Building a Consensus

New chart helps everyone get on the same page

by Scott A. Laman

Certain well-known two-by-two matrices are used by quality professionals to facilitate decision making and prioritization—for example, the effort/impact matrix and the importance/urgency matrix.

A new but similar tool, the consensus chart, can drive improvement activities identified during the development or operation of a quality system process. It can be used for facilitating, obtaining buy-in and standardizing to achieve a more comprehensively documented and effective process. The chart is especially useful in an environment with the following characteristics:

  • Continuous improvement. Inevitably, issues and opportunities arise and need to be prioritized and addressed.
  • Differences of opinion. Sometimes, discord arises regarding the execution of a quality system process. It may be necessary to align personal preferences before progress can be made.
  • Desire to optimize documentation. Documenting the quality system is a good thing, but there may be cases where spelling out every detail is not beneficial.
  • Appreciation of the team approach.
  • Complex processes that interact with other processes.

To construct a consensus chart, assemble a cross-functional team of those who own the process and those most affected by the process. Compile and describe each issue and the current situation surrounding each issue. Ask two yes-or-no questions:

  1. Do we want to standardize?
  2. Is there consensus about best practices?

The answers can be separated into four quadrants with the following titles:

  1. Hold meetings to work out differences. Standardization is desired, but consensus has not yet been achieved.
  2. Proceduralize, communicate, train. Standardization is desired, and there is already consensus. This is where process improvements are made.
  3. Let there be variation. Use when there is no need to standardize and also no consensus. No action is driven from this quadrant.
  4. Everyone agrees anyway. Use when there is no need to standardize, but there is consensus.

There are certain paths that issues may follow. For issues in quadrant 4, the issue may be moved to quadrant 3 or 2. The movement is based on whether it is beneficial to document the issue’s resolution. Issues in quadrant 1 can be moved to quadrant 2 once consensus is achieved.

The consensus chart in Figure 1 was used to classify issues and improve a quality system process, with the issues generically redefined for confidentiality. In the final step of the improvement initiative, methods of standardization were decided on and included new or revised policies, procedures, forms, databases and training plans. As a result, the process was improved.

Figure 1

Scott A. Laman is the manager of quality engineering and risk management for Teleflex Medical Inc. in Reading, PA. He earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Syracuse University in New York. He is a senior member of ASQ and is an ASQ-certified quality engineer, reliability engineer, quality manager, Six Sigma Black Belt and quality auditor.

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