Unless you still live in the same house where you grew up, you have moved at least once in your life.  The purging, the sorting, the packing and the unpacking.  It’s exciting and exhausting.  It’s understandably overwhelming.  And it doesn’t even compare to moving a laboratory.

You don’t just wake up one morning and say, “Let’s move our lab.”  It’s a very long, complicated process.  Months of planning, calculating and action go into it.  And just about the time you think you are ready for the big day, you realize the planning, calculating and action are just about to begin.

Moving my lab began 4 months before the big day.  The reason – moving the lab was unexpected and unbudgeted.  As part of the effort to control this budget, we decided to relocate and reuse the cabinets in our existing laboratory.  With tape. measure in hand, every cabinet was measured and recorded, and became an integral part of planning and designing the new laboratory space

The preliminary plans were drawn.  The architect reviewed them and made some revisions, and the plans were finalized.  The construction crew began work on the new space, and shortly after the walls were up, it was time to fit the cabinets in place.

Preparing for the removal and relocation of the cabinets was like choreographing a dance.  They needed to be empty.  But their contents needed to remain organized and needed to exist in the same space.  A crew needed to be hired.  And their quote needed to be low enough to make the decision to reuse the cabinets cost-effective.  And the crew needed to be working in the same space and during the same time as my existing staff, equipment and supplies.  Easy, right? Perhaps.  Right until we realized that without base cabinets, we would not have any countertops. Without countertops, we would have no supports for the sinks. And a lab with no countertops was equal to a lab with no work surfaces.

After a few discussions with the crew, we planned the cabinet removal in such a way that the existing countertops would be braced and supported and would remain as our work surfaces.  The plumbing was left intact and the counter was supported to serve as a sink base.

My Med Techs remained in the current lab space and directed the work at that end.  I went to the new space and directed the offload and delivery of the cabinets.  A few hours after the work began, it was over.  And we were ready for the next phase.

The construction crew for the new location came in and the cabinets were set into place.  As expected, some minor revisions were needed.  But once the base cabinets were laid in, measurements were made for the new counter tops.  After that, the wall cabinets were hung, and the plumbing work began.  The new counters were installed, and in a few short weeks, the new location was move-in ready.

This is when the real preparation began.

I looked at the project backwards and outlined the steps needed.  Our goal was to move the lab, validate the analyzers and testing, and be operational, with no more than one day of downtime.  We knew that if we were down more than a day, we would need to send testing out to a reference lab.  Not only would this be a financial loss, the amount of work expended to send out a days’ worth of testing was estimated to be equivalent to performing the work in-house. With a plan in place, meetings with staff and contracted movers took place.  Some of these meetings would rival any pre-game locker room meeting with the pep talks and strategy laid out.  And in due time, our big day began.

Specimen delivery and testing – As a reference laboratory, we rely on couriers for delivery of our samples.  Our courier company committed to, and delivered an early transport time.  Specimens were received 90 minutes early, so work was underway 90 minutes early.

Analyzers – We have 2 testing platforms.  One of our platforms is performed on 2 matching pieces of equipment.  We moved one to the new location 3 days in advance of the move, and validated the analyzer in the new location.  For the remainder of the week, including move day, the entire work load was performed with 50% of the testing capacity.  Effective – yes.  Efficient – not so much.

Our second platform was much more complicated.  The full-sized analyzer, with direct tube sampling (DTS) and a daily run time of 6 hours. Planning to run, decontaminate, move, set up and validate this analyzer, with no downtime, was impossible.  And also proved to be unnecessary.  In a good luck, twist of fate, our analyzer was giving us frequent, periodic problems.  Since the analyzer was only a year old, and had been experiencing problems and service calls every 2 to 3 weeks, the manufacturer agreed to replacing the analyzer with a brand new unit.

The replacement analyzer was delivered to the new laboratory 1 week before our big day.  The application specialist was onsite for a week, and the analyzer was installed and validated.  On move day, the techs ran the specimens in the old location, on the old analyzer.  When they were complete, the samples were transported to the new location, and they were run on the new analyzer. By the end of move day, we had 2 platforms set up, validated, and ready for patient testing the following day.

The “college dorm” fridge – “What?”  “Where does this fit in?”, you ask.  With the new analyzer being installed and validated, we needed a place to store reagents in the new location, while our refrigerators were still at the old location. As luck would have it, one of my employees had this on the shelf in her garage and was willing to sacrifice it.  Once its purpose was served, the refrigerator went out to recycling, with no expense for us and a cleared out space in my employee’s garage.

Laboratory supplies – A moving company was contracted to pack and move the supplies on hand in the lab. In addition, the laboratory staff had been boxing and transporting excess inventory and unused supplies as time permitted.  We had planned ahead, and had the non-refrigerated items in the last supply order delivered to the new location. That saved us having to move bulk supplies.

Refrigerated items were a little bit more complicated.  But our movers were professionals, and told us to leave it to them.  They brought insulated carriers for our products.  We had stocked up on freezer packs, and had several thermometers with min-max temperature recording capabilities.  These items were the last packed, immediately before the refrigerators were to be unplugged and loaded on the truck.

At the new location, the refrigerators were off-loaded first and immediately plugged in.  Once they measured within the acceptable range for temperature, the supplies were reloaded and the min-max thermometer showed that we were within range for the entire move.

Miscellaneous stuff – A/K/A The Junk Drawer – As the packers were taping up the last boxes, the foreman looked around, and asked the biggest question of the day.  “What about the rest of this stuff?”

On countertops, there was a selection of pipets, pencil cups, file sorters, etc.  On the walls, the posters, signs, clocks, etc. were all still hanging. The staff, gathering and collecting the items, dropped it all into the remaining empty boxes. And as they sealed those boxes, the chairs that were under them, were being removed and loaded on the truck.

With a lot of preparation, teamwork, and good luck, we moved the lab and were operational the following morning.  Ahead of schedule. Surpassing our goal.  And all the stronger for it.

When you hear the cliché’ “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail” remember this story.  And start every project with a plan.

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