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Setting Your Lab Up for Success

A three-step strategy to boost your lab’s performance and reach goals

Nancy Ross

Nancy Ross is a laboratory professional with more than 20 years of experience. She is the founder of Improov, a laboratory consulting company with a focus on laboratory quality and...

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The arrival of a new year brings with it a renewed commitment to personal and professional growth, with many of us rushing to make the famous new year’s resolutions list. 

From a laboratory perspective, the new year serves as an opportunity for lab managers to engage in a reflective process, which involves evaluating the previous year’s gains and missed opportunities as well as any valuable lessons learned. Armed with these insights, lab managers can create a strategic three-step plan to position the lab for success in the upcoming year. 

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1. Evaluate the previous year

The foundation for a successful year lies in the ability to reflect on the performance of the laboratory over the past year. This involves examining notable achievements, areas for improvement, and obtaining feedback from staff. Has the laboratory achieved outstanding inspection results? Were new systems implemented successfully? Was there a collaborative effort to overcome certain challenges? It is important to reflect on how the team has grown in expertise and skill, and  which goals they collectively achieved. Notable achievements, successful implementation of new systems, and other “wins” should be celebrated and documented. 

Equally important is the ability to reflect on missed opportunities and identify areas that need improvement. Identifying inefficiencies and creating a plan to address them sets the stage for a productive year ahead. In addition, are there any initiatives, either lab-specific or focused on organizational priorities, that we want to embark on? Examining quality related issues and looking at any trends over the last year provides another opportunity to address non-conformances at the root. Collecting feedback from staff and stakeholders is essential to understand what bottlenecks are hindering optimal performance. 

For team-specific development, it is also helpful to look collectively at performance evaluations and any disciplinary actions during the previous year to determine if there were any general themes. Were issues related to punctuality and attendance common? Were there issues related to communication that you might want to turn into an opportunity for further training and development? 

A comprehensive evaluation of the previous year serves as a compass, providing valuable insights and laying the groundwork for a strategic vision for the year ahead.

2. Resource planning

The beginning of the year is also perfect for evaluating the status of resources in the laboratory. Effectively allocating resources and engaging in thoughtful planning are fundamental to delivering high-quality services. To do that, we must ensure laboratory equipment is in good condition or determine if equipment may be approaching end of life, require upgrades, etc. Lab managers can be proactive and evaluate resource needs to provide seamless operations throughout the year. 

Resource planning will require communication with vendors to stay abreast of emerging technologies and any impending changes that may impact the laboratory's equipment. Proactive engagement with vendors is vital not only for staying current on emerging technologies and upgrades, but also for negotiating any necessary modifications to the laboratory contracts. Fostering a relationship with vendors can enhance the laboratory's capacity to leverage innovative solutions and maintain optimal operational efficiency.

A comprehensive evaluation of the previous year serves as a compass, providing valuable insights and laying the groundwork for a strategic vision for the year ahead.

We cannot talk about resource planning without mentioning staffing. Anticipating and addressing any staffing needs is crucial to ensure the smooth operation of the laboratory. One aspect to consider is the possibility of a laboratory expansion, which could involve increased physical space and the addition of new services. Such expansions inherently impact staffing, requiring a careful examination of workforce needs to meet the demands of the growing facility. 

In addition, any changes to the test menu or insourcing of specimens should prompt a thorough evaluation of staffing levels. Any changes to the test menu may require specialized skills and additional personnel. In the current landscape marked by laboratory staffing challenges, a proactive approach to staffing plans becomes even more critical. Considering factors such as a shortage of skilled personnel and high turnover rates, laboratories need to anticipate these challenges and create strategies to recruit, train, and retain staff effectively. 

Through effective resource planning, lab managers can ensure the smooth and uninterrupted operation of the laboratory, positioning it to meet the demands of the new year. 

3. Define and communicate clear and achievable goals

Following the reflective process and resource planning, the next step is to define clear and achievable goals for the laboratory during the upcoming year. These goals might be derived from organizational strategic priorities or areas we have identified as needing improvement. Regardless of their origin, it is imperative that goals adhere to the SMART criteria: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. 

Identifying improvement areas such as communication, conflict resolution, or enhancements to the laboratory quality plan provide a good opportunity for setting meaningful goals.  

Creating a detailed plan with actionable steps and milestones ensures a roadmap to success. For instance, you may choose to concentrate on setting improvement initiatives for different departments during the first quarter of the year. Additional training on communication and conflict resolution, with a deadline set for the second quarter, further solidifies the strategic approach to enhancing overall laboratory performance.

In addition to having a clear list of objectives, a communication plan must be created for disseminating this information to the staff. The goal is to establish a shared understanding among team members, ensuring everyone is on the same page and aligned with the identified focus, goals, and initiatives for the year ahead. This communication strategy not only enhances transparency but also cultivates a sense of collective purpose within the team, fostering a collaborative and motivated work environment.

Embarking on the journey to set your lab up for success at the start of the year requires a strategic approach. It all begins with a thorough evaluation of the previous year's lab performance. Managers initiate this process by scrutinizing both notable achievements and challenges encountered, gaining a comprehensive perspective on the team's evolution and extracting any valuable lessons learned.

Resource planning empowers managers to be proactive in meeting the demands of the upcoming year effectively. This phase involves evaluating equipment status, engaging with vendors, and anticipating staffing needs to ensure seamless laboratory operations. Managers can then craft a set of goals for the new year, providing the team with a focal point, actionable steps, and a shared sense of purpose.

This strategic three-step plan can be used as an approach to create a roadmap toward operational success. However, as we set sail into the new year, we need to acknowledge the importance of laboratories remaining adaptable and flexible, ready to address any unexpected challenges that may arise.