Lean in R&D

Does Lean even belong in R&D labs?

Over the years BSM has developed the tools and knowledge to successfully implement Lean in laboratories all over the world, delivering impressive results for our clients. But R&D labs are significantly different from other types of laboratories. In fact R&D labs are significantly different from each other. There’s such a broad range of categories, from labs that support an R&D function with test results, to labs that develop new test methods for new products, to labs that are trying to synthesize new molecules, and on and on.

With such a broad range of laboratory types do the principles of Lean, namely Leveling, Flow, Standard Work and Visual Management, still apply? While it is harder to apply lean principles in an R&D setting it is extremely desirable. Work within R&D labs tends to be project based. As projects move through the various stages and cycles of their lifespan they generate vastly different amounts of work for the lab. These peaks and dips in workload make it extremely difficult to be predictable, consistent, productive or fast. The extreme nature of these peaks and dips also exacerbate some of the Common practices we find in R&D labs.

Common practices we find in R&D labs

  • Project based work leading to intense peaks and dips in workload depending on the project stage or cycle
  • Resources dedicated by project – meaning volatile project workloads are imported directly onto scientists
  • Constant changes in priorities leading to stop-start-stop projects, frustration for scientists and extremely long lead times
  • No Flow
  • No metrics or performance goals
  • No visibility on overall workload
  • No visibility on individual resource workload
  • No understanding of what the true capacity of the lab is
  • Poor or no resource management – meaning when one project peaks a scientist can be overwhelmed while another colleague is almost unoccupied
  • Delays around report writing
  • No common format for data reporting
  • Limited time available for true innovation because most time is spent tracking, finding, communicating, prioritizing, planning and testing common samples.

R&D labs usually suffer from these elements to a greater extent than QC labs. As a result successfully applying lean principles in an R&D setting can be massively beneficial. In fact some of the largest improvements BSM has overseen have been in R&D labs, for example:

  • 400% increase in capacity
  • 74% reduction in cycle time
  • freeing more than 25% of the resources from the common routine work allowing them to focus exclusively on novel discovery work.

R&D labs are more challenging than QC labs but Lean and Operational Excellence can be applied and when done successfully can deliver staggering improvements in speed, productivity or both.