LIMS Success Tips from a Business Analyst
Selecting an informatics system is only the first step on the way to LIMS system success. In a previous post, we outlined the Key Factors for a Successful LIMS Software Implementation Project.
So, you’re interested in implementing a laboratory information management system (LIMS). The benefits are bountiful—if you choose the right vendor. With proper planning and communication from the start, you can avoid common LIMS implementation pitfalls such as extended timelines, scope creep, unanticipated costs, and slow/low user adoption.
Read on to learn some tips on setting up your LIMS implementation project for success from one of our experienced Business Analysts (BAs). Business Analysts work closely with customers to define their lab informatics solution architectures.
Engage Everybody Early
Everybody in the lab is busy. It can be painful to ask them to step away from their bench and sit in a meeting to discuss their future LIMS. Some people don’t do well with abstract thought, so you might get resistance asking them to imagine an ideal “future state” of the lab.
Instead of pulling a tech away from their lab, having a BA visit their benches and discussing processes as they happen (in situ) can be more productive. When a BA observes a process first-hand, they can begin to capture unvoiced requirements. For example, how large are the physical items (e.g., tubes, plates) they need to label with LIMS identifiers? That may dictate how much information can fit onto the label. Do the users expect to pre-generate labels from a printer in another room and bring them into the lab or generate them on-demand in the lab? Will personal protective equipment (PPE) prevent users from interacting with the LIMS via mouse and keyboard at a specific lab step?
This observation process is not passive. It requires that the BA ask probing questions about the lab activities as they happen. An entirely different set of questions looks at the lab process holistically. These include:
- Are there edge cases (i.e., workflows other than the “golden path”) that need to be considered?
- What are the rate-limiting factors of your day-to-day activities?
- Do you have any ideas for improving your lab’s workflow?
- Have you seen workflow efficiencies in other labs or with previous employers that you’d like to adopt?
- Who outside the lab needs access to this information, and in what format do they want it?
By asking these types of questions, the BA is laying the foundation for continuous process improvement. Just as important, you’re showing them that you value – and plan to incorporate – their input.
“Explain to management how properly planning for a LIMS to support your specific workflow(s)—before you select a LIMS vendor—can save your organization tons of time and money. And that getting the right stakeholders in the room will be critical to the success of the LIMS implementation.” -BA Tip
While the focus of a LIMS is the lab bench, it’s essential to gather requirements from all stakeholders. End users are the tip of the iceberg. Other teams will need access to LIMS data or be involved with the care and feeding of the LIMS. By involving database administrators (DBAs) and IT folks early in the process, you reduce the risk of surprises later.
Put Your Lab on the Map: Define Your Workflows Using Process Maps
Before you select a vendor, map your lab’s end-to-end workflows. To do this:
- Draw your process maps and SIPOCs (suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers), including decision points and parallel operations. You can go low-tech using whiteboards, but an investment in software (e.g., LucidChart, Visio) can accelerate the process by eliminating the translation step from a whiteboard photo to a shareable diagram.
- Validate the process maps against the actual in-lab procedures.
- Ask the end-users to help, championing this effort for each workflow and each lab within the organization to best implement the final LIMS product.
“Remember, develop your process map(s) from what’s really going on, not from SOPs and work instructions. You may be surprised at your findings! And the better you understand your processes, goals, and priorities, the higher the likelihood that your vendor will understand them as well.” -BA Tip
Now that your process map contains all the steps, inputs and outputs, and documentation that goes in and comes out of each step, you’re all set to choose a vendor.
Use Your Tools: Leverage Your Process Maps to Help Select a Vendor
A LIMS is just the digital representation of your real-life lab processes. With process mapping in the rear-view mirror, you know what you need your LIMS to do!
Using your process maps, begin talking to vendors. Working from the process maps can save you substantial time and cost by reducing the requirements discovery work.
For example, if you’d like your LIMS built against your current lab state, the vendor should be able to use your existing process maps to design and develop it (or a slightly modified version). Or, if you want to implement a LIMS while also optimizing your lab process, you should work with your vendor to develop “future state” process maps.
LIMS vendors can have very different approaches to projects and implementations. It would be best to find a vendor that can both meet your business needs and that you trust.
Gather Around: Designing Your LIMS
To begin designing your solution, a quality vendor will hold frequent meetings. Early in the process, these sessions will be to translate the process diagrams to LIMS functional requirements. BAs and super-users who have intimate knowledge of the lab processes will be the key players.
As the implementation proceeds, some sessions will be “show and tell” to preview specific functionality. To encourage end-user buy-in, I suggest you involve as many relevant people as possible in these meetings. “Relevant” is the key here since we don’t want end-users to waste time sitting in discussions about aspects of the lab not pertinent to their daily work. Be as specific as possible in the meeting invitation’s topic to let users know what will be shown. That way, invitees can make an informed decision about their attendance. Encouraging an open dialog during these sessions is essential. Getting feedback early can head off costly later re-work, ultimately giving a higher likelihood of delivering the project on time and within budget.
“Ask the end users who developed the process maps to attend the pertinent meetings. Often, IT, informatics, and management personnel like to represent the end users—that’s fine, but it adds risk. Too many times, after we correctly configure a LIMS based on the team’s input, I’ve seen the end users try it and say, ‘It’s all wrong.’ Then, it’s back to the drawing board for the informatics system. The result is a lot of wasted time, money, and effort. If you absolutely need other personnel to represent the end user, I recommend asking at least a few ‘super users’ for their input.” -BA Tip
Follow this guidance from a discerning BA, and you’ll find us at the core of your success. Learn more about Thermo Scientific LIMS software and what it can do for your lab.
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