Real Lean Blogs
While it might sound like some sort of fad diet, “lean” in the context of business improvement refers to a specific methodology that originated in the Japanese motor industry toward the end of the 1980s. Over the decades, this lean philosophy has been successfully adopted by many companies across a broad spectrum of industries and, more recently, lean thinking has filtered into laboratories. The focus of a lean laboratory is to test samples in the most efficient way possible in terms of cost, or speed, or both. Although most of the key principles of lean apply in labs, the specific challenges facing laboratories require significant adaptation of standard lean tools.
Day to day operations of individual departments in life science companies rely on many decisions made outside of each department’s own remit. When embarking on a Lean strategy, the pillars of operational excellence (Levelling and Flow) can be supported by increasing awareness of how each department functions and explaining constraints.
Typically, laboratory Standard Operating Procedures and Work Instructions are wordy, patch-worked documents and a hindrance to testing analysts and reviewers alike. Over their life cycle, procedures usually become increasingly difficult to decipher due to multiple disjointed revisions. As a result, training and routine testing often relies on the retained knowledge of key experienced personnel, with an accepted culture of ‘Chinese whispers’. This dependence on undocumented hints and reminders can be tackled by applying Lean thinking to the design and layout of Laboratory SOP’s.
Recently in laboratories, there has been a notable shift towards dedicating resources to specific work streams and sub-streams, in the attempt to improve service levels. This is due in large part to a misapplication of the key Lean principle of developing ‘Value Streams’.