Laboratory processes mapping

by | 12. 01. 2021 | Laboratory digitalization

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Process mapping can improve the efficiency of your laboratory and enable a better work environment for your employees. In this article, you will learn how to map your processes step by step.

Why process mapping is important

Process mapping is a form of visual representation of the chosen process with which you can identify the unnecessary steps that are cutting down on the productivity, efficiency, and accuracy of your laboratory.

Despite the conviction that you know what is happening in your laboratory, there might be some unexpected anomalies that you are not aware of. That is to be expected since many different people are involved in many different processes.

Process mapping is also tightly connected to laboratory digitalization. You first need to understand your processes before deciding which software applications you will implement in your laboratory. Licenses and onboarding are expensive and require a lot of effort. Therefore, choosing the right software for the right processes is essential.

Lippi (2019) nicely presented six of the most important objectives that great leaders of laboratories are striving for:

  • Productivity: you will increase your laboratory’s efficiency and cut costs while minimizing your employees’ wasted work hours
  • Efficacy: achieve better and more transparent results
  • Quality: evolve the accuracy and safety of test results
  • Safety: significantly reduce the risk of injury to laboratory staff and limit the damage to laboratory equipment
  • Sustainability: avoid wasting human and economic potential
  • Satisfaction: enable a better work environment for your laboratory staff and other involved stakeholders

These objectives can be achieved with process mapping, which will help you understand your processes in detail and think of improvements that you can introduce.

Although process mapping takes time and effort, we can guarantee that, if done properly, it will be worth it. ROI can even be expected in weeks (rather than months or years), depending on the type of process improvement.

How to do process mapping in your laboratory

Process mapping will help you better understand what is happening in your laboratory and possibly shine a light on the gaps between what you think is happening and its actual situation. That is good since, therefore, you will be able to:

  • Get better insight into the processes in your laboratory
  • Optimize laboratory processes
  • Conduct better and faster training
  • Improve transparency
  • Have a clear overview of documentation,
  • Implement new software more easily
  • Improve communication between people involved in the process
  • Plan future projects better

It is crucial to involve people who are carrying out the process in your laboratory in your process mapping. They are the end-users who have the most insight into unique situations and know how the processes are done in reality. It is also crucial to identify or assign the process owner who will be in charge of process changes and optimization.

Here we present you an option considering how to create a process map for your laboratory. Guidelines are based on our experience as well as Johansson (2020), Lippi (2019), Lucidchard, and Thermo Fisher.

7 steps to create your process map

Step 1: Identify the process you are mapping

Decide which process you are mapping and write down the name of the process. Fill out other basic information such as name (and position), laboratory/group name, and date, so it is easier to reference back to this document.

There are different levels of process map that you can decide between (Thermo Fisher Scientific, 2016):

  • Macro: an overview of the chosen process, determined from the top-down and without many descriptions of the details
  • Mini: most popular when first starting; dedicated to a single organizational level (such as team, department, laboratory, etc.)
  • Micro: most detailed process map with description of processes and sub-processes on an individual level for single end-user

When you are first starting, it might be useful to get help from someone who has already done the process mapping because this will help you avoid some beginners’ mistakes. This can be either a colleague, co-worker or a consulting company.

Step 2: Make a list of activities

Provide a list of all the activities that are a part of your chosen process and determine the level of details that you want to include in your process map. Here is the place where you assign a specific activity to a particular person and place, so you get the information on who does what and where it is done.

It is important to note that this step is not focused on sequences of activities but rather to prepare a list of all that is happening within one process. It is wise to include the end-users who can provide the most accurate information and details in this regard.

Step 3: Determine the start and end of your process

Decide on your process’s boundaries and determine what triggers your process and what is the result of the process. This will help to keep your process map clear and understandable.

Step 4: Put your activities into a sequence

Put previously gathered activities from the list into the flowchart form. You can do this as detailed as you like – either designing a general flow or provide a more detailed flowchart with many details of activities and decisions.

Step 5: Draw a process map

Now it is time for you to describe your process (Table 1) and draw the process map.  You can use your drawing skills or take advantage of different computer software that can be used to draw a process map. Make sure to use the appropriate symbols for the start/end of the process, activities, flow, decisions, and inputs/outputs. Figure 1 represents a diagnostic process example prepared by BioSistemika for this article.

Table 1: Key information that should describe each process that you are mapping. A process owner is a person, who is responsible for the process, its improvements, and updating the process map if any changes are being introduced.
Diagnostic process
Figure 1: An example of a diagnostic process prepared by BioSistemika. A general diagnostic process describes the tasks starting from sample reception to a final report sent to a customer. This is a high-level process, which we named (L). Each task in this process is marked with a new name (L1, L2, L3, etc.) and can be further mapped as a subprocess. L1 subprocess could have a different owner, and the tasks would be named L1.1, L1.2, etc.

Step 6: Review process map

Once you design your process map, you should verify it with stakeholders included in the described process. They should let you know whether the flowchart was prepared properly and correct any possible gaps that might occur. Double-check that you filled out all the required information.

Step 7: Continue to improve and re-evaluate the process map

Once you finished the process mapping, you should not just leave it as it is. You are probably aware that processes within your laboratory are forever changing, and the process map should follow the changes that are happening. That is why having a process owner is crucial. A process owner is a person, who is responsible for the process, it’s improvements, and updating of the process map if any changes are being introduced.

Standards and tools for process mapping

On the one hand, process mapping can be done in a straightforward non-digital way with whiteboard and post-it notes. You can also use standard computer software (such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or Excel) that you already know to help you create your process map.

We would recommend using specialized computer software as they are usually easy to use, and they use standardized elements (i.e., BPMN notation), which will help you consistently design your flowcharts. There are many options, many of which are free to use.

Process mapping is common and widely used in business and industrial setups, but it still needs to be introduced more widely into laboratories. However, since the process mapping has the same approach regardless of the industry or organization type, you can find additional educational resources on business process mapping online.

Business Process Model and Notation

Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) is a standard widely used for designing graphical representations of business processes. BPMN was designed to be easily understood by different stakeholders working on the development of process maps. BPMN is also ratified as standard ISO 19510.

BPMN is based on a flowchart design and has four main elements to it:

  • Flow objects
  • Connecting objects
  • Swim lanes
  • Artifacts

At first, it might be wise to start designing your diagram with key elements (Figure 2) and add to them further to keep the process understandable for all participants.

Figure 2: BPMN 2.0 key elements (Source: Cognini et al., 2014)

Unified Modeling Language

Besides BPMN, you can also use  Unified Modelling Language (UML). UML is also a standard used for designing process maps, including actions, activities, points of decisions, functions, inputs and outputs, stakeholders, measurements of the process, and required time (Figure 3).
 

Figure 3: Example of a Unified Model Language (UML) process map (Source: Lucidchart)

 Summary

  • Process mapping is a visual representation of a laboratory process.
  • Process mapping will help to improve productivity, efficiency, and transparency.
  • There are 7 key steps to process mapping in laboratories.
  • There are different approaches to process mapping. You can use simple methods (such as post-it notes) or different computer software with which you will be able to design a flowchart for your laboratory processes.
  • You can educate yourself on process mapping or hire a professional company that will do it for you.
  • Process mapping is often tightly connected with laboratory digitalization.