No matter the size of your lab, implementing a lab informatics system such as LIMS, ELN, LES, CDS, and SDMS can be a daunting undertaking with many potential pitfalls. To improve your chances of project success, lessons learned from previous, similar lab informatics projects should be incorporated into the planning phase.
Strong project management is very important to the success of a laboratory informatics system deployment, but even the most experienced IT project managers can overlook tasks that are specific to laboratory informatics systems. If it is not feasible to utilize a project manager that has planned and executed similar lab informatics projects in the past then don’t forget the following in the planning phase:
Don’t Forget to Look Ahead When Defining Requirements
SMART requirements are essential for any software vendor selection, but laboratory needs are often more dynamic than an accounting or manufacturing environment. If your lab plans to add a new technology like High Throughput Screening or Next Gen Sequencing in the next three to five years, include those technologies in your user requirements document to ensure you select a system that is forward-compatible for your lab.
Don’t Forget to Allow Extra Time for Demonstrations During the Vendor Selection Process
Laboratory informatics systems are often tailored to a specific industry or have modules that meet your lab’s needs right out of the box. Create vendor demonstration scripts and give vendors one to two weeks to prepare a demonstration that shows off the software in your specific setting.
Don’t Forget to Allow Time to Come to Consensus
If you are implementing a new laboratory informatics system across many labs or many locations, plan time to bring all the stakeholder groups together and come to consensus on laboratory informatics system commonalities. Some of these items might require significant process improvements or standardizations. Others might be as simple as agreeing to a common lexicon across your enterprise’s laboratories. This type of change management is always delicate, but it can be especially time-consuming in a laboratory environment. Add extra time to your project plan for consensus-building meetings to reduce the risk of delays.
Don’t Forget to Include Non-Laboratory Stakeholders
It is important to consider both work requestors and data consumers when defining requirements for and designing a new laboratory informatics system. A manufacturing engineer might never step foot in the laboratory, but may regularly request analyses for process improvements. These types of requestors likely have request and reporting needs that differ from requests generated inside the lab. Accounting might consume data from your new laboratory informatics system but never enter a request. These types of data consumers are separated by several degrees from the laboratory but often need to leverage laboratory data and metrics to make business decisions.
Don’t Forget about Infrastructure Planning
If your business collects field samples or has other needs for using mobile devices with the new laboratory informatics system, ensure that the network can support the additional bandwidth needs. In the case of field collection, ensure that there is cellular coverage at all collection locations and your IT policies support the communication of laboratory data via cellular networks.
Don’t Forget that Laboratory Analysts Also Have Day Jobs
A major stumbling block for many laboratory informatics system implementations is resources. The subject matter experts (SMEs) that can best advise on Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) templates or Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) calculations are also likely to be the best resources to complete laboratory work. Avoid burn-out by back-filling analyst roles where possible, sending work to contract labs or spreading out the project timeline. Often, the best SMEs are on several teams in addition to the laboratory informatics system implementation team. Project managers and supervisors should balance the value of each SME on each team and how his or her absence from the laboratory will impact laboratory output.
Don’t Forget about User or Pilot Testing
For many labs implementing a new laboratory informatics system, the new system is a sea change. Going from “paper to plastic” can be a big adjustment for users. Don’t assume that technicians and analysts will be able to pick up the processes in your new laboratory informatics system in order to test the system just because they’ve been doing the same lab work for many years. Ensure to include enough time for training in your test plan so that users can test that the user requirements or functional requirements have been met. Well-trained testers eliminate a variable of the testing process and will help acceptance testing of all types run more smoothly and expedite communication to and fixes from the laboratory informatics system vendor. Also, include time in your project plan for vendors to address any issues identified in the testing process.
Don’t Forget about Methods that Cannot be Automated
It would certainly be nice if all of the instruments in the lab could be interfaced directly with your new laboratory informatics system. However, it is often not financially feasible to replace existing instruments that work perfectly well, with new instruments that have interface capabilities. Ensure that you have a plan for older instruments’ data to be captured in the LIMS, create work instructions for any changes from the existing process, and train users on how and why the different procedures will be used. Consider the lifespan of the instrument and plan ahead for incorporating new versions or technologies with direct interfaces to your laboratory informatics system at end-of-life.
Don’t Forget to Celebrate!
Laboratory informatics system implementations can take months or even years. Be sure to thank your team for their patience and hard work at each project milestone (at least!). Celebrate a successful implementation to show your appreciation!
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