How to Sell a Lab Automation Project to Management
Automation can greatly increase throughput and precision of lab automation tasks, but it can also lead to a lot of problems if approached incorrectly. Savvy executives tends to be pretty conservative when it comes to expensive infrastructural technology projects, and this makes sense because a lab automation system should certainly be addressed in a similar way to IT projects.
Do Your Homework
Although these machines can pay for themselves in research value if used properly, it may be challenging to sell the idea of a large system. As scientists know, decisions should largely be data driven. The best place to start is to thoroughly research your automation needs and workflows, then develop a plan that fully addresses those needs.
Rather than shooting for the moon up front, it's typically wise to start small and develop the expertise required for bigger projects. You can alleviate workflow bottlenecks in the lab with smaller automation work cells. Rather than starting with a fully automated lab, buy some instruments and start to introduce automation. When this increases productivity, you have ammunition for selling future projects. By developing a track record of incremental success, one can develop the skills and trust required to sell large budgets to management.
Develop a Real Plan
For more complex systems, make sure to account for all of the complexity for workflow needs. Get adequate project documentation, such as the functional specification, to help ensure you plan accordingly. The'll deliver what that says, so plan true. This plan is a big part of getting your management to buy in too, because it shows that you have done your homework. Here is some guidance on how to go about developing a solid lab automation project plan that management will likely appreciate.
Get references for what you are doing, ask your vendors to help out with this. If they want the sale bad enough, they will help round up information to provide evidence to your management. This is a common thing, so they will likely expect this for customers who are newer to automation.
Develop automation systems that bring value, set benchmarks to measure and quantify that value. Have tight but attainable goals, which are shown to be the best motivators for your team. Here are some key values of lab automation and goals that you should consider starting with.
Throughput is the name of the game with automation. You should think about the amount of samples that you are expecting to be able to process in a given experiment, in a day. This will likely be one of the first questions that your managers and your vendors will ask, because it's a readily measurable metric. Set the expectation of speed up front to keep your vendors accountable to your expectations, and also use this speed increase as a major selling point to show management the potential increase in work output.
Lean headcount is one of the many quantifiable benefits of a functional automation system, because the robots are capable of such a higher throughput than even a couple of humans, but those two humans could theoretically operate the robot around the clock to handle much higher workloads. Use this lean headcount as a goal, align the system with your throughput goals and then help justify the work increase with a lean labor force required to run it.
High accuracy with small volumes, within an error rate that rivals the best human pipettors. The sheer quantity of work throughput is coupled with the accuracy of a validated instrument like this, so you are actually doing more work and also better work.