The ‘complicated LIMS’ quandary

9th June 2016

Posted By Paul Boughton

LabHQ is designed by Broughton Software to reduce complexity while enhancing quality control

Theresa Webster on the problems associated with overly complex LIMS and the merits of looking at alternative solutions

When you walk into the lab to start your shift, do you get excited to launch your LIMS or do you dread to use it because it’s too complicated? We all want to be excited to use LIMS, but in reality, there can be many reasons why we’re stuck with a complicated beast of a LIMS that we don’t want to use. “The business can’t afford to upgrade the system”, “We don’t have time to manage the project if we did change systems”, “The business bought this system without consulting the users so we have to use it” – the list of reasons could go on and on. Despite all the obvious reasons for not being excited to use a LIMS, there are genuine quality operational concerns for a lab using a LIMS too complicated for its users. These operational concerns are what I call the ‘side-effect’– muda.

Muda is a Japanese term for waste and is a recognised reference term used in process improvement programmes such as lean. There are two types of waste: waste that is necessary and waste that is unnecessary, and unnecessary waste is exactly what we are talking about when we have a complicated LIMS. Unnecessary waste can be further categorised into the following seven areas: transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over processing and defects. Although these categories relate specifically to a production environment, they are also applicable to a laboratory environment, especially those using a complex LIMS.

Transport - unnecessary movement of people or parts between processes. Example: it’s too complicated to import test results from equipment, so the analyst needs to print the results from the equipment or hand record the reading, and then type this reading into LIMS.

Inventory – too many samples awaiting test. Example: it’s too complicated in LIMS to assign the correct testing regime to samples, so the analyst will assign the tests when they have the time to reference hard-copy material.

Motion – excessive movement to complete a step in the sample testing process. Example: it’s too complicated to review all results concisely for a sample in LIMS, so the user has to click to the earth’s core to effectively review all results across multiple pages.

Waiting – time waiting for the sample to move to the next step in the process. Example: it’s too complicated in LIMS to automate a test method calculation, so the reviewer has to wait for the analyst to manually apply a calculation before they can validate or approve results.

Overproduction – a sample has undergone too many tests. Example: It’s too complicated to review test history in LIMS for the purpose of skip lot, so the analyst completed more testing than required.

Over processing – using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Example: it’s too complicated to customise the report in LIMS so the user has to create another report manually in Word.

Defects – errors occurring during the testing process which result in rework. Example: it’s too complicated to set rounding rules for a test method in LIMS so the system calculates the wrong test result and the analyst needs to manually re-calculate to correct the error. 

If you are suffering from these side effects of a complicated LIMS, then it’s time to look at alternative solutions. A LIMS that hinders the sample testing process through its complex functionality creates a risk for maintaining data integrity and safeguarding product quality.  A LIMS should be easy to use, help streamline your processes and facilitate the culture of quality within your lab.

Theresa Webster is co-founder and MD of Broughton Software.





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