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Five Tips to Drive Greater Productivity in the Lab

Choosing and monitoring the right metrics aligns the lab for growth

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Most labs work hard to find the right balance of output delivery, cost, and time management. There is constant pressure on budgets and satisfying key stakeholders and line management. To help find this balance, lab managers benefit from finding ways to increase productivity. “Productivity is about doing more with the same,” according to Michael Mankins of Bain & Company, an expert on organization design, corporate strategy, and transformation practices. To increase productivity means to generate more lab output from the same people and operational costs. Improving productivity is a key success marker for most labs. Learning more effective approaches to improving productivity will benefit all lab managers.

Here are five tips to improve your approach to driving greater productivity in your lab.

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Effective metrics

Metrics provide an objective basis for measuring many lab activities. They provide quantitative data enabling improved decision-making around changes in the lab. The things that lab managers choose to measure will drive behaviors in the lab. When those metrics are well aligned to increased productivity, positive results often follow.

Most labs have a very wide range of potential metrics. Labs are good at measuring things. It is very important to measure what matters. An effective approach is to build a series of balanced metrics that focus on the important outcomes for the lab. To get greater engagement with the metrics, clearly explain what is being measured, why it is being measured, and how the metrics data will be used.

Organizational improvements

Increasing productivity is broader than simply improving the technical approaches to bench science. Organizational changes can enable lab staff to be more effective in their roles. Lab managers can reduce organizational burdens on lab staff by reducing bureaucracy, removing obstacles, barriers, and irritants. Help people spend more time doing science and less time on ineffective administrative overhead. In addition, lab managers can improve the morale of lab staff by ensuring that people are in the right roles, communicating an effective purpose for the lab, and investing the time and energy required to raise employee engagement.

Leadership actions

Adopting a growth mindset that enables learning and development of both individuals and the larger organization is another key action lab managers can take to improve lab productivity. Exhibiting a growth mindset helps the lab face challenges constructively and run effective experiments to improve the working environment. Lab managers can also think strategically. Improving productivity is usually a long game that benefits from a series of connected and aligned changes. Too much focus on the day-to-day tactics will result more in a yoyo effect and will be hard for staff to remain connected to the improvement goals.

Eliminate productivity crashers

Unfortunately, some lab manager actions tend to have a negative effect on lab productivity. These productivity crashers can defeat otherwise healthy approaches to improving the lab’s outputs. Some of the key issues revolve around building the wrong metrics. For example, metrics that are disconnected from the business of the lab can result in effort expended in poor directions, or metrics that can be gamed by lab staff result in perceived progress without actual benefits. Another issue is around communication. Staff can be wary of lab management making measurements if they don’t understand how those measures will be used, which can result in reduced trust and engagement.

Implement productivity enhancers

There are relatively straightforward lab manager actions that can enhance lab productivity. These are often ways that the lab manager interacts with individual lab staff, such as demonstrating that you value them and their effort, recognizing success, providing opportunities for autonomy, enabling lab staff to make more decisions, and investing in training and growth.

Improving productivity starts with choosing the right metrics that will help lab staff align their actions and meet the lab’s goals. Choose and monitor metrics that drive desired behaviors and clearly indicate if the lab is progressing in the desired direction. Beyond metrics, lab managers can work with staff to enable them to do their jobs better and feel more connected with the work and the purpose of the lab.

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