Quality Management and Continuous Improvement Tools
With a wide range of quality management and continuous improvement resources to choose from, this page highlights some of the tools and provides examples and templates used by NOAA Fisheries and our partners to improve fisheries-dependent data.
A variety of quality management and continuous improvement tools have been used across the NOAA Fisheries community and among our partners to improve processes and projects. Many of the tools below are paired with a real-world example and a template to help you put them to use. Keep in mind that working with experienced facilitators can be critical to your success. Facilitators can help you involve the right individuals, keep your project on task, and achieve your quality management goals. Equally important, facilitators enable workshop participants to walk away with new skills they can bring to other projects and colleagues.
For more information about the tools listed here, another quality management tool of interest, or facilitation options, please contact our group.
Present a Problem and Solution to Leadership
Leadership and upper management are not always immersed in day-to-day program activities, and may not be able to respond quickly or effectively when problems arise. The background-problem-solution tool can organize and present problems and solutions to support efficient decision-making. Steps for using this tool include researching the history of an issue and summarizing the issue in terms that can easily be understood.
Example: The Alaska Fisheries Science Center used this tool to help management solve problems (PDF, 1 page) within the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program.
Background-Problem-Solution Tool Template (PDF, 1 page)
Background-Problem-Solution Tool Recommendation Plan Template (DOCX, 1 page)
Assess Strengths and Weaknesses
This tool can help you assess strengths and weaknesses, the things you can control, and the external threats and opportunities you face. It can be used to plan upcoming projects or overcome existing problems. More information on SWOT Analysis is available through the American Society for Quality.
Example: The Alaska Regional Office used this tool to recommend improvements to their change strategy.
SWOT Analysis Tool Template (PDF, 1 page)
Business Rule Documentation/Use Case Tool
Communicate Business Needs to a Developer
Application developers must understand the functional requirements of the application they are building. The business rule documentation and use case tool can help you make these requirements clear, and outline the information needed to complete a development task. It will help you develop clear descriptions of the application, its elements, navigation requirements, alternative process flows, validations, and data mappings between the application and its data source.
Example: The Northwest Fisheries Science Center used this tool to implement a catch share program (PDF, 5 pages), working closely with the Southeast Fisheries Science Center to adapt the business rule documentation template they used to implement a catch share program in the Southeast.
Business Rule Documentation/Use Case Template (DOCX, 2 pages)
Data Flow Diagram
Visually Represent a Data Process
Data flow diagrams illustrate how data are collected, transmitted, processed, stored, and displayed, and document the logical stages through which data travel. They can be used to increase understanding of an existing process, or to develop a plan for data processing implementation. A diagram usually starts with a general model of data flow, before it is refined into successively detailed models. Data flow diagrams should be kept up-to-date as long as the data process exists.
Example: The Alaska Regional Office used this tool to document its Catch-In-Areas database (PDF, 10 pages), a GIS-based analysis tool for catch data. This database is used to analyze fisheries closures and definitions. The data flow diagram allowed the Catch-In-Areas system to expand alongside the data's use.
Graphically Represent a Process
A flowchart can be used to represent anything, from simple step-by-step instructions to complex and decision-dependent workflows. Flowcharts use a specific set of adaptable symbols (PDF, 1 page) to denote different types of steps or activities, which can help a viewer quickly interpret each action. This tool can help you visualize a process and identify potential bottlenecks, challenges, and opportunities. Flowcharts can also be used to compare and contrast an existing and ideal version of a particular process.
Example: The Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office used this tool to define the process for combining multiple data sources to create the derived dealer data set (PDF, 1 page). The flowchart depicted database locations and identified activities assigned to the various organizations involved in the production process.
Develop and Manage a Strategic Plan
Hoshin Kanri is a Japanese strategic planning tool used for short, medium, and long-term planning and management. This tool helps develop a clear strategic plan with actionable items. Using this tool involves performing a SWOT analysis, gap analysis, review of mission and vision statements, and more. The resulting product outlines goals, strategies, projects , metrics, and owners, allowing for effective management.
