Laboratory Management: 7 Key Tips for Managing a Productive Lab

laboratory management tips managing product lab manage efficient science labs

Being a lab manager is no easy job. Especially on those days where materials go missing, samples don’t cooperate, and equipment turns out to have broken half a month ago.

Whether it’s a funding deadline or your superior looking down on you and putting pressure onto the lab’s productivity, there is usually something important on the line.

To keep your team pushing towards those goals, they rely on your laboratory management. So, here are seven critical tips for a productive lab, so you can keep your management skills top-notch.

Let's dive in!


What Makes a Great Lab Manager?

Before we jump into our list of useful tips, let’s take a quick look at the overarching qualities an effective lab manager should possess.

  • Organizational Skills
  • Leadership in Decision-Making
  • Setting and following Rules and Regulations
  • Managing Budgets
  • Management from the Front
  • Communication
  • Project Management

Chances are if you are in this field, you have already checked most items on that list. But how can you improve on your lab management or make sure your current standard is maintained? It’s all about setting good habits.


1. Keep an Inventory of Everything

That much seems obvious. But how to organize your inventory? It’s crucial to find a method to categorize, identify, and track samples. One way to do so is by using barcodes.

The next important thing is that everything should have a correct label so you can alphabetize and organize however you see fit.

Keep in mind that some samples (and labels) will have to withstand different environments. 

Cryogenic labels, for example, are great for specimens stored in liquid nitrogen. 

Once you have devised a system to categorize all tubes, vials, and boxes you might be handling, it’s important everyone is on the same page and knows to restore components to their designated place. 


2. Be Organized

It’s worth investing time in workflow management so you can make it easier to track inventory, improve sample traceability, and improve the time management and the overall productivity of your staff. 

The best way to do so is to implement a laboratory information management system (LIMS), as this will note down the movement of each sample through the resting process.

It will also track the chain of custody, and allow users to schedule downstream processing, testing, and analysis. Already we refer back to point one - Barcode Labels are critical to making the most of a LIMS, as both will aid with similar things.

For a LIMS to be appropriately implemented and any time of workflow management to work, you and your personnel need to be on the same page at all times.

It’s essential to learn to coordinate and communicate. Habe regular lab meetings to set up and maintain any LIMS you wish to employ, and keep clean records of all lab activities using both the LIMS and annotated lab books.

Detailed, comprehensive lab books and SOPs are crucial to keeping a lab running long-term, especially in an academic field where students perform the majority of the work over several years and then leave their notes to future students. 

An excellent way to keep your documents organized is by using the same labels in your lab book as you use for the samples you're analyzing.


3. Maintain Lab Infrastructure

This is integral to ensuring your samples and reagents are untarnished and respond as they should in the future.

Maintenance measures include keeping freezers and refrigerators at the right temperature. Some equipment, like nitrogen tanks, will require replenishing and balancing. 

You can help automate this process by installing a system that can monitor your storage equipment, provide real-time updates and notification, and keep detailed logs.

A cloud-based framework can incorporate all reports into a single interface and alarm the members of the lab when something goes wrong or missing. 

And of course, always follow lab best practices. Contamination can be avoided by continually cleaning benches and used lab equipment with sanitizing wipes, bleach, or 70% ethanol solutions.

You should also replenish the water supply of water baths regularly, de-ice your freezers occasionally, and apply UV to your biosafety cabinet consistently.


4. The Fault Lies in the System

No matter how organized a lab is, it is inevitable that an error will occur sooner or later. We can learn from the field of medicine that the ‘bad apple’ approach where anyone that makes a mistake is reprimanded doesn’t work.

It's much better to discuss the errors and designing barriers that will reduce the likelihood of them reappearing. Remember that it is the system that should be held responsible and improved in response, not the people.

Your staff is more likely to avoid errors if all systems support the optimal workflow, such as recording all relevant information in the lab book, using the right labels, keeping an organized inventory, and maintaining equipment.


5. Think Outside the Box

As any scientist worth their salt knows, breakthroughs are seldom achieved by repeating what has already been done. Be willing to get creative and think outside of the box.

Make creative problem-solving part of your process, and encourage your team to do the same.


6. Master Common Sense

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to lab management. Each lab has different requirements and faces different challenges while working on entirely different projects.

No team can be compared to another, and facilities always have different resources available to them. This is worth embracing and adapting to your philosophy when it comes to management.

It’s important to know what to prioritize in your specific situation and find simple solutions rather than overly complicated ones.

When you keep organization and finances in mind during your decision making, many processes become bright ideas. Like sign-up sheets for machines or bio-safety cabinets, and checklists for often-repeated procedures.


7. Communicate, Collaborate, and Conquer

When everyone is working on different tasks for the week, it’s easy to forget that there is a team of people available at any time to support. Sometimes lab management requires stepping back to let others shine. 

Keep your team communicating and collaborating actively. One easy way to do this is by having a lab meeting at the start of each week. Use this time to go over what everyone is doing, what their tasks are, and where people could use assistance if necessary.

Allow the whole team to pitch into solving problems and encourage your team to form relationships inside and outside of the lab.

When professionals care about each other, they are naturally more inclined to help and support one another. Encourage this by remembering to bring a cake for any team member’s birthday.


These Habits Can Improve Your Laboratory Management

There are endless solutions to the challenges you face in your lab, but with that in mind, organization, maintenance, and communication can help you establish efficient and successful workflows.

Improving your laboratory management style and focusing on improving your existing pain points will ensure the gratitude of your team and superiors. For more tips on managing and budgeting, check out the rest of our website.

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