Using Process Maps for Successful LIMS Software Implementation
In the laboratory, it’s vital that you know and understand what your lab is actually doing vs. what is assumed they are doing. Often times, there’s a discrepancy between perception and documentation vs. reality. There are many reasons why it’s important to know what the actual process is, including, but not limited to:
- Regulatory Compliance
- Process Improvement
- Software Implementation Efforts
Diagramming Your Lab Workflows
So how do you identify the gaps between what is actually happening and what you think is happening in your lab workflows? The answer is process mapping.
Process maps are tools to understand, analyze, and document processes and activities. These diagrams are virtual roadmaps of the path a sample takes in your lab. This laboratory workflow analysis serves to assist in identifying opportunities for improvement. Additionally, process maps can help to identify the sequence of steps involved in converting a specific input into the required output—a workflow analysis based on the realities in your lab. Finally, process maps are living documents, used to monitor and update changes in a process.
Benefits of Process Mapping for LIMS Implementation Projects
There are many benefits of process mapping:
- Increases visibility of the actual laboratory processes
- Assists in examining which activities have the greatest impact on workflow/process performance
- Promotes understanding of the relationship of a process to a larger system
- Serves as a training aid
- Identifies data collection points
- Reveals complexity, problem areas, redundancy, unnecessary loops
Using Process Maps when Designing a LIMS System
Our Business Analysts always ask for, and/or help our clients create, the process maps for their organization from both a LIMS and non-LIMS perspective. These two process maps highlight the differences between “big picture” systemic thinking and the very straight forward, small-step thinking required for the proper planning of workflows in an informatics system. Understanding these processes can be especially helpful when implementing and maintaining a LIMS. It paves the way for:
- Productive requirements gathering sessions
- Delivery of the solution within the defined timelines
- Faster adoption of the system by the end-users
- Seamless addition of updates/changes to the system
The Basics of Process Mapping:
Next, you’ll need to bring in a team of end-users for each of the processes. Ask the team to explain its workflow and simply document it. Have the team members engage, ask questions, and determine if anyone performs the process slightly differently. It’s important to capture all of the “one-offs” for a process (this can be a truly informative portion of your research and may even lead to revisions in standard workflows). Repeat this for all of the other processes. Finally, share the documented process maps with the teams to review for accuracy.
Now, have them take those maps with them to the lab. Have them refer to the map, while they are performing the workflow. Hopefully it matches. Sometimes it doesn’t or there are subtle changes that will be recognized. Remember, a process map is a snap-shot in time for a laboratory workflow, and thus, should be a living document to accurately mirror the variable workflow of the lab.
Typically, there are three levels of the process map:
- Macro – a general overview of the process. This may be able to be done quickly, with minimal effort, as it’s the highest level and there aren’t as many details as mini and micro.
- Mini – this is often the start of most endeavors and the most popular; this sits at the team/department/group level.
- Micro – this takes one of the individual mini Processes and divides it into many sub-processes; this is typically at the individual contributor level and is the most detailed of the maps.
There are many resources online to get you started, you’ll be surprised by how informative and productive this process can be!
For more information on other ways to prepare for a LIMS implementation, read our Planning for Your LIMS Implementation blog post.