Scientific Productivity | Managing the Lab

Key Lessons Learned from Overcoming Lab Operational Chaos

COVID-19 has created operational chaos for many labs, biotech startups, and pharma companies around the world. We recently hosted a webinar with UCB’s R&D and Procurement teams and shared tactical advice with scientists, lab managers, and procurement managers on how UCB navigated pandemic induced supply chain disruptions, solved backorder and out-of-stock challenges, and lessons learned on accelerating innovation through COVID-19 and beyond.

Here were some key takeaways from our conversation:

Tactical Advice for R&D Scientists

Find ways to reuse supplies. For scientists, instead of disposing of supplies after just one use, find new ways to use them in future experiments. Try to get more mileage out of each tool. When buying new supplies, look for ones of higher quality that can last longer through multiple uses. By doing so, you run out of supplies less quickly, run into supply shortage situations less frequently, more effectively stay within budget, and become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Communicate the urgency level. Instead of just sending a linear list of needed supplies to the procurement team, scientists should communicate the relative urgency level of each request. If one product is much more critical than another for you to have for your experiment, relay this. Rank your products not in any arbitrary order but rather in the order of importance. In this way, your procurement team knows which products to prioritize sourcing, especially as they are likely overwhelmed with many requests from many scientists.

Top Strategies for Lab and Procurement Leaders

Create weekly reports on backordered supplies. For lab operation and procurement teams, to stay on top of all your backordered products and to ensure nothing slips through the cracks, create a weekly report on backordered supplies. Share this report with your vendors and check in with your suppliers to get status updates on all of these products.

Flag long standing backordered products with suppliers. In addition to the aforementioned weekly report on backordered products, procurement teams should create a system that automatically flags lab supplies based on how long they have been backordered. Share these flagged items  with your suppliers so they are aware of these long standing backordered products. Procurement teams should also focus on finding alternative suppliers to fill these backordered products with a similarly sufficient product.

Develop a system around backordered products. In general, you should be deliberate about developing a scalable system to manage and solve backorders. Backorders are never resolved overnight. Addressing backorder challenges involves many check ins, many attempts, and tons of coordination. Carefully consider how you can set up a scaleable, repeatable process to address all backorder issues that arise.

Incorporate location in decision making. While the world is quite connected these days and shipping and logistics technologies are quite advanced, location of the supplier or the supplies can sometimes make a difference in how quickly you get your products. Of course, location isn’t everything and many suppliers have hubs all around the world, but do incorporate location as one data point in your decision making when selecting suppliers for especially urgent orders.

Tips for Biotech and Pharma Teams

Create a dedicated task force. Given the unusually high levels of backorders exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical to form a dedicated group of people to be the assigned point people for addressing urgent backorder challenges. Make sure this task force is cross functional yet lean enough to move quickly to solve the most pressing issues.

Have an open channel of communication. While scientists and procurement people usually work on separate teams, it’s crucial to have an open channel of communication. Be intentional in establishing a partnership. For example, create a shared Slack channel or have a weekly or biweekly meeting with both teams or create a shared email list. Procurement and scientists are ultimately working toward the same end goal of accelerating innovation and moving the company forward in reaching research milestones. Be deliberate about creating a culture where both teams connect with each other regularly and work together closely.

We hope these tactics are helpful for you in solving supply challenges in your lab and in keeping your lab open and operational through COVID-19 and beyond!

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To learn more about how ZAGENO can help source alternatives for your backorders and help you avoid lab shutdown, book a free consultation here. You can watch the full recording of the event here.

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