Book:Justifying LIMS Acquisition and Deployment within Your Organization/Gaining buy-in from management and other stakeholders/The importance of manager (and stakeholder) buy-in

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3. Gaining buy-in from management and other stakeholders

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Laboratory-based organizations have projects, which ideally align with organizational goals. These projects may be small and simple (e.g., acquire new hot plates and stirrers as ours are currently failing) or large and complex (e.g., combine our data lakes, reduce IT requirements, and acquire software tools to better manage the data). In all cases, these projects inevitably have some impact on organizational stakeholders, and they often require some sort of approval before they begin. This means gaining buy-in from upper management or some other set of stakeholders.

The key to gaining buy-in for a project lies in "understanding"; if organizational leadership and other critical stakeholders understand why a proposed project is important to the organization, they are more likely to do what they can to support your project and ensure the project goals are met.[1] Is there still a possibility a proposed laboratory information management system (LIMS) acquisition and deployment may get rejected by management despite understanding the potential benefits to the organization? Of course there is, particularly if the organizational budget is tight or some other external factor is influencing the decision. But those factors are largely out of your control; you can only focus on prompting greater understanding of the organizational and personnel benefits that can be realized and taking the time to better understand any resistance made to the proposed changes. That's what the previous two chapters of this guide have helped you prepare for.

This third chapter will, ideally, help you put what you've learned from the prior two chapters together to pitch a LIMS acquisition and deployment proposal to not only upper management but also any other critical stakeholders that should be involved with the decision. It will also help you better understand stakeholder engagement and address resistance to the proposal.

3.1 The importance of manager (and stakeholder) buy-in

Upper management is usually who we think of when considering who has an important stake in a proposed LIMS acquisition and deployment project. There may be other stakeholders who have a say in the project, especially whether or not it is approved financially, but upper management buy-in is critical for your project. Depending on who those people are and what experiences they have with laboratory automation, this process may vary in difficulty. Upper management who are educated in the various details of the laboratory business and the value of automation will likely be easier to pitch to versus those who know little about optimizing laboratory workflows. This is where all the work from the previous two chapters comes in; it's time to help them understand how the organization and its people can flourish with the LIMS.

If you're dealing with knowledgeable management, you may see this justification process as a straightforward task. However, regardless of the level of laboratory knowledge management has, these stakeholders may raise one or more concerns about LIMS acquisition. Some of their perceptions and concerns might be rooted in past experiences or comments about computerized systems from the late twentieth century, or the failures of similar software projects by other organizations. Among those management concerns could be the following:

  • They may ask why the LIMS is important now versus six months ago, wanting to know what has changed.
  • They may ask what happens if the organization waits six to twelve months to decide whether a LIMS makes sense.
  • They may have investigated the subject of LIMS, seen it as another software project, and been concerned about opening a financial black hole.
  • They may be concerned about adding more stress to an already overloaded IT organization.
  • They may ask if the implementation can be done in a reasonable amount of time, and if the organization has the financial resources and expertise needed to get the job done.
  • They may ask if there are alternatives to LIMS that might be less costly and easier to implement.

Don't be put off by these concerns, or most any other rejection or resistance; trying to change people or an organization naturally leads to resistance, as people typically don't care much for change itself. This fact is vital to understand in the scope of acquiring buy-in for your LIMS project, which will require involving the right stakeholders from the very beginning. In her book Leading Business Change: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Organization, author Karin Stumpf highlights this fact as such[2]:

When you try to change people or an organization, you will encounter a multitude of rejections. If you do not deliberately and successfully extend your circle of influence to include the right people and stakeholder groups, you will undoubtedly encounter major resistance—from critical gatekeepers, from peers, from subordinates, and from all those affected by the changes. Some issues might just be individual ones, linked to power, social hierarchy, or self-interest. However, some resistance might be well-founded and, if addressed adequately, can help you avoid major pitfalls.
I have seen change leaders wait until the populating phase of a project before reaching out to an affected stakeholder group for the first time. By then, the rumors had spread and resistance had taken a foothold.

Even if the attempt to gain upper management's buy-in is made early on, resistance is natural, whether it's emotionally based or a rational response to the proposal. This is where the "understanding" mentioned in the introduction comes into play; in both emotional and rational rejection, a lack of understanding from the stakeholders, and even the project proposer, is often the root cause. In some cases, an actual need may not be met from the proposal, requiring further dialogue. Stumpf further highlights these issues[2]:

Sometimes resistance is emotionally based. Perhaps a person fears getting out of their comfort zone or resents being given more work. Often, though, resistance is a rational response. If someone does not see the need for change or disagrees with the solution, they may try to block the project. Also, if an employee does not know how to effectively interact with a new tool or how to be productive in the process, the employee may resist. Last but not least, people may resist because there is a real problem—your plan may have not addressed a real need, the tools may be substantially flawed, or the structure may leave a serious gap in operations. It could be that some people see that you do not have the requisite budget or buy-in from upper management. Because they believe your project will ultimately fail, why should they invest their time and energy?

Stumpf's statements emphasize the importance of upper management and critical stakeholder buy-in, as without it, an under-funded, under-supported LIMS project hindered by lack of understanding and lack of stakeholder engagement has cascading effects. This means taking your LIMS acquisition proposal seriously, involving upper management and other stakeholders, helping them understand the implications of the project, addressing their concerns and resistance, and conducting the necessary research to make the most relevant and convincing proposal as possible.

So far we've talked about primarily winning over upper management for a proposed LIMS acquisition and deployment project, but it's not always that simple, especially within larger organizations. While management is often a stakeholder in an organizational project, there often are other stakeholders inside and outside the organization. A "stakeholder," as defined by ISO 26000 Social responsibility, is defined as an "individual or group that has an interest in any decision or activity of an organization."[3] As such, identified stakeholders of the decision to acquire and deploy a LIMS could be anyone from IT personnel to the laboratory's clients, and anything in between. In some cases the number of apparent stakeholders, at first glance, may become daunting, requiring a formal stakeholder identification process that asks questions such as "who can help the organization address specific impacts?" or "who would be disadvantaged if excluded from stakeholder engagement?" Once identified, those stakeholders may be further separated into those most directly impacted by the LIMS decision vs. those who are only indirectly impacted.[3] From there, more refined decisions can be made as to who will be included in the LIMS justification process.

Conducting relations (i.e., interacting) with these stakeholders—management and otherwise—can be seen as stakeholder engagement. Involving management and other stakeholders demonstrates a commitment to the engagement process, as well to its importance. Kujala et al. define "stakeholder engagement" as "the aims, activities, and impacts of stakeholder relations in a moral, strategic, and/or pragmatic manner."[4] Their definition, based on a literature review and descriptive analysis of academic literature, provides a wide level of applicability to organizations of many types, and it highlights the benefits of engagement, as well as why it's valuable in particular to gaining buy-in of LIMS acquisition.

Table 9 shows an adapted version of the work of Kujala et al., highlighting how the different components of stakeholder engagement can benefit the organization. From this chart, we can see how a stakeholder may be more likely to buy into LIMS acquisition (or any other organizational decision) through a stakeholder engagement process that takes into account multiple aspects. If, for example, a stakeholder is involved with determining the potential strategic impacts (from Table 9, find the Strategic row and move right to the Impacts column) of a LIMS, the potential end result of that stakeholder engagement could yield improved efficiency, a greater competitive advantage, greater innovation, and an enhanced reputation for the organization overall.

Table 9. A tabular view of the benefits of stakeholder engagement, based on the definition by Kujala et al. and adapted from their research.[4]
Component Aims Activities Impacts

• Legitimacy, trust, and fairness
• Corporate responsibility and sustainability
• Stakeholder inclusion and accountability

• Stakeholder empowerment
• Democratic activities

• Enhanced social and ecological well-being
• Giving voice to stakeholders
• Stakeholder value


• Financial performance, risk management, and value creation
• Knowledge creation and learning
• Reputation building

• One-way and two-way communication activities
• Co-creation
• Supportive organizational structures

• Improved efficiency and competitive advantage
• Innovation
• Enhanced reputation


• Context-dependent problem-solving and decision-making
• Organizational and societal development

• Collaborative and dialogic activities
• Relationship cultivation

• Broad stakeholder involvement
• Inclusive accountability and disclosure activities
• Achieved resolutions

Outside of upper-level organizational management, LIMS consultancy Third Wave Analytics breaks down a laboratory-based organization's LIMS stakeholders into five groups, while adding what value a LIMS adds for each group. When you seek buy-in from any of these stakeholder groups, it will be useful to keep these potential benefits in mind during justification processes[5]:

  • Laboratory technicians and sample testing personnel: These stakeholders realize improvements from knowing sample status and location, using sample processing protocols, having automated data capture and analysis, and managing training activities.
  • Laboratory managers and supervisors: These stakeholders realize improvements from having more granular sample management tools, tracking inventory, managing analytical test scheduling, and verifying regulatory training requirements are met.
  • Laboratory directors and clinical lab scientists: These stakeholders realize improvement from having the tools to manage sample review and sign-out, identifying documents that require review and approval, and tracking quality control procedures for reagents and instruments.
  • Quality assurance and quality management services personnel: These stakeholders realize improvement from ensuring the appropriate review and storage of all testing and quality control (QC) data, managing controlled documents, and auditing lab data and records.
  • Research personnel: These stakeholders realize improvement from ensuring the difference between clinical and research samples, seeing which samples and data are associate with which studies/projects, and querying data from a single location.

Now that we've discussed why gaining buy-in from upper management and other critical stakeholders is important, let's take a closer look at the actual LIMS proposal process.