Though the concept of “lean” originated in the car industry, most manufacturing businesses have adopted its principles as the best way of improving efficiency and reducing costs. Analytical and microbiological laboratories are embracing this trend too, though the volume of samples is definitely lower, and with a high degree of variability and complexity. For this reason, the application of this management model requires some changes and adjustments to the generic approach, though the leading principles stay the same.

How can you implement a lean laboratory? In general terms, by simply applying a set of principles, which focus basically on improving measurable performance and reducing costs. This is a list of the key principles, applicable in all cases. Pharmaceutical consultants can provide you with more complete information and guide you through the complete process.

1.    SPECIFY VALUE: To have a lean laboratory you need to classify every activity as “value add”, “non value add” (always from the customer’s point of view) or “incidental”. Then, the idea is to reduce or eliminate the non value add activities.

2.    IDENTIFY VALUE STREAM: Create maps of the overall release process, so people have a clear idea of what they are doing. This allows any intended improvement to benefit the process as a whole and not become just a point solution.

3.    MAKE VALUE FLOW AND CREATE “PULL”: Have a defined sequence of tests and associated analyst roles. That way you make good use of the team and equipment. The idea is that once testing is started on a sample, the process continues until it ends. Lead-time reduction and efficiency are facilitated as a result of this. “Pull” on the other hand, refers to testing according to customer priority or demand.

4.    LEVEL THE LOAD AND THE MIX: Put the same amount of work into the lab on a daily basis. This will help to level the workload and significantly improve productivity, which will also lead to cost reduction or provide additional capacity.

5.    ELIMINATE WASTE: Focus on developing solutions and re-engineer processes to eliminate non value add or incidental activities. Keeping only the essential is the key.

6.    MANAGE PERFORMANCE: Reviewing performance on a daily basis is essential. Good Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) will mean that your work is efficient, cost-effective and at the highest quality standards.

Implementing lean in the laboratory is not an easy task. It requires a lot of hard work, firm principles, and clear guidelines. Still, changing the minds of the people involved may be the hardest task, as they may be very reluctant to change. They will soon adapt, however, as their workload will be optimized, and they will notice that their work is less strenuous and more productive. You may also consider the construction of new facilities, to optimize the use of space and facilitate team work.

Hard as the task sounds, the benefits are many. You will improve efficiency, reduce costs, and improve your lab’s overall performance and quality. Implementing a lean laboratory will soon lead to resource optimization, improving your competitiveness and not only ensuring your presence in the market (as conventional labs will soon be obsolete), but making your lab a market leader. Bring with lean the key to your future, and let the future stay in your lab.