Welcome to blog one of the ‘Guide to Choosing a LIMS’ series. Choosing a new Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) can be daunting. The process can be time-consuming and expensive – not to mention confusing. And that’s just selecting the system. You also need to add the time, money and effort it takes to implement. The benefits of a LIMS can, however, be well worth the investment and much more! But you really need to be clear about what you need. And that means having defined, measurable acceptance criteria for your new LIMS. Without this you’ll never be in a position to know whether it was all worth it – or when to stop or change something if it’s not working.
Levels of acceptance criteria
Firstly, let’s be clear. We’re talking about high-level acceptance criteria that will allow you to measure the overall success of your LIMS.
You can include acceptance criteria at all levels of a project. And you can get into some really fine detail. For example, as part of your LIMS testing process you may have acceptance criteria for every action you carry out.
However, you need something that your board and sponsors can look at, measure against and be able to say confidently that your LIMS is successful.
Plus, if you can also include acceptance criteria about the project implementation itself you can track these as the project is progressing. This will help you to identify any potential issues early.
It’s not just about what the LIMS can do
One of the first things to be aware of when defining your acceptance criteria for a LIMS is that it’s not just about the functionality. It goes without saying that you need to know whether a product will perform your critical functions. Or can be configured to do them (it’s unlikely a product will be able to do everything you need exactly as you need it ‘out-of-the-box’).
However, there’s a difference between functional requirements and acceptance criteria.
Assessing a LIMS by function alone can be limiting. It restricts your thinking – you’re just ticking things off a checklist. Plus, just because a LIMS can perform a specific function it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s doing it efficiently, simply or with quality.
When putting together your acceptance criteria you should try to include your key functional as well as non-functional requirements.
Thinking about your end goals can help rephrase your requirements. You can do this by looking at your processes and user stories in their entirety. And then seeing what your challenges are within those processes. For example, if your team has a backlog of samples to enter into your current systems then you may want to see what is causing the bottleneck. If the systems they’re currently using are slow, require duplicate data entry, can’t be imported into, are paper-based or have too many steps then you may want to include acceptance criteria that demonstrate simplifying or streamlining this process.
And don’t forget to look at what outputs you need from your LIMS too. These could include analysis, searches, labels, documents and reports.
As a result, you’ll end up with functional as well as qualitative acceptance criteria.
But a word of caution, don’t state the steps the LIMS should do to carry out a particular process. You’re defining the ‘what’. Leave the ‘how’ to the LIMS and its supplier.
Involving the right people
When you’re implementing a LIMS, you’ll need a team of people to carry out the various roles in the project. But it can be helpful to involve them in selecting the system too. Getting people together at the beginning of the process to choose the system can help make sure your requirements are well-defined. Plus, it can also help with buy-in. Each person will have a slightly different perspective on what is required and can, therefore, offer alternative acceptance criteria.
Consolidating these to form a cohesive set of criteria can be challenging and may require some diplomacy skills.
So, when choosing your acceptance criteria for a LIMS, it’s important to involve people who:
- Know what you’re trying to achieve from a strategic perspective
- Are responsible for looking after your existing IT systems and infrastructure
- Understand how your data is currently stored, managed and processed in your existing systems
- Will be responsible for project managing the implementation
- Work extensively with the existing system(s)
- Carry out the processes that will be managed in the new LIMS
- Understand the systems that the LIMS will be linking to.
You’ll then be able to include acceptance criteria that cover all aspects of your LIMS, including how it will be implemented.
‘Measure what matters’
As the quote goes ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it’. But to do this you really need to know where you’re starting from – even if you’re starting from nothing. And yes, this is suitable acceptance criteria.
Once you have your starting position you need to make sure you put things in place, so you can continue to measure your progress against them.
And one other word of caution, don’t try and measure everything. It’s critical that you only measure what’s really important and going to actually make a difference.
Also, be realistic. If you’ve never captured certain information and have no mechanism for doing so in the near future don’t include it in your criteria!
As a result, your acceptance criteria for choosing a LIMS will be restricted to a handful of measurable functional and non-functional requirements. You may be able to test your acceptance criteria against any potential LIMS before you buy. For example, for process-specific measurements your LIMS should be able to provide you with the information you need, quickly and easily. You should be able to see these in a product demonstration. For project- or implementation-specific measurements, then references and testimonials from other customers of the LIMS should be able to provide you with these.
A final thought about identifying your acceptance criteria when choosing a LIMS
Implementing a LIMS can be challenging and costly. It can be daunting and there’s naturally a fear that you may end up choosing the wrong system.
By clearly defining your LIMS acceptance criteria you’re setting your expectations for the system and how it is to be implemented. Plus, as these are measurable criteria that are defined up-front it’s easier for you to see if your LIMS has had the desired outcomes.
By involving several people across different disciplines to help define your acceptance criteria, you’ll cover all aspects of the LIMS implementation.
Finally, you should try and test some of your acceptance criteria during your LIMS selection and project implementation processes. This way you can highlight and manage any issues promptly.