A woman laboratorian and male laboratorian in lab coats, masks, and gloves, sitting at a table in a lab and looking at a screen.

Laboratory medicine involves carefully analyzing analytes from various biological matrices and provides timely reporting to support patient care needs. Along with the daily tasks of patient specimen processing, clinical laboratories have evolved and adapted to changing processes of quality, regulation, and specimen handling. With ongoing advances in the field of lab medicine, laboratorians need to carefully utilize their time and resources to keep a well-organized workplace.

Laboratorians receive various types of training in their clinical areas of expertise—state and federal regulation, laboratory finance, and laboratory management. However, there is still room for improvement in project management—particularly in developing a project vision and goals and measuring success.

Project Managers and Teams

Hospitals and reference laboratories have started using project management teams to steer expansive projects such as building a new laboratory, bringing in new automation, or transitioning to a new laboratory information system. Completing these vital projects requires buy-in from key stakeholders within the organization or institution. The project outline explains the overall vision, promotes collaboration among stakeholders and laboratorians, and provides a blueprint on how the project will be implemented.

A key component of a successful project management team is the project manager, who uses different tools to keep all stakeholders accountable for their tasks at hand and to monitor the timeline. The project manager also ensures there is clear communication between the manufacturer and the team members at the institution.

How to Choose a Project Management Tool

Project management tools are not only for large projects, though. Laboratorians can use them on a smaller scale to improve efficiency and sustainability of tasks that laboratories handle every day. Project management tools can help organize project discussions and track multiple projects at once. On an individual level, these tools also can help laboratorians stay on task, track progress, and measure success.

Project management tools include software such as Smartsheet, Microsoft Project, Asana, ClickUp, Monday, or Wrike. These can be used for free or purchased for advanced features. While each company’s software has a different outlook on project management, the basic idea of managing projects is the same.

One of the most important features of any project management tool is the ability to track progress against a timeline. One of the best ways to do this is using a Gantt chart. Digital project management platforms allow the project manager to add their team members’ names and emails to a centralized location. Instead of emailing about different projects, a project manager can communicate through this one platform with many individuals about different projects simultaneously. The platform is further populated with messages between team members, resulting in more dynamic and interactive discussions about the project. Additionally, images, emails, and ideas can be linked to a specific task, which allows everyone to view and contribute to their colleagues’ thoughts.

Viewing different projects on one platform can help each member of the team to monitor their individual progress through the Gantt chart and focus on the deadlines or mileposts most relevant to their work. Software programs also provide tutorial videos on creating your own Excel project management sheet that can incorporate a Gantt chart and allow users to monitor their timelines. Whether a person uses a subscribed project management software or a free version, the most important lesson is to communicate with each other via the platform or discuss the tool during meetings.

Adjusting Project Management to Suit Your Team

When using project management tools, it is helpful to go over pending projects with your team on a regular basis; a project management tool cannot be a substitute for all communication.

In our laboratory, we worked on a robust contingency plan for situations where we do not have operable analyzers. Using a project management tool, we planned out our contingency phases in several rows and assigned different team members based on the task. We tracked our progress, added important attachments to tasks, and turned on automatic alert emails when row changes were made. However, we noticed alert fatigue after a couple of days, so we customized the program to send alerts only once a week.

The pace of the project picked up when we started discussing the itemized list during lab meetings. In our setting, we found it helpful to review management sheets for 10–15 minutes during laboratory meetings. Any updates made to the management tool automatically sent a weekly email notification to the assigned person, reducing email redundancy. Using dashboards and their visual representation of priority projects has helped us reach team goals in a timely manner.

Anu S. Maharjan, PhD, DABCC, FADLM, is assistant professor (clinical) at UConn Health in Farmington, Connecticut. +Email: [email protected]