Six steps to optimise the resource planning in your QC lab


How lean is your QC lab? Can you easily cope with today's complexity and volatile demand? More and more QC labs are being asked to constantly increase analyst and asset utilisation, improve first-right-time and decrease lead times. With a resource planning tool, you create optimal flow of the QC lab activities. Learn how to constantly balance demand and capacity in six simple steps

Step 1: Structure demand and all sources of demand

Demand comes from multiple sources. You should consolidate the most important sources of demand for your QC lab, such as lot release and product stability testing, deviation and out-of-spec investigations, method validations and transfers, instrument and facility qualifications or calibrations, regulatory activities, reagent and standards management, and much more. These are the most common ways of consolidating data:

  • Automatic capturing: the integration with existing business systems such as supply chain planning, ERP or LIMS applications allows the capture of a large part of the lab demand automatically. As such, demand for release and stability testing are being captured without human intervention.
  • Easy upload: Transfer the content from existing Excel workbooks.
  • Manual data entry and changes in a user interface, to further complete the full picture.

Step 2: Manage your lab team capacity

Lab supervisors also need to manage the competences and the availability of analysts and technicians. As the team manager, you have to keep track to swiftly exchange resources in periods of peak demand, and still oversee it all. You need to be able to:

  • manage competences: compose resource teams and define who is qualified to perform what type of test methods;
  • manage availability: schedule the availability of your teams. You should be able to take into account all sorts of unavailability such as GMP training, meetings, administration time, holidays, long leaves, etc.

In periods of peak demand, QC labs exchange technicians. This is common practice between release teams for instance, where the HPLC certified often jumps in with different teams. It is important not to lose focus, to guarantee the timely delivery of all the work.

Step 3: Manage services

While QC labs perform tests for different demand channels, modeling test methods to standardise work will help you to focus on the improvements only, and not on sub-optimisations. It starts with the definition of:

  • workload and lead-times;
  • preparation, set-up and execution activities;
  • campaign/batch sizes;
  • Instrument capacity constraints (e.g. number of runs per week).

Defining standardised work is a common approach in Lean Six Sigma projects, as a result of value-stream mapping.

Step 4: Analyse capacity and get insight.

After the demand and capacity planning and services standardisation work has been completed, you calculate your resource requirements. How easily can you shape endless reports to get answers to these type of questions?

  • Which teams can commit available time?
  • Which specific competences should team leaders develop or acquire?
  • What instruments have shortfalls?
  • How do the value-added versus non-value-added activities compare?
  • What is the workload for a specific project?
  • Which efficiency-improvement projects have the most impact?

Step 5: Simulate work and create scenarios

Common practice in QC labs are the “What if?” questions that help you discover new possible issues that might occur, and compare different solutions before deciding upon the best option. We discovered a way to play around and calculate the return on investment on scenario questions such as:

  • What if we change the campaign/batch size?
  • What if we reduce lead times or workload?
  • What if demand volume and mix changes occur?
  • What will be the impact of new products introductions?
  • What if we enlarge the test capacity by training new analysts?
  • What if we add extra technicians?

Step 6: Schedule task lists and track progress

Last, but not least, is making sure things get done now that the planning has been completed. Providing teams with a comprehensive task list and tracking the work progress is what makes the difference. It will help you feed the performance dashboard with KPIs such as adherence to plan, throughput and foresight.

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