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Embrace Time and Program for Success

Waste, not time, is the enemy when planning a lab project

David McCullough—narrator, popular historian, lecturer, and author of such books as The Great Bridge, John Adams, and The Wright Brothers—is often asked how much time he spends on research as opposed to actual writing. Acknowledging the logic of such a question to ask a historian, he responds that there was another component which no one ever asks: “How much time do you spend thinking?”

Scanning electron microscope in Albemarle Chemicals lab, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

In our current age of immediacy, when we quickly get our news, receive and send messages, and make Internet searches instead of performing actual research, we compress the expectation time for quick, accurate answers to important questions. We sacrifice time dedicated for reflection and formulation for the rapid, effort-adverse responses. As a result, the facility decisions made that are based on sound bite answers are inherently flawed. Knowing that our decisions are less than studied, we trade time for thoughtful analysis with mindless, risk-averse contingencies. 

The result? Inefficient buildings burdened with post-construction fixes and runaround solutions. So, before you blindly move forward with a flawed decision-making process, forget what you have been taught and know that time is not your enemy. Time is thought. Thinking is good. Therefore, time is your friend. 

The enemy is waste 

Before you rush toward diagramming your project into a wasteful building you cannot afford, use your thinking time to advance your project scope descriptions with simple programming techniques. Start with the result in mind. Think about your business and science goals, the scope of the project, and its schedule and funding.

  • Business: What are the business goals you are trying to meet? What are the areas of business that will provide the best opportunities for growth? What are the core competencies you want to advance? What are the support functions you can outsource?
  • Science: What are the scientific processes that will support your business goals?
    • How will expertise and labor support the process?
    • How will technology and automation affect process advancement?
  • Scope: How does science affect the project scope? What are the spaces that are required? How do you maximize production space and minimize non-revenue generating areas? What adjacencies are required to minimize wasteful movement? What infrastructure needs to be in place? What redundancies are required to protect the work? 
  • Finance: How is this going to be funded? How does this affect project sequencing?
  • Schedule: How can the schedule accommodate these elements?
Instrument lab at Albemarle Chemicals, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

It is critical to dig deep on the scope of a project. In fact, this is what we pay our consultants to provide. They need to dig and question and find the root of what is driving the scope. They also need to identify those things in which you don’t need to invest. Make clear distinctions on what is known today with today’s methods and technology versus what is not known—what may be future advancements, changes in technology and methods. Allow for flex space and adaptability for reconfiguring and adjusting to changes without impacting concurrent operations. 

Lean Lab Assessments

Where existing facilities are concerned, confirm the requirements of the facility through a Lean Laboratory Assessment that reviews the processes to eliminate waste and maximize the Three Es—Effectiveness, Efficiencies, and Efficacy—of the science accomplished. There are three stages to this analysis:

  1. Information gathering

  • Develop a Facility Scorecard with the leadership of your organization that will define the goals and vision of a facility. Score their priority and track their implementation. 
  • Gather the current mission statements of the laboratories identified for this study, as well as a list of existing processes currently being accomplished within the laboratories and those processes anticipated within the next five to 10 years. 
  • Collect any existing process flow diagrams developed for the functions accomplished within the laboratories. The facility owner should share with consultants any previous Six Sigma evaluations or work accomplished to improve existing processes.
  • Accumulate all plans and equipment lists from user groups per existing room. 
  • List personnel counts and the roles for each function identified. Identify cross training goals and multiuse personnel. 
  • Document occupancy and hours of operation for each area or function.
  1. Hands-on facility review and analysis

  • Tour existing laboratories and interview key user personnel to identify work bottlenecks, process efficiency inhibitors, areas of growth and reduction, projections on future studies, and areas to advance science effectiveness and efficacy.
  • Discuss and document observations on the following areas of waste that generate inefficiencies:
    • Intellectual: Failure to fully utilize the time and talents of people.
    • Motion: Any motion that does not add value—how to use adjacencies to improve effectiveness.
    • Overproduction: From producing too much to producing too soon, why is there such a large contingency?
    • Rework and scrap: What is causing study reworks, repairs, or spoilage? 
    • Processing: How can methods be tightened to be repeatable and reliable?
    • Transportation: Are there ways to lessen the need for transportation by cutting time or distance? 
    • Inventory: Why store any more than the minimum to get the job done? Where is the sweet spot of supply, stock, and reordering?
    • Waiting: To avoid waiting on samples, supplies, preparations, or a piece of equipment to complete a task, can one schedule a smooth flow from one continuous task to another? 
    • Document physical variations to existing plans by surveying existing conditions. Locate major pieces of existing equipment and map existing layouts and processes using process flow maps linked to process times. 
  1. Program of Requirements (POR) Development:

    • Document a full program before you start to design and include the following:
      • Facility descriptive narratives 
      • Space allocation summaries
      • Space lists—identifying categories for office, conference, wet lab, cleanroom, warehouse, and support functions
      • Room data sheets—identifying room type, finish, utilities, special requirements for architectural, structural, HVAC, plumbing, fire protection, and electrical engineering
      • Equipment lists
      • Preferred room layout diagrams
        • Showing significant process areas within each laboratory
        • Locating major pieces of equipment aligned with process flow analysis
      • Preferred room adjacency diagrams
Liquid chromatography equipment, Albemarle Chemicals, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

In order to maximize the value of each square foot developed in a facility, we need to plan the process of design through a thorough programming effort. This means projecting the spaces for effective processes, adjacencies that drive efficient operations, and spaces that are developed from actual equipment and the work areas needed around them. Planning for the lifetime of the building means anticipating a future remodel as methods and technologies evolve. It means making sure we are allowing each space to be renovated without a major impact on ongoing operations. 

All of this can be defined in the predesign stages of the project. It can be planned with all stakeholders. It can also be projected with a clear Basis of Design Document for those stakeholders who are not yet on board. Take the time to think, communicate, and define. Remember: Time is thought. Thought is good. Time is not your enemy. Your enemy is waste. 

Michael P. Vascellaro, AIA, NCARB, is a laboratory facility architect with RS&H.