Example: The Quality Management and Continuous Improvement Professional Specialty Group uses Hoshin Kanri to plan and manage its current projects and initiatives (PDF, 1 page). Hoshin Kanri has also been used to plan the continued restoration following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
Hoshin Kanri Template (XLS, 15 sheets)
Project Management and Collaboration Tools
Implement and Track Quality Management
Project management and collaboration tools allow teams to track, organize, and report the status of multiple tasks and subtasks, and allow task participants to share information and prioritize any overlapping work. The tools can be formal or informal, and should be installed in a central location that can be accessed by all team members. The tool should also be flexible enough to meet your team’s needs. Popular project management tools include JIRA, Microsoft Project, OpenProject, ASANA, and Wiki, while popular collaboration tools include Confluence, Drupal, Google Docs, and Microsoft SharePoint.
Example: The Alaska Regional Fisheries Office uses JIRA to track software and regulatory development processes. The office also uses Confluence to share files and record system documentation.
Measures and Metrics
Measure and Track Performance
Measures are quantitative or qualitative tools, concrete in nature, usually used to measure only one thing (i.e., number of vessels). Metrics are quantitative or qualitative tools that describe progress from a baseline (i.e., increase in number of vessels). Measures can help you demonstrate workload and activity, while metrics can help you evaluate process effectiveness and show success. Together, measures and metrics are useful in setting program priorities, allocating and managing resources, and measuring performance. They are also essential to the overall process of continual improvement and quality management, showing progress against goals and providing a window into the effectiveness of process-related changes.
Example: The Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office’s Raw Trip Level Matching Application System has used measures and metrics to measure system level quality and costs and track metrics on lead-time to complete match (PDF, 1 page).
Process Characteristics Sheet and Standard Operating Procedure
Define Objectives, Inputs and Routine Functions
Typically developed together, process characteristics sheets and standard operating procedures can help you define the objectives, inputs, and routine functions associated with specific processes, procedures, or products, such as services, software, hardware, or processed materials. A process characteristics sheet details owners, objectives, required resources, process inputs, steps, outputs, controls, and metrics for a process, providing the information needed to take the output from one activity to the next input stage. The standard operating procedure provides step-by-step how-to instructions that enable all employees performing an activity to consistently perform the task. Together, these tools serve as instructional resources that allow employees to act with minimal direction and help ensure the activity continually provides high-quality products and services.
Example: The Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office has used process characteristics sheets (PDF, 2 pages) and standard operating procedures (PDF, 2 pages) to detail procedures surrounding interactive voice response (IVR) data and vessel trip reports.
Process Interaction Matrix
View Process Relationships
This tool is used to analyze the relationships between major processes within an organization. The matrix can help you illustrate the link between the outputs of one process and the inputs of another, and identify where a change in one process may impact another. Typically, the matrix is more useful at the programmatic rather than project level.
Example: The Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office used a process interaction matrix to document all processes and their associated outputs for the Fisheries Data Services and Analytical Program Support divisions (PDF, 1 page), which ultimately identified the need to create a trip matching process to implement for sector management activities.
Process Interaction Matrix Template (XLS, 1 sheet)
Suppliers Inputs Process Outputs and Customers (SIPOC) Diagram
Visualize Process Improvement
This visual tool is used to identify and analyze all relevant elements of a process improvement project before work begins. Involving stakeholders in the identification of customers and listing of product or service suppliers, inputs to the process, and steps to transform those inputs into value-added products can help you identify potential gaps in the process flow. This tool can also help you identify process bottlenecks and corrective actions.
Example: The Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office used a SIPOC diagram to help define the new trip matching processes created for sector management with the Fisheries Data Service and Analytical Program Support Division (PDF, 1 page). It also provided improvement opportunities through the use of Kaizen Bursts. By employing SIPOC, the office identified data sources that were not being utilized to help in reconciliation efforts.
Value Stream Map
Visualizing the Complete Process
Value stream mapping is a method for developing and displaying a clear overview, or map, of all the steps in any given process. This tool enables participants to visualize where bottlenecks occur, root out inefficiency, and identify opportunities to boost effectiveness.
Example: The For-Hire Survey team turned to value stream mapping to evaluate the effectiveness and identify improvements to all steps involved in the survey. Their value stream map helped the team determine that they could reduce the number and frequency of data errors, improve the timeliness of data delivery and processing, and improve team communications.
The Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office also used value stream mapping to help streamline the trip matching processes (PDF, 1 page) created for sector management with the Fisheries Data Service and Analytical Program Support Division.