Laboratory Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are measures of the performance of the laboratory and its activities, such as projects, processes, products or services. KPIs in laboratories are also used to track the performance of the inventory, devices, environment, data and results.

Laboratories are data factories and therefore provide high value for the organization. Data generation is also expensive, therefore it is very important to keep your laboratories well-performing. Good business practice is to keep track of the laboratory performance by measuring KPIs.

When implementing KPIs in your lab you first need to determine what is important for the performance of the department. You can group the KPIs into three categories:

  • what is directly important for the business – business-related KPIs,
  • what is important to keep the lab in good condition – lab condition KPIs,
  • how do your deliverables affect the downstream processes in the organization – KPIs about data and deliverables.

The choice of KPIs will largely depend on the type of the lab you have, so you’ll find each set of KPIs assigned to one or more of the following:

  • the academic research lab,
  • industrial research lab,
  • laboratory service.

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Business-related KPIs

Laptop with dashboard on screen.
Dashboards help you track the performance indicators in real-time. Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash

Regardless of the laboratory type, you do need money and staff to run the laboratory. Business-related KPIs, therefore, correlate your activities through time and money. If you are a laboratory service provider you’re interested to track your revenue, expenses and profits. Here are a few examples:

  • Revenue: how much revenue you will generate on a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis.
  • Cost of sample analysis: how much do you spend on consumables, staff and overheads per one analysis.
  • Revenue per sample/analysis: what is the margin on your analyses.
  • Time to perform the analysis: how much time do you need from receiving samples and notifying our customer about results

The business-related KPIs are also the things that management will be happy to hear. This will not only help you keep a better track of the lab performance, but also connect your lab with the management.

You might want to use a slightly different set of KPIs if you’re purely a research lab. While you will get a small fraction of income through service, you are still strong on the expenses site. That’s why you need to implement KPIs that are able to keep a good track of your expenses so you keep to your research budgets.

Examples of business-related KPIs for research labs:

  • Number of commercial projects (academic labs)
  • Average project revenue (academic labs)
  • Allocated budget (industrial labs)
  • Number of research grants
  • Average grant revenue
  • Number of full-time employees
  • Number of master students
  • Number of PhD students
  • Number of patents
  • Number of scientific publications

KPIs about lab condition

Keeping the lab in good condition is the basic requirement to ensure you produce high-quality data. In this set of KPIs, you will measure how you’re doing in terms of processes, inventory and environment. By keeping an eye on this KPIs you can quickly spot if there’s a poor performing component in your well-oiled machine and act on it. These KPIs are similar for all types of laboratories.

Examples of KPIs related to processes:

  • quality control,
  • the time your staff spends at the bench,
  • turn-around-time for the analyses,
  • uptime of devices,
  • total space and free space on ELN or LIMS storage,
  • uptime of ELN or LIMS.

Inventory KPIs will tell you more about the consumables and equipment status. Some devices already have internal sensors that can tell you about their performance. You should also monitor the space in storage rooms and refrigerators.

Examples of KPIs related to inventory:

  • monthly consumable use,
  • amount of wasted consumables,
  • consumable use per analysis,
  • free space in refrigerators,
  • consumables inventory size and reserve.

Environmental KPIs are also very important but often overlooked, particularly in the research labs. Some regulations require you to daily monitor the temperature in refrigerators and facilities. You could advance these systems by using an online monitoring system that directly reports the measurements to the digital system, such as ELN or LIMS. You should also measure humidity, pressure, amount of light, and even whether a window is open or closed. This can be particularly relevant in research environments with sophisticated equipment because bad environmental conditions can produce unexpected results.

When working on lab health KPIs be careful not to be dragged into the spiral of details. Think about what are the most critical KPIs you can implement today. Then you can add additional if it turns you need them.

KPIs about data and deliverables

The data you generate is then delivered to the customer who makes a clinical, research or business decision based on it. You should, therefore, monitor how good are your data and deliverables.

Data quality can be monitored by performing regular quality control tests with certified reference samples. You can determine the accuracy and precision of repeated measurements on reference samples and use them as KPIs.

Here are some examples of data KPIs:

  • assay-specific precision of measurements,
  • assay-specific accuracy of measurements,
  • the regularity of reference material controls,

Another option to measure data quality is to extract the experiments that followed the same protocol in the past year and again calculate the precision and accuracy of each experiment. Then you can use the average precision and accuracy as KPIs. It might be more problematic to do this if you keep your data in paper notebooks, but it’s much easier with electronic lab notebook (ELN).

Optimization of performance

Having KPIs in place opens a whole new opportunity to optimize the performance of your lab. While this, in fact, means optimization of one single process that is related to the optimized KPI. Try to keep optimizing only a few KPIs at a time, otherwise, it might become too overwhelming for the staff.

You should start by setting the goals. When setting the goals you can use the SMART framework. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. Let’s look at an example of a SMART goal in the laboratory. We would like to reduce the number of consumables that are wasted each month.

Specific – Reduce the consumables waste

Measurable – By 20%

Attainable – We have a large stock of consumables that regularly expire. We can reduce the number of consumables that expire. We can achieve this by keeping a smaller stock.

Relevant – This will decrease the monthly costs of the department.

Time-bound – Achieve this in 6 months. (You should give yourself enough time to be able to confidently detect the improvement.)
The average number of expired reagents is 50 per month. In 6 months we would expect to decrease this number to 40.

Data acquisition options to calculate KPIs

DIY sensor device.
Environmental sensors became very affordable. You can log parameters, such as temperature, humidity and light with off-the-shelf products at affordable prices, which are easily integrated with ELN, LIMS or ERP. (Photo: J.C.Barros)

Most of the data can be extracted from the existing platforms, such as LIMS or ERP. For some, you can implement the sensors and logging systems. You should think about digitalizing your laboratory, which simplifies the data logging. In a digitalized lab you would first of all want to avoid paper and manual data entry. The digital software solutions used in a digitalized lab should have a possibility to define, log, measure and track KPI data, either internally or from connected sensors. You would want to track the KPIs regularly, as this is the only way to spot the weaknesses in the processes and optimize the performance. Dashboards are your best friend here – they show multiple data visualizations on one screen, so you can easily glimpse through it. Data analysis can be done in spreadsheet software. Currently, there are not many software solutions that are specifically made to measure KPIs. In a large organization with significant budgets, it would be feasible to develop a custom solution.

Conclusion

Keeping the track of the performance of your lab is a good idea, regardless of the size and type of your organization. By having KPIs in check you will ensure that you produce data of high quality and that you keep your costs under control. You will be able to identify the bottlenecks and poor performing parts of your lab to act upon it.

KPIs are also a very important part of the digital strategy. Laboratory digitalization addresses many challenges that are present in the laboratories, such as how you log and transfer data, and how you perform experiments. Digitalized laboratories will disrupt the life science industry and now is a good time to start planning the digital strategy for your lab.

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