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The Lean Lab

A photo of a laboratory

How many lab managers can boast that they keep a Pinterest board for lab design ideas? It can be difficult to keep up with if your lab faces any organization challenges, such as funding, shared space, staff turnover, or changing research goals.

Lean has been a buzzy business term for a couple decades, thanks to Toyota. Lean operation is about eliminating processes that do not add value to what you are working on, and it has persisted because it really works when it’s implemented well. For a lab, lean operation means making sure equipment is arranged in a way that maximizes process flow — no more zig-zagging the room with an armload of glassware. Lean also means updating equipment that is costing time and money getting repaired, like that always-on, water hog medical grade autoclave.

Tom Reynolds and Tanya Scharton-Kersten, writing in Lab Manager, address the need to support fluctuating workflows, a unique characteristic of laboratory design. One way to do this is to have fewer internal walls; another is to mount workflow visualizations. Making sure your lab workers are all executing processes the same way and that everyone working for you has the tools he or she needs to be successful in their job is another tenet of lean operation. You can start start from scratch, with the overall design of the lab, or take the slow and steady course by working with what you have, revising and updating, until your lab is a lean, mean research machine.

[Photo credit: George Redgrave, CC BY 2.0]