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How Biweekly Meetings Helped a Product Stewardship Program Mature

​By Andrew Brown

The product stewards at Abbott Laboratories have been meeting for two hours, every other week, for the past six years. That includes representation from eight very different businesses and the corporate team. Janet Cook, director, Restricted Substance Management Program at Abbott, credits these meetings for helping the company’s stewardship activities evolve into a mature, integrated program. 

“It started very early on. The reason we have such good communication and camaraderie with this group is that we have been doing it so long,” says Cook. “We didn’t want to manage the work in each of the businesses from a corporate angle. They’re all very different. Instead, we use the meetings to disseminate information consistently, so nobody’s reinventing the wheel.”

During the conference calls, which typically take place on Tuesdays, participants review strategic goals and key action items. They provide progress reports and consider emerging issues. The discussions center around reporting drawn from a data repository of the company’s bills of material. 

“We’ll look at goals, for example, around the removal of SVHCs,” says Cook. “We run reports through our data repository to look at what evidence we’ve collected. What is the risk to that part? What assessments have we gotten from suppliers?” 

The meetings ensure that the businesses are making progress against annual strategic goals, but how they accomplish that progress is flexible. For example, Abbott has a materials of interest procedure, where every business goes through an evaluation when they bring products to market, change parts or when we discover emerging regulations. 

“Even though we provide a procedure, we don’t strictly say you have to follow this word-for-word. Here’s a template you can use, but if you have processes in place that meet the intent of this process, we say go ahead and use them.” 

The meetings are also an opportunity for the product stewards to learn from each other. Because product stewardship relies so heavily on other business functions, the meetings provide an opportunity for business leads to get information they can share with their businesses. 

None of this happened quickly, she points out. Building a mature product stewardship program doesn’t happen overnight. “Bringing someone into a meeting and participating is very quick, but for those people to have a full understanding of their businesses can take a full year,” she says. “For them to develop the relationships in their business with the go-to people who have the answers and the knowledge takes time.”

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