Change is a constant in any organization, and this is particularly reflected in the lab life cycle. As labs continue to face increasingly sophisticated testing demands, the need for comprehensive, immersive digital planning has become critical. 

By David Gould

The lab life cycle is a comprehensive framework encompassing the various stages and processes that a laboratory undergoes throughout its existence, from inception to closure or transformation. It starts with the planning and design phase, where the laboratory’s purpose, scope, and objectives are defined, and the infrastructure and workflows are planned.

In the establishment and setup phase, the laboratory physically comes into existence, equipped with the necessary resources and staffed with personnel, while safety protocols and standard operating procedures are put in place. Once operational, the laboratory enters the phase of daily operation and maintenance, and, analyses, take place regularly and necessitate continuous upkeep and personnel training.

Inevitable Lab Change

The lab life cycle acknowledges that change is inevitable, and laboratories must embrace continuous improvement and upgrades to adapt to emerging technologies, methodologies, and research needs. This stage involves periodic evaluations of existing workflows and processes; identifying areas for enhancement; and implementing changes to enhance efficiency, productivity, safety, sustainability, and more.

The concept of change and transformation is at the core of the lab life cycle, recognizing that laboratories may need significant alterations to stay relevant and effective. Such changes could include expansion, consolidation, integrating advanced technologies, or even merging with other laboratories. Proper change management during these times is crucial to anticipate and address challenges, allocate and train resources effectively, and ensure a seamless transition, minimizing disruptions to ongoing scientific work and maintaining data integrity.

Lab Stakeholders Alignment

In the lab life cycle and change management, various stakeholders play crucial roles, and their alignment is essential to ensure successful laboratory operations and effective implementation of changes. These stakeholders often include the following.

  • Laboratorians: They are at the forefront of laboratory activities processing and analyzing diagnostic tests. Laboratorians likely have specific equipment with technical and spatial requirements to carry out their work effectively.
  • Laboratory Managers and Administrators: They are responsible for overseeing the overall functioning of the laboratory—managing budgets, allocating resources, and ensuring compliance with regulations. Their perspective focuses on maintaining operational efficiency while optimizing space and resource utilization.
  • Technical Staff: These individuals manage and maintain laboratory equipment, troubleshoot technical issues, and provide support to researchers. Their primary goal is to ensure the laboratory’s technical infrastructure runs smoothly.
  • Health and Safety Officers: They are responsible for enforcing safety protocols, handling hazardous materials, and maintaining a safe working environment. Their priority is to mitigate health risks and ensure compliance with safety regulations.
  • IT and Data Management Teams: They manage the laboratory’s information technology infrastructure, data storage, and security. Their goals include data integrity, efficient data retrieval, and the protection of sensitive information.
  • Funding Agencies and External Partners: They may provide financial support, collaborations, or research partnerships. Their interests lie in achieving research outcomes aligned with their funding priorities.

Preventing Stakeholder Misalignment

These stakeholders’ diverse goals, perspectives, and communication styles can present challenges during laboratory planning, design, optimization, reconfiguration, or redesign.

Conflicting objectives, communication barriers, unspoken assumptions, and limited understanding of each other’s roles significantly delay or stall projects altogether. For example, laboratorians may prioritize acquiring cutting-edge analytical equipment, while administrators may focus on cost control in numerous areas, including space, personnel, and equipment.

Digital Transformation Gap

Some of the most significant investments in the lab industry today center around digital transformation including equipment utilization monitoring, lab information management systems (LIMS), sustainability, improving data integrity, and automation to eliminate manual tasks.

While these are all crucial, we see some key challenges and a gap in the laboratory digital transformation playbook related to laboratory planning, design, change management, and agility. The current methods and tools for planning, designing, and managing change in labs are mainly between two opposite ends of the spectrum.

On one side (left in diagram), we have old-fashioned methods such as graph paper, Visio, PowerPoint, Legos, and even cardboard boxes. Billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies are using paper and even Legos to map out changes to their labs. The problem is that these methods are time-consuming, difficult to manage and keep updated, and do not engage stakeholders. There is a tremendous, unrealized cost in time, resources, downtime, and more with these methods.

On the other side (right in diagram), we have highly skilled and highly paid architects using tools such as AutoCAD, Bluebeam, and Revit. While these architects are a crucial part of many construction projects and more extensive design changes, they lack the agility, cost efficiency, and engagement required in most of the lab life cycle. While their detailed plans are crucial, their plans are difficult for all stakeholders to interpret, especially early in the process. Furthermore, architectural plans are difficult to collaborate on, requiring handwritten markups back and forth. They’re expensive and time-consuming, slowing the speed of science and the agility demanded in the laboratory today.

Lab Life Cycle: Downfall of 2D Floor Plans

2D floor plans have long been a standard tool for communicating laboratory plans and designs. However, they come with several limitations and drawbacks, whether created using pen and paper, Visio, PowerPoint, AutoCAD, or Revit.

  • Limited Spatial Visualization: 2D floor and even 3D static renderings cannot provide a comprehensive and intuitive understanding of the laboratory equipment, workflows, and overall space. It can be challenging for stakeholders to visualize and comprehend how things will be in real life, leading to potential misunderstandings and inaccuracies in planning, changes, and optimizations.
  • Complexity Representation: Laboratories often have intricate designs with various workstations, equipment, and infrastructure. Representing these complexities accurately in 2D can be difficult, leading to oversimplification or inadequate detailing.
  • Inefficient Communication: Traditional pen-and-paper floor plans or static CAD versions can be challenging to share and distribute among stakeholders. This inefficiency can slow down decision-making processes and hinder effective collaboration.
  • Limited Change Management: As laboratories evolve, changes to the layout are expected. With 2D floor plans, tracking and managing these changes becomes cumbersome, potentially leading to outdated or inconsistent representations.
  • Lack of Agility and Interactivity: Traditional 2D floor plans do not offer interactive elements, making it challenging for stakeholders to explore “what-if” scenarios or assess the impact of changes in real time.
  • Inadequate Collaboration: In modern lab environments, collaboration among researchers, architects, engineers, and other stakeholders is vital. 2D floor plans do not support real-time collaboration, which can hinder the development of innovative lab designs.

To address these limitations, digital tools that support efficient collaboration and communication are essential, especially in agile lab environments. These tools should have the following features:

  • Ease of Use and Empowerment: Digital tools must be easy to use to empower all stakeholders to be engaged and heard earlier in the process. Tools that can only be used by a few highly trained personnel limit scalability, agility, and, just as important, the comprehension, engagement, empowerment, and voices of the stakeholders that matter most.
  • 3D Visualization: Digital tools that offer 3D visualization allow stakeholders to experience the laboratory space more realistically. This enhances spatial understanding and reduces the likelihood of design errors or inefficiencies.
  • Real-Time Collaboration: Cloud-based digital platforms enable real-time collaboration among multiple stakeholders, irrespective of their physical locations. This promotes effective communication and decision-making that reduces delays and streamlines the planning process.
  • Version Control and Change Tracking: Digital tools with version control capabilities help manage changes and updates to the lab design efficiently. This ensures that all stakeholders are working with the latest information, minimizing the risk of inconsistencies.
  • Interactive Design: Tools that support interactivity enable stakeholders to manipulate the lab design, test various layouts, and assess the impact of changes instantly. This fosters creativity and allows for optimal design solutions.
  • Integration with Other Tools: Seamless integration with other laboratory management and analysis tools further enhances efficiency and data accuracy. For example, integration with inventory management systems or equipment databases can streamline resource allocation and planning.

In an agile lab environment where adaptability and collaboration are paramount, digital tools empower stakeholders to work together efficiently, adapt to changes seamlessly, and optimize laboratory designs for enhanced productivity and research outcomes. They bridge the gap between traditional 2D floor plans and the dynamic needs of modern laboratories, ensuring a more agile and effective lab planning process.

Digitally Transforming the Lab Life Cycle

Digital transformation holds immense promise for change management in laboratories. By embracing innovative digital tools and technologies, labs can overcome limitations and enhance collaboration and communication among stakeholders. This transformation not only streamlines lab operations but also contributes to increased efficiency, cost savings, and improved outcomes and time to science. It is time for the lab industry to recognize the value of digital transformation and leverage its potential for a more agile and successful lab life cycle.

About the Author

David Gould is a senior product manager at Lab Design Tool.