January 27, 2022

Visual management in the lean lab of the future

Making sure your lab runs smoothly is challenging because there are so many things happening at the same time. There are different kinds of tests, done on 100’s or even 1000’s of samples at once. Each test has its own priority and due date and needs to be executed by qualified analysts, using certain calibrated equipment in a pre-defined sequence. Being able to communicate effectively on what should happen next with each sample and test is crucial to make sure all testing is done correctly, first time right. But with the lab digitalizing, it begs the question: how will we realize visual management in the lean lab of the future?

Visual management, understood by everyone

Presenting information visually (using signs, colors, symbols,…) has always been an effective way of communicating. For example, most of us would intuitively understand that a batch of samples with a red sticker is late and a batch with a green sticker is on time.

 

In other words, in contrast to spoken language, certain visual concepts are universally understood, by everyone. Therefore, visually managing your lab is a great way to drive lab efficiency, without compromising on quality. Visual lab management means you present information visually to communicate progress, and highlight issues in such a way that required actions are understood quickly by everyone. A rule of thumb: it should take any given analyst no more than 5 minutes after arriving in the lab to understand the current operational status and the lab’s medium-term performance without speaking to anyone.

At the core of visual lab management is typically the ‘schedule whiteboard’ where analysts can see what’s on their plate for the day. In the daily huddle, the team discusses the status, moves around with tasks if necessary and gets to work.

 

Besides the magnet whiteboard, the concept of visual management can be used in different areas of the lab. Let us give you a couple of examples.

Visual management in lean labs

No words are needed to understand at glance 5 batches are due today, and three batches are late. The relevant people can access more detailed information on priority, reasons late, … and take action.

 

Campaigning

Although not a typical example of ‘visual management’, everybody understands that a 24-sample tray isn’t supposed to contain 25 samples.

Reagents Management

Easy to understand Kanban system to store chemicals and materials. For more information about effective reagent management, click here.

 

Sequence / Prioritization

Lab cart design indicating progress of certain tests that need to be done in a fixed sequence

Visual lab management: the good & the bad

Visual Management is an approach to managing lab operations that uses visual signals, controls and visually presented information to direct activities, communicate progress and highlight issues

However, it’s often a challenge to do this without creating a role keeping all these displays, magnet whiteboards, and other trackers up-to-date. Especially considering lab managers deal with unexpected events daily: tests fail, equipment breaks, high priority samples might come in earlier/later, people might call in sick, …  In more complex labs (e.g. covering multiple products), visual management tools may lag here if the circumstances are dynamic.

Also, while many of us wouldn’t have considered this to be worth mentioning 3 years ago, visual management requires lab analysts and lab managers to be physically present. Visual management in its traditional form doesn’t serve people working from home.

Visual management in a digitalized lean lab

Labs are digitalizing. In the lean lab of the future, the first thing lab managers and analysts will do when they arrive in the lab is turn on a computer, consult the schedule on a big touchscreen, see lab performance KPIs on digital displays, …  That begs the question: if, for example, we’ll no longer use ‘manual magnet whiteboards’, what digital alternative do we have?

The introduction of BINOCS Workspaces will eventually allow every ‘role’ (analysts, supervisors, planners, managers, …) to configure their own BINOCS home screen to see exactly what they need to see in, you guessed it, less than 5 minutes.

Probably too much text already for a blog about visual management. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

A digital version of your magnet whiteboard

BINOCS algorithmically proposes an optimized schedule, taking into account availabilities, competencies, priorities, due dates, … Once published, lab analysts can quickly check their team’s or their own schedule and see exactly what they need to see: what do I need to do today? Supervisors can understand, in a glance, who still has room left to take up extra work or which issues need solving. Imagine one of the analysts had to leave earlier unexpectedly. The lab manager shifts the work to another analyst or day slot. BINOCS re-calibrates the schedule and the lab manager immediately sees the impact. It was built to mimic the look & feel of your whiteboard, just no magnets or erasers involved 😊.

 

Sometimes, things change. The schedule board updates information in real-time so everyone always sees the latest schedule.

 

An optimized overview of your campaigns/runs

The BINOCS algorithm calculates optimized campaign compositions and presents the information in an easy-to-understand overview (we know, it’s not super fancy, but it’s effective). It uses colors to indicate the fill rate of campaigns or runs and makes sure all relevant information is presented in case the lab supervisor wants to deep-dive.

Compared to the manual approach, more complex campaigning rules can be added: can I combine different products in 1 campaign or not? Should I start an incomplete campaign or not?”

 

A digital, real-time batch tracker

An easy to interpret overview of where your different batches are in the process:

  • Red: will be delivered too late (past due date)
  • Green: delivered on time
  • Blue: expected to deliver on time
  • Orange: expected to deliver late, but you can still take action!

From this report, it’s easy to deep-dive in any given batch to see why there is a hick-up and what to do about it. It offers everything your manual visual management offers but BINOCS adds a dynamic predictive element: it predicts which release will be on time.

 

 

A digital, real-time mid-term lab performance overview

A configurable, real-time dashboard of lab performance indicators  (fill rates, technician and equipment utilization).

In summary

Digitalizing your visual management is:

  • A significant time-saver
  • Real-time
  • Accessible from everywhere
  • Actionable

Do reach out if you’re keen to learn more about our vision on visual management in the lab of the future! Click here to reach out to us.

 

 

Author

Mathias Lasoen

Binocs Academy Manager

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