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When to Call in the Software Experts, and How to Get the Best Results

The success of any clinical diagnostic laboratory software project depends on multiple factors—including how much preparation the lab has done before calling in a consultant, whether they have a thorough understanding of their requirements, and if they have identified specific areas where they need help.

In this post, we describe several common scenarios where labs have reached out to us for help. We also include tips on how your lab can evaluate whether you’re ready to engage a contractor and what you can do to prepare so that time working with a consultant is well-spent and leads to an efficient, successful project.

Common scenarios

The lab contacts a consultant at the beginning of the project, before trying to build their own solution

In our practice as consultants, we’ve found this scenario to yield some great results because it gives the consultant a chance to lend their experience to technical decisions about the foundation and architecture of the system. It means the consultant can assess the complexity of the implementation early on and build in time and resource contingencies to ensure the project’s success. It also gives the consultant an opportunity to identify problematic areas that may need more planning or additional input.

Challenges can still arise in this scenario if the lab is not adequately prepared. For example, projects tend to be more successful when there’s a single go-to contact, when the lab has prepared a list of requirements before engaging the consultant, and when they have fully explored the complexity of their problem to be solved. Sometimes, too, if timelines are to be met, lofty goals need to be re-evaluated. If you’re struggling with some of the points above, a consultant may be able to help you sort through the complexities in a discovery phase before beginning the project.

The lab contacts a consultant for help building a specific component, such as a diagnostic workflow in the LIMS

In this scenario, labs might already have many of the skilled resources they need to develop the software, and even a detailed model of the workflow, but lack the real-world experience to confidently deliver the implementation.

A consultant can help guide the lab through the process, pointing out potential pitfalls and how to avoid them, and providing the technical and project management support the lab needs to build the workflow and maintain it for themselves. Collaborations like this can also push the lab’s team to extend their knowledge and skills, increasing their value to the business.

The lab contacts a consultant knowing they need help, but not sure of the specific details

In this scenario, a lab knows they need to work with a software consultant, but they don’t have a clear idea of what that help will look like. Through collaborative discussions, a consultant can help define the lab’s needs and put a plan in place to either tackle the implementation or support the lab’s internal team to ensure the project is successful.

Whether it’s a weekly call to support the team, writing or reviewing a script, or answering specific questions, a consultant can help the lab work more efficiently.

Are you prepared for a project with a software consultant?

If you’re thinking of hiring a software consultant, ask yourself these key questions:

  1. Do we have agreement throughout the organization that we’re ready to bring in a consultant? Assuming the lab itself is prepared, ensuring buy-in across the organization will set the project up for success.
  2. Is our IT infrastructure robust and able to handle the addition of new software? If you’re not sure, you might need a professional IT assessment first to determine if your existing system can be extended with modern software components. A consultant can help with this, too.
  3. Do we know exactly what we need, but we’re not sure how to do it or we don’t have the capacity to build it internally? Even if you know all your exact requirements, if your team doesn’t know how to map a lab procedure to a software function, contacting a consultant can be the right decision.
  4. Can we even answer questions 1–3? If not, a consultant can analyze your business and help you in the discovery phase to create a roadmap for success.
  5. What if we can’t answer “yes” to questions 1–3 because we’re midway through a project with no end in sight? There’s absolutely no shame in reaching out for help at this stage. A consultant might be able to rescue the project and set you on a more direct route.

How to get the best results when working with a consultant

We’ve worked with many labs and have identified four things that make a huge difference to how smoothly a software project proceeds. We recommend labs:

  1. Select a liaison who serves as the primary point of contact with the consultant. Ensure this person has direct access to project experts and decision makers for when questions come up.
  2. Set reasonable expectations and goals within the desired project timeline. Understand that more complex projects may require more time and that a lot of projects have layers of complexity that aren’t obvious at first.
  3. Ensure that subject matter experts (SMEs) and other project stakeholders set aside dedicated time to work through any project challenges.
  4. Advise SMEs that they will need to commit significant time to reading, deeply understanding, and approving specification documents. Timely approval of these artifacts has a huge impact on project timelines.

Beyond these factors, projects are generally more successful when labs have a clear understanding of their business model and goals, defined lab processes and requirements, and a pragmatic view of the time expenditure required to interface with the experts.

Lab software projects tend to be less successful when the lab tries to model a workflow in the LIMS before having modelled it in the lab itself. Furthermore, in our experience, workers in the lab are highly skilled in their own area of knowledge, but often don’t know how to map software steps to laboratory procedures. With expertise in these areas, software consultants can save the lab time and money, making the entire project more efficient and bringing a greater return on investment.

Contact us if your lab needs help with a software project. If you’re not sure whether your existing software can support add-ons or extensions, we can help you evaluate that, too.

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As a technical project manager at Semaphore, Owen is well-seasoned in computer science as well as product and project management. Owen is passionate about ensuring that clients are delivered the best possible solution based on their needs.