Following a Map to Efficient Lab Practices

To help criminal justice practitioners, the National Institute of Justice Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (NIJ FTCoE) creates publications, webinars, podcasts, toolkits and even a roadmap. Development of a Lean Facility Design Roadmap for Design-Bid-Build Forensic Facilities contains a roadmap for agencies to follow when planning for a new or upgraded forensic laboratory.

Now a new publication from the NIJ FTCoE takes a look at how one agency followed that roadmap to plan its lab of the future and along the way, help the lab of the present function more efficiently.

Technical Note: Conducting a Forensic Facility Needs Assessment Using Lean Facility Design: A Case Example, published in January 2019, outlines the steps for using lean facility design (LFD) to conduct a needs assessment and presents a case study in which the Midwest Forensics Resource Center and the NIJ FTCoE collaborated on an LFD needs assessment with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office (BSO) in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

“The FTCoE creates various resources for practitioners to access and implement themselves, but in this case, we worked alongside Broward County while they put it into play,” says FTCoE Chief Scientist Jeri Ropero-Miller. “It was important for us to bring back a message to the community on how the resource worked. BSO was able to determine that a renovation would not work for them; instead, they developed a plan for a new facility in four years. In the meantime, BSO identified some bottlenecks in their system that they could address to improve efficiency in the current facility short-term.”

According to the report, using a lean approach means eliminating all steps that do not add value to a process. It uses the following principles (p. 2):

  • Identify and focus on the customer’s needs.
  • Assess laboratory processes to identify and address wasteful steps.
  • Manage the workflow and standardize processes around best practice.
  • Manage by fact and reduce variation.
  • Continuously strive to achieve optimal process flow.

The partners used those principles in evaluating the BSO facility’s condition, limitations and challenges. They assessed both facility space, to determine whether to renovate or build a new facility, and operational procedures, to identify areas where efficiency could be improved. The needs assessment followed the six steps illustrated in Figure 1 (derived from the actual report) and outlined below (adapted from pp. 4-8.)

Lab Practice diagram

  1. Situational analysis examines the flow of evidence through the laboratory and identifies process performance concerns. BSO discovered four key issues: (1) ineffective external communication and information flow, (2) understaffed and underfunded laboratory, (3) little to no space for work or storage and (4) poor air quality.
  2. Current-state practice evaluation considers all workflow steps and constructs a process map. This review uncovered several critical issues for BSO, including the lack of space for additional instrumentation in their DNA unit.
  3. Ideal-state operation evaluation establishes a vision statement that reflects the laboratory’s goals to improve workflow and function, and assesses the laboratory’s future.
  4. Future-state practice compares current practices to ideal operations and identifies bottlenecks and activities that add no value such as interruptions, equipment failure and rework. BSO mapped its processes in the current-state practice step to these bottlenecks to identify possible solutions.
  5. Future-state planning calls for eliminating waste and increasing efficiency. For example, BSO identified delays of up to 27 days due to poor communication of court schedules, court interruptions and poorly scheduled property receipt clerks. The time delays related to these events could be avoided with improved communication and sample and case submission policies.
  6. Closing the loop turns operational needs into facility space requirements, and the laboratory implements operational improvements or makes design and construction decisions.

“It’s very important to look at the lifetime of the facility. Projecting five years into the future isn’t enough,” Ropero-Miller says. “You’re designing to be in a facility for 30 years or more. And the project isn’t complete unless you look at processes too. Lean design marries the concepts together so you’re looking at this holistically.”

A year after the original needs assessment, the NIJ FTCoE returned to Broward County to check on project status. At that point, BSO had determined to build a new facility within the next four years, and is currently in the bidding process for a project manager and an architect.

“We checked back in so we could see how BSO was following through on what the needs assessment determined and to see the lessons learned. We captured those lessons learned in the technical note of the case report, and we expect that practitioners should find that information helpful,” Ropero-Miller says.

For more information, click here. To read the TechBeat article on the prior publication, see “Roadmap Leads to Increased Efficiency, Improved Function in Forensics Labs” in TechBeat July/August 2016.

Article photo: mikeledray/