Laboratories with project based workloads often have greater volatility in both the volume and mix of work than other lab types. The work content of later steps may only be clear after the preceding step is complete. This all adds to an inherently unpredictable workload, both for the overall lab and for individual personnel. But there are some core strategies that you can deploy to make project labs more productive.
Raw Materials / Consumables Laboratories – Understanding the Nuances and a Strategy to Ensure Best in Class Performance
Raw materials / consumables labs are integral to the smooth and stable operation of a production plant and as such they perform a very important function. The cardinal sin for an incoming materials laboratory is to cause a change in the production schedule due to a material not being released on time. While most plants will try to have some sort of fixed production schedule, production environments are inherently fluidic and dynamic in nature. This fluidity can negatively impact the lab; often leading to constant prioritization and re-prioritization cycles of materials to be tested in the laboratory. This means that a lot of unnecessary non value-add effort is expended on scheduling. The net effect of all of this is a pressurized environment where analysts feel that they are in constant firefighting mode.
Laboratories are not the same as manufacturing environments so do the standard Lean ‘Wastes’ even apply in Labs?
The concept of flow is a key element in achieving lean operations. This fact has not gone unnoticed by laboratories but many still struggle to achieve real flow and very often the final review and release of samples can prove to be somewhat of a bottle neck. The final review and release tasks should not be thought of as being autonomous or decoupled from the testing process and should be incorporated in the flowed process.
Dedication of resources may seem like a good way to have “Subject Matter Experts” (SMEs) get through work quickly, but it gives rise to a costly productivity penalty. The antidote is to level the workload across the team (without compromising the important role of the SME!).
Lab testing schedules are often dominated by complex prioritization strategies but there is a less stressful way to successfully deal with samples.
Leading an R&D organization is difficult. It involves assessing the environment and managing the work flow to support the process of turning innovative ideas into prosperous business results. On top of that, the environment in the life science industry is always evolving and leaders must have the ability to effectively change with the environment.
Working as a consultant for different pharmaceutical companies I have come across some interesting examples of how “walls” between departments and between companies affect operations. One complaint you often hear within the industry is that of poor communication between the Manufacturing Department (who manufacture the product) and the Quality Department (who Inspect, test and release the product). I came across one particularly poor example of this last year.
R&D labs are in the business of generating, analyzing, reviewing and validating data. Data rules the decisions on how projects move forward through the development phases.
Over the past few years, many of the leading Pharmaceutical companies have rolled out extensive programmes to the labs on their manufacturing sites. The better programmes (i.e. those based on the key ‘Real Lean’ principles of levelling, flow and standard work and properly structured and supported) have achieved very impressive results. Pharmaceutical R&D labs however, are significantly different than the Product and Raw Material testing labs found in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing so can Real Lean work in R&D Labs?