The Opinionated Case for First In / First Out

Businessman marking on calendar

Everyone who’s ever worked in a lab (or probably anywhere for that matter) probably cringes a bit when they hear the term “hot”. “This project is hot and we need to push it ahead of everything else.” Sure, let’s take a few hours to shut down equipment, remove half-tested samples, and then put this “hot” stuff on. Once that’s done, take another few hours to put on those half-tested samples again. If the half-tested samples fail, maybe it’s because we took them off half-way. Let’s test another set from the beginning. Sounds efficient, doesn’t it?

Of course it’s not, but the everchanging priorities lab testing are a fact of life, right? Maybe not.

“First In, First Out” (FIFO) is a method of inventory management and asset tracking that operates on the principle of using or selling items in the order they were received or produced. In a FIFO system, the oldest items in inventory are the first to be used or sold, while newer items are retained for a longer period.

We should apply this to requests for testing in test lab environments for a few reasons.

It Creates the Proper Incentives

A big reason why some things arrive to the lab late and already “hot” is because of a lack of planning. It maybe sat on someone’s desk (or email inbox) for days or weeks before there was movement.

Why, you might ask?

Good question. Well, if the person or people who sat on it know they can drop it off “hot” and always move it to the front of the line, they have little incentive to get it to the lab quickly.

We change that attitude by adopting First In, First Out. Once it becomes known that priorities are set by how quickly you get it to the lab, you’ll be surprised how much faster people will get things to the lab.

It Avoids Disagreements About Priorities

Another added benefit of First In, First Out is that we avoid the constant shuffle and debates about the lab’s priorities. Those are now set by the impartial clock. It may not set the perfect, but the order is clear to everyone involved.

When Everything Is Hot, Nothing Is

As the lab demand grows and resources get more constrained, testing tends to take longer. Tests are waiting on equipment, or they’re waiting on technicians who can perform them. At this point, more and more testing becomes “hot”, until almost everything is a priority.

Once everything is a priority, how do you prioritize those? Well, let’s take even more time to for meetings and discussions about priorities. While that can sort of work, it’s takes more and more time away from actually getting the testing done.

Final Thoughts

While the reality of lab testing will probably include some amount of “move this to front of the line”, it shouldn’t be the default. First In, First Out should be followed as much as possible to foster the proper incentives for people requesting work from the lab. People who drop off stuff “on-time” should be rewarded for it, and First In, First Out does just that.

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