How to Be a Great Lab Manager | Tips and Best Practices | Corning

As lab manager, you serve as the linchpin of your lab. Experiments will have a much greater chance of success in a well-managed, well-supplied lab than in one where chaos rules. Lab manager roles and responsibilities can be a lot to keep track of, but organization and planning ahead will help you succeed.

Whether you're just starting out and learning how to be a great lab manager or you're established in your role and looking to further hone your skills, several tips and tricks can help you be a more effective leader in the lab. Here's a look at best practices for managing inventory, directing fellow lab members, and maintaining a high level of quality throughout.

Tips to Manage Lab Inventory

Tips to Manage Lab Inventory

If cell culture supplies run out or technicians discover the enzyme they need has expired, experiments can come to a halt. Unexpected disruptions can be costly and time-consuming. Planning ahead, focusing on good inventory management, and prioritizing communication will go a long way toward preventing such situations.

Here are four ways to manage your lab's inventory to promote efficiency and quality.

1. Monitor Consumables and Create Standing Orders

Consumables are in constant use and require a regular supply. For a cell culture lab, this typically includes cell culture media and supplements; disposable flasks, plates, dishes, and tubes; pipet tips; and frequently used reagents. It may be helpful to create standing orders for these items based on the volume of each item your lab uses each month. However, you'll still need to periodically check inventory for these items, adjust orders as needed, and plan ahead for possible spikes in demand related to a particular project.

2. Communicate and Plan Ahead

For consumables and small tools that aren't in constant use, knowing when to order and in what volume requires good communication with lab members. Ensure all lab members have a realistic idea of how far in advance they need to put in orders for a project. If a specialty item is critical to an experiment, research your options and order early enough to ensure the items will arrive by the time they're needed.

3. Stay on Top of Maintenance and Calibration

Most larger instruments and tools like pipettors need regular preventive maintenance and/or calibration. Set up a maintenance schedule for these items. Then, stick to this schedule to help prevent unexpected shutdowns or malfunctions that can waste time or even generate misleading experiment results.

4. Keep Track of Perishables and Adjust Inventory as Needed

For perishable supplies and reagents, ask lab members to alert you or make an entry in your inventory management system if they find an expired or spoiled item. If a certain item tends to expire before it's used, you may need to reduce inventory or better coordinate its ordering with the timing of specific projects.

Communicate and Stay Organized

Keep open channels of communication between yourself and lab members so you can address inventory-related problems as they arise. Ask lab members to let you know if a certain item isn't meeting expectations so you can work together to find an alternative. In some labs, certain items tend to run low, and lab members may even hoard supplies at their workstations. Open communication can help you uncover these situations so you can correct them and prevent similar problems from arising.

Here are some ways to keep the communication flowing and to support an orderly, productive lab environment.

Implement an Inventory Tracking System

Inventory tracking systems help you understand what you have in stock and decide when to reorder. You may decide to use a software and cloud-based solution, but pen and paper or whiteboard systems can still play a role. Whichever system you use, lab members should be empowered to request refills or indicate when supplies are low. Ask lab members to alert you if they'll need an unusually large amount of a specific consumable for a project.

Organize Storage Areas

Getting organized will help you easily see the available inventory and know where to put supplies when they're delivered. It will also help other lab members quickly find what they need.

If items have an expiration date, put the oldest items near the front or top where people will grab them first. Follow safety guidelines and don't stack items too high. Store each item in the proper conditions to prevent spoilage or contamination.

To facilitate fast and simple reordering, consider labelling shelves with QR codes that link to the products' SKUs. This allows new inventory to be requested as soon as a certain item starts running low in supply.

Document Everything

Save all documents related to inventory and purchasing, and update documentation as you go. Organize receipts to track expenses, which can help make future ordering easier.

Some lab product suppliers, including Corning Life Sciences, offer registered users a "shopping list" feature within the online marketplace. This allows buyers to save their frequently ordered items, which can help make ordering new inventory quick and easy.

Balance Purchases and Available Space

Purchasing in bulk can save money, but consider whether you have enough storage space for these purchases. Some vendors offer discounts to labs that regularly order the same product, which may get you the same savings as ordering in bulk while reducing the need to store excess supplies.

Vendors may also offer occasional promotions that allow buyers to make bulk purchases, save money on products or receive free items. Accordingly, it's important to check for such promotions before placing an order.

Learn About New Lab Technologies

By staying informed, you can help your lab overcome problems and keep research moving forward. Online resources, subscribing to life sciences suppliers email lists, following trade and supplier social media accounts, industry blogs and webinars are great ways to stay abreast of technical developments in your field and learn about newer products that might benefit your lab.

A Trusted Resource for Lab Managers

Whether you're managing a lab that's just starting up or you're restocking an existing lab, Corning Life Sciences can help set you up for success. With a wide variety of standard and specialty lab supplies and experienced staff members who can provide guidance, we'll help you keep your lab running with the quality products you need.

Stock up your lab now and save.