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Three Keys to More Effective Project Planning in the Lab

Better project planning leads to better outcomes and results

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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Many different things have to go right for large lab projects to be successfully executed. We need the right people, with the right training, using the right instruments. As lab managers, we are very aware of these priorities, and take significant time and effort to get them right. However, there are many other aspects of project planning that require a little forethought to ensure the delivery of large projects. It can be helpful to review some of these details with key team members, and ensure that someone is monitoring these details. Here are three tips that will help you and your staff develop a project planning system that will improve delivery and execution on your projects.

#1 – Ensure consistent sourcing and supply

One of the key impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic was the interruption of sourcing and supply. Even ubiquitous lab equipment and supplies had shortages and backlogs. As you prepare for a new project, build plans for consistent supply for the critical equipment, supplies, consumables, kits, and assays. Talk to your suppliers and negotiate delivery times. For especially critical components of the project, find alternate and emergency suppliers. Choose suppliers based on all the value they provide, not simply on one-time costs. Make sure project leaders in the lab have contingency plans for critical components.

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#2 – Ensure service support

Having the right instruments in the lab is only half the battle. The next step to effective project planning is having a strategy to keep all of those instruments and pieces of equipment running consistently during the project. Work with your service providers to have repair and maintenance plans for the course of the project. Negotiate with them for rapid response for critical assets. It might even be worthwhile to build additional redundant capacity for vital systems for some projects. Make sure project leaders have a project continuity plan for each of their critical assets. This can ensure the project continues on time, even if equipment problems occur along the way.

#3 – Ensure milestone and compliance reporting

Many big projects come with important milestones and regulatory oversight. Develop a clear understanding with customers and agencies about what needs to be reported, in what detail, and at what time points during the project. Build the infrastructure that is required to meet those expectations. It is very difficult to catch up on reporting during a large project. To ensure success, it  is important to confirm the reporting tools are available and key staff are trained on their use before the project begins.

Thanks for reading. I hope you can use this information. I am very interested in hearing from you. If you have feedback or comments on this set of tips, or suggestions for future Manager Minutes, I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to me at I’m looking forward to our conversations. Thanks.