We’re kicking off a brand new year with an extra special podcast guest – a man who’s ‘been there, done that’ in quality and is here to share his wisdom. Enter Paul Belgrove, now VP QA/RA independent consultant having previously worked at BD, Nycomed-Amersham, GE Healthcare, and Cardinal Health. An undoubtedly glittering CV.
Paul has over 30 years of experience in the medical device and pharmaceutical world (and even had a stint in IT), and has had plenty of success in leading truly global teams. He sat down with Elena to discuss all things quality, including exciting topics such as bringing quality professionals into leadership discussions, how quality can avoid the trap of being seen as the ‘police’, key ways to communicate and speak about quality in business terms, and a whole lot more!
The podcast is great listening for your commute to work, a trip to the supermarket, or even background food for thought as you work. Make sure to give the full podcast a listen and, in the meantime, here are the key takeaways from the podcast.
🔎 Qualifications vs experience in quality
Paul mentions that in quality, it’s important to have credibility for the role in the company you work in. Having a science degree shows a level of competence and an ability to be able to have a conversation with fellow professionals. This is a basic, entry-level requirement, but an important one to give yourself a credibility edge and serve you well for your future career. Experience is also useful, meaning going beyond the basic skills of a quality role and understanding the expectations of the regulatory body and industry in general. The right blend of experience and qualifications, being able to solve real problems based on experience and technical knowledge will set you on the right path to success.
🪜 Taking your first steps in quality
As advice to people taking their first steps into quality, Paul states that it’s better to gain a qualification or certification in quality than trying to immediately find a job in the industry. The reason is that in these courses, you can learn from quality professionals in other industries such as automotive and food, and hear about problem-solving strategies and different ways of working that you can leverage later on in your career in medical devices. Thinking about how other people solve problems and using them for your own is an invaluable skill that will allow you to not have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ each time you come across an obstacle, and you can reference what you learnt previously.
💰 Quality and return on investment
A pitfall that companies sometimes experience with their quality teams is when quality is only being consulted at the very end of a process or product development. If the product has been decided, the sales plan has been drafted, and the quality team are told to go get a licence for it – it’s already too late, and in quality terms, you’ve blown it. Instead, the emphasis on quality needs to happen further upstream, with the end goal of getting the quality team involved in the end-to-end planning process. If this is successfully happening, then you can make sure that decisions are made and adjusted to give an end-to-end solution all the way to launch and sales. How do you end up getting your quality team to that position? See below to find out.
💪 Bringing quality into leadership discussions
To get quality into a position where it’s able to influence the business cycle from start to finish, you need to get to the point where you’re seen as someone who can add value at every stage of the process. How to get to that point? Well, you need credibility to be invited to the leadership discussions and this is something you can’t demand – you need to gain exposure with your immediate boss, for example the plant director, by offering information or insights that are worthy of being passed on to the leadership team. Any leader will want to bring something to the table that will make themselves and their team look good – if you can be the person that provides it, then there’s a good chance that your boss will bring you along to the leadership meeting to demonstrate it as the quality person, giving you a valuable in.
🔥 Translating quality into impactful business terms
If you get invited to leadership discussions, it’s important to be mindful not to use too much quality language to convey your ideas. Instead, speak in terms that will resonate with the leadership team. Referencing a new regulatory paragraph in-depth is something that can be left for discussions with the quality team. Instead, do the analysis beforehand and be prepared for the meeting to address key business points like: ‘Will it slow the speed to market?’ or ‘Will it mean some products are cost-effective?’
You could also think ahead and consider your company’s complete portfolio of products- many people don’t and only think about the particular products they work on. This will allow you to bring creativity into play and present opportunities to the leadership team that will make quality look important and proactive. Make sure to keep a tight focus on the tangible value that your ideas can bring, and how your team can help make the company money, which will really get the leadership team to listen to you.
Key themes to bring up in discussions with non-quality people in the leadership team:
Speed to market
Competitive advantage against other portfolios
New access into new markets
Value and return around investment
🤞 Communication mistakes quality professionals make
The classic mistake that a quality department can make is when they are viewed by the rest of the company as the ‘police’ or the preventative department. It becomes a problem if quality is viewed this way in your organisation, and a solution is to be more proactive in planning and better at aligning quality with the rest of the company so that you can address issues in good time. The key thing is to think about timelines and the pulse on which the company works. If the company has a 1, 3, or 5-year planning cycle, it doesn’t help to wait until that planning cycle is nearly at its end and then come in as the quality person talking about urgent needs. Instead, work on bringing potential problems up a year or more in advance so they can be factored into the planning cycle.
There’s normally a long lead time when it comes to regulatory change, so being properly engaged with the industry and being able to spot early warnings will help ensure that the quality department is aligned on a similar planning cycle to the rest of the company. The one thing that will really harm your credibility and standing with the leadership team is if the budgets have been locked, plans made, and you go to the leadership team saying that you’ll need another £3 million!
Paul gives some great tips on how to stand out positively as a quality professional, and how to get the quality department to be viewed as enablers rather than preventers. He also discusses the importance of talking to the leadership team about quality in terms that they will be familiar with and will respond well to. Taking these steps will allow you to break onto the radar of the leadership team and increase your chances of progressing in the company.
As an interesting person with a varied career background and experiences at some great companies, this edition of Career Diaries by Elemed is worth listening to in full. Find out the best piece of advice Paul was given, the legacy he wants to leave on the world, and more. Make sure to give the podcast a listen if you’re a quality professional with leadership aspirations!