on QA to prove a point would likely turn disastrous to those relying on 9-1-1. Like the physician, however, the QA/QI should concentrate on the process, rather than the product, and by following the Law of Association1, both professionals can achieve the desired outcome. Basically, the law associates the unknown to the known, making acceptance of the unknown a lot more palatable. The following analogy illustrates the concept in relation to quality assurance.

Detective Q (the process)

Let management think of Q as the communications center’s detective.

There’s a problem to solve and it’s the Q’s job to identify the “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” and, most importantly, the “Why.” Management doesn’t have the time to sift through all the data to identify the root cause, or the desire to point a finger at the suspected non-compliant individual(s). Since management doesn’t like the process—tedious and far too time consuming to conduct an all-process and an employee review—it’s easier to ignore the problem in hopes it will go away.

This is where Detective Q steps in. The Q can help identify a problem through the data collected from compliance reviews, allowing management to focus on specific deficiencies (QA) and solutions (QI), rather than shuddering at the possibility of an all-encompassing evaluation project. The Q becomes the center’s Columbo, and who wouldn’t like to be put in that position? Everyone liked Peter Falk.

Cupcake wars (applied to product)

Consider running a popular custom-order bakery that specializes in trendy cupcakes like those featured on TV’s cable channels and blogs. If one of your customers drops your chocolate raspberry-filled cupcakes for a competitor’s brand, what would you do? Replace the baker? Purchase new appliances? Start from scratch with a new recipe and vary the ingredients? None of those options work for several reasons: expense, time lost, and no guarantee that the cupcakes will be any tastier than the competitor’s new and improved cupcakes.

Applying the Law of Association, Detective Q examines the entire process and collects data to determine exactly where to apply the bakery’s time and effort to improve the cupcakes’ quality. If results show that the cupcakes taste like jelly-filled cardboard boxes because of the butter’s bitter quality, contact a different distributor or change the brand of butter used. Focusing on the exact problem saves the expense of a kitchen remodel and the frustration of going through the firing/hiring process.

Proof is in the process

Quality assurance is a process to improve the product, not the other way around. A sore throat, the taste of a cupcake, or protocol compliance doesn’t get any better unless you address the steps into the process to identify the problem.

In the case of QA at the communications center, if management insists on product-oriented results to measure the Return on Investment (ROI), trend and chart the data and translate the information into clear text and simple graphics. Keep track of QA/QI issues in relation to the QA detective process, and the resolutions that restored the quality.

The ability to take the mystery out of QA, effectively communicate the significance of the QA/QI position, and provide verbal and visual translations of data, are Q skills that are as important as knowing the Performance Standards or providing effective feedback.

It’s also in your best interests to schedule time with staff and management to review last quarter’s (or last year’s) “fires,” requiring everyone’s participation to extinguish and overcome. What better way to both recognize the importance of QA and raise morale than to take the time to look back and celebrate your center’s accomplishments in light of the value you provide. The center QA may never become anyone’s best friend, but, at least, you might save yourself from the loneliest job on the floor.


1 “Laws of Learning.” Fire & Emergency Services Instructor. 7th Edition. IFSTA.