By Eric Roman, president, laboratory consumables, Thermo Fisher Scientific
The very nature of many scientific processes creates habitual behaviors. Often these habits are effectively passed from senior lab generations to younger ones. Old habits can be hard to break, especially in a time-pressured lab environment. People don’t often want to take the time to learn a new way of working or break attachments to their favored equipment, especially when the “old methods are working just fine.” However, as laboratory leaders, it is critical to make meaningful changes to daily routines and the equipment used. It is the role of the lab managers, as the drivers of growth, to be able to identify areas for improvement and help their teams see the real value in a new way forward. Communication needs to be part of the everyday functioning — at all levels — to anticipate hurdles and identify solutions. Collaborative identification of challenges and improvements helps to set the foundation for buy-in and successful change.
While constantly being called upon to improve process efficiencies and boost outputs, senior management faces a significant challenge: how can productivity issues be addressed when lab teams are not even aware of their existence? Management needs to remain vigilant of the actions that need to be taken in the best interest of the output of the lab — even when change might not be popular.
Often researchers will adapt to current protocols, with a tendency to find workarounds that may alleviate particularly unfavorable conditions. However, this can be at the detriment to laboratory efficiency and cost. One customary workaround used by cell culturists is to avoid the outer 36 wells of a 96-well plate, which reduces capacity by 37.5 percent and, therefore, decreases throughput. Since evaporation is such a common issue researchers have faced, this has been a traditional technique to avoid problems in outer wells during prolonged culturing. This conventional process negatively impacts laboratory productivity, as more plates and assays are needed to compensate, which drives up costs. As this practice is seen as ”normal,” it is not usually perceived as a problem in the laboratory. This example is representative of the lab leader’s responsibility to share new methodologies that circumvent this phenomenon. Researchers and lab technicians should remain focused on their work; it is management’s responsibility to drive a more efficient, economical, and safer way to work.
EFFICIENCY THROUGH SAFETY
The driving forces within a lab are efficiency and safety. Constant oversight is conducted to create an environment where both exist. For example, when working with a standard instrument such as a manual pipette, users can be put at risk of repetitive strain injury or carpal tunnel syndrome due to the motions and forces needed during tip attachment and ejection. To help prevent overuse and injury, laboratory leaders need to provide an expert voice in the selection process of the equipment used in the workflow to bring about the best decisions for efficiency and safety.
Collaborative decision making will help to identify best practices and overcome staff habits to ensure productivity and safety. Ongoing education for awareness of alternative technologies contributes to productive change. A proactive stance on issues of safety also helps to protect the lab from future liability issues.
Establishing ongoing ways to boost productivity can prove difficult, especially when identifying hurdles is a challenge in itself. Providing an environment where change and growth are cultural norms allows for an openness to experimentation for best practices. Lab leaders are expanding their collaborative partnerships both internally and externally to increase productivity, streamline processes, improve safety, and deliver ongoing lab success. We need to be visionaries and take a longer view of the horizon to anticipate the future and actively seek options that stand to benefit the lab team and, by extension, the quality and timeliness of a laboratory’s data output.