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—as long as you choose the right vendor. With proper planning and communication from the start, you can avoid common LIMS implementation pitfalls including: extended timelines, scope creep, unanticipated costs, and slow or low user adoption.
Read on to learn some tips on how to set up your LIMS implementation project for success from Prenn Ravey, one of our experienced Business Analysts (BAs). Business Analysts work closely with customers to define their lab informatics solution architectures.
Engage Everybody Early: LIMS Users
End users, aka scientists, are busy. I should know—I spent more than 13 years at the bench. The last thing they want to do is put down the pipette and sit in yet another meeting, talking to strangers about some new software that they’re going to have to learn how to use when they’re content with their existing solution. Even if the “existing solution” consists of Excel spreadsheets and countless emails and results in headaches and complexity.
But, by engaging these end users early on, you can ultimately ensure participation. Whether it’s at your group, team, or department meetings, ask:
- What are the rate-limiting factors of your day-to-day activities?
- Do you have any ideas for improving your lab’s workflow, such as implementing an informatics system?
- Have you seen workflow efficiencies in other labs or with previous employers that you’d like to adopt?
By asking these types of questions, you’re 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.
Put Your Lab on the Map: Define Your Workflows Using Process Maps
Before you select a vendor, map your lab’s workflow. To do this:
- Draw your process maps and SIPOCs (suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers) including decision points and parallel processes. Get visual—it can actually be quite fun.
- Get in the lab to confirm and correct your drawing.
- 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 own processes, goals, and priorities, the higher the likelihood that your vendor will understand them as well.
Now that your process map contains all of the steps, inputs and outputs, and documentation that goes in and comes out of each step, you’re all set to choose a vendor. You already know what you need your LIMS to do! A LIMS really mimics real life, just virtually.
Use Your Tools: Leverage Your Process Maps to Help Select a Vendor
Using your process map(s), begin talking to vendors. Working from the process maps can save you substantial time and cost by reducing the requirements discovery work, and making conversations around your ideal end state more clear. For example, if you’d like your LIMS built to your current 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 as well as other process improvements, you should work with your vendor to develop a “future state” process map. LIMS vendors can have very different approaches to projects and implementations. It’s important that you find a vendor that you trust, and who can meet your business needs.
Gather Around: Designing Your LIMS
To begin designing your solution, a quality vendor will frequently hold meetings—one to two times a week, for at least an hour per meeting—to gather the requirements for and check in on the configuration for your LIMS. I suggest you involve as many people as possible, who will ask as many questions as they can imagine.
After the first meeting or two, I like to put together a roadmap of topics that we’ll discuss over the proceeding weeks. That way, not everyone needs to continue attending the requirements gathering sessions and configuration check-in meetings. In these proceeding sessions and meetings, only the project owner, IT representative (as needed) and one to three end users (as relevant) should attend. In my experience as a BA, the most productive meetings involve smaller, more focused groups.
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 end 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.
Follow this guidance from a discerning BA, and you’ll find us at the core of your success. Learn more about the Core Platform.
Prenn Ravey spent over 13 years at the bench, before transitioning into a LIMS-role. During that time he worked in R&D, pre-clinical and clinical projects. He has implemented LIMS in the areas of clinical development, small molecule and recombinant protein therapeutics in FDA and CAP/CLIA-regulated environments.