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What Do You Do When You Can't Afford To Make a Mistake?

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Many of us have the feeling that we can’t afford to make a mistake; and, for many of us, it is true. In pre-clinical research no one is going to die because we make an error, but our career or business could be seriously damaged by mistakes. For ABS, if a large cell culture order for a high-throughput screen is late because of a contamination, then the screen is delayed, and timelines are missed. If patient samples in storage are lost because a freezer failed, there may be no replacement. If a fresh blood sample from a cancer patient doesn’t arrive on time, it may be useless, etc. These kinds of mistakes are bad for everyone.

If these or a thousand other mishaps happen, your client’s projects are negatively impacted, and your reputation is damaged. If it happens once and the impact is not large, the client may understand, but if it happens a second time they may never use your services again because this can cost their credibility and delay projects. We understand this and do everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Offering a refund or some incentive only goes so far because timelines, reliability, and quality mean far more than lower cost or a discounted price. How can you stop mistakes or other problems from happening? In a business or a research laboratory where quality and timelines are essential, how can you can consistently deliver quality and meet deadlines?

In the beginning of a new venture or project, mistakes can quickly lead to failure. Mistakes cost you and your clients. Your business or project may never get off the ground. Survival depends upon large investments of your time, energy, and attention and that of a few key employees. Because a startup venture is small, you may be able to attend to all the details and make things work. However, this is not a path to growth and long-term success, especially in an industry such as ours where mistakes can be costly and cannot be tolerated.

Growth and success are only possible with the implementation of appropriate systems and processes. For our discussions, systems refer to broad categories of processes such as systems for accounting, cell culture production, communicating information, and shipping. Processes refer to a collection of steps designed to accomplish a specific task, such as a process for growing or counting cells, packing a shipment, etc.

Imagine taking your first driving lesson, and then entering a Formula One race. You might survive it, but the results will not be very pretty and not very enjoyable. A company without appropriate systems and process functions, or ceases to function, in a similar manner. As a small entity, your energy and time can drive a business, but more is needed to make a company grow and succeed.

Systems and processes are the only way to leverage your time and energy. They help to eliminate costly and often avoidable mistakes. If implemented in the proper manner, systems and processes are not constraining any more than maintaining your car, practicing driving, and following traffic laws constrain you from driving to work or a vacation spot. Rather, they aid you in safely and enjoyably getting to your destination.

Some systems are obvious and are common to most businesses. For example, there is a need for an accounting system and processes to record and pay your bills, bill your clients, pay taxes, etc. A good introduction to business systems can be found in the E-Myth books of Michael Gerber. For a ten-thousand-foot overview, Principles by Ray Dalio is recommended.

When I started ABS in 1990, both resources and experience were limited. We learned as we went. In retrospect, this was a benefit. Because our growth was driven by our clients and the science rather than investor demands, we were able to design them in a way that made sense for our clients and ourselves.

Several years ago, we became ISO 9001 certified. ISO refers to an international client-centric quality management system. We did this, not to get some certificate. The purpose was to ensure our systems and processes deliver our clients the high-quality services that they require and within the timeframe that they require.

Today, ABS functions with a few key software systems that monitor every aspect of our operations. Instead of our systems being regimenting and bureaucratic, they free us to do real high value work. Every aspect of our operations is at our fingertips. This high level of computerization and process management reduces overhead and streamlines operations. Without these systems, we would require twice the staff to function half as well.

The next blog provides examples of these systems at work and their benefits.

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