Lean “Leader Standard Work” Sheets in Research Administration

Organizations around the world are adopting the Lean and Six Sigma methodologies, and this includes the Leader Standard Work sheet. The Leader Standard Work sheet is a double-sided printed sheet that you carry with you and take notes on throughout the day.

This sheet acts as many things—your daily/weekly/monthly to-do lists, reminder of organizational goals, and coaching notes for your employees. Chances are good that, for better or for worse, you are already doing all of these things in other systems. We all have our to-do lists and upcoming projects reminders. This sheet brings all of those pieces together in a unified format.

The purpose of the Leader Standard Work sheet is to build a framework around your position, improve processes, and to help you become a better leader. If done correctly, you should be able to hand this piece of paper to someone brand new and they would have instant knowledge of what you do. Think of it as preparing notes for your backup when you go on vacation—everything you do is written down in one place.

Unfortunately, the usual template that comes out of the box from your employer usually doesn’t fit the life of a Research Administrator. We have a different sort of daily work that, at times, is inconsistent and 90% variable from day to day. But do not despair, with only a few changes we can turn the standard Leader Standard Work sheet into a useful tool for the world of research leadership.

The most common fields within a Leader Standard Work sheet are generally not applicable to us and what we do. I took the standard form, and created an entirely different form taking inspiration from the Passion Planner, the concept of a bullet journal, and the teachings of the Lean and Six Sigma methodologies.

My Leader Standard Work sheet includes the following fields:

  • Monthly Commitments (i.e., Orientation for new researchers)
  • Weekly Commitments (i.e., Tracking proposal development and education communications)
  • Daily Commitments (i.e., Submissions audit, tomorrow’s meeting agendas, to-do list audit, team rounds)
  • Research Proposal Development & Submissions
  • To-Do List
  • Follow-Up Items
  • Projects/Goals On Base (i