To address the challenges shown, on the left, in the diagram below we encourage clients to use lean principles. The goals are always to eliminate waste and improve measurable performance, which have the combined affect of reducing costs and improving quality.
The following key principles always apply:
The first step in designing a more efficient process is to specify value. Every activity is identified and categorized as 'value add', 'non value add' (from the internal and/or external customer’s perspective) and 'incidental'. Incidental work is non value add in itself but essential to enable 'value add' tasks to be carried out. A significant focus of any improvement initiative is to eliminate or reduce the non value add activities.
Another important lean step is to develop value stream maps of the overall process. This should avoid the error of working on point solutions that only end up moving a bottleneck to another process and therefore do not deliver overall improvements. For example, there is no real value in reducing analytical lead times below the time of a release constraint test in another unit. You can however use increased velocity to help 'level the load' or to maximize individual test run efficiency.
A lean process will have a defined sequence of tests and associated analyst roles that make optimal use of people and equipment. A core principle is to flow work through the laboratory so that once testing begins on a sample, it is kept moving and not allowed to queue between tests. This creates a focus and drive to reduce 'through-put' time which can be converted into a turn around time reduction or used to allow samples to wait in an incoming queue to facilitate level loading and /or grouping for efficiency.
'Pull' is interpreted as testing according to customer priority. If this is not inherent in the order in which samples arrive, then the samples are taken from an incoming queue according to customer demand and thereafter processed in order with no overtaking.
Leveling the load (overall workload) and the mix (the mix of sample types) is about putting the same amount of work into the process on a daily basis. This is probably the most critical step and potentially the most beneficial for the majority of laboratories. Successfully leveling a variable load and mix can significantly improve productivity and/or lead time. The productivity improvement can be used to provide additional capacity or converted into a cost reduction.
Laboratories employing lean principals continuously look to develop solutions and re-engineer processes to eliminate or reduce the non value add and incidental tasks identified when 'specifying value'.
An essential part of lean in a laboratory is to manage and review performance daily, ensuring that Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) are correct and that the overall process is 'in control'.