Lab Manager's checklist

The Lab Manager’s checklist

As I’ve written elsewhere, I’m a big fan of systems thinking vs goal thinking.  Systems are both more stable and flexible.  Here I explore an example of a system-approach to keeping an eye on what is going on the the lab: the checklist.

People don’t do stupid because they are stupid.  They do stupid because they are smart and thinking about something else.  This is true of your lab users and this is true of you.  Building up a solid checklist for your weekly lab inspection is one of those things that can prevent you from falling into stupid modes of thought.  After all, checklists can save lives, even for experienced surgeons.

To set up your checklist, get out a map of your lab (if you don’t have one of these already, you should – it’s mandatory for most safety inspections and license applications).  Mark off the main areas in a sequential way.  The sequence should be determined by how you plan to walk around the lab.  Then draw up your checklist, noting what you will examine in each section.

Some items will be universal and need to be checked in all areas – for example: Are the work spaces disorderly?  Others will be specific to one section or a few – “Has the fume hood sash been properly lowered?”  or “Does the laser room have the appropriate goggles in place?”

I find that simple yes/no questions are the best, as they can be quickly checked off.  You can also make review easy by giving the bad responses (e.g. “Yes” to the question “Any dirt or stains?”, “No” to “Are the gas lines properly secured”) a grey background.  Nice and straightforward.  Also extremely quick – the checklist is a corrective and a maintenance activity.  Lab orderliness should be already quite well established by your own efforts.

A good checklist can double your effectiveness for as little as five to ten minutes a week.

The flexibility comes from the way that you can easily update your routine.  You know from personal experience how hard it is to update your routine by mental effort alone.  With a written checklist, you can easily add and subtract items, refine your work process, and completely minimize your expenditure of willpower.  Simple.

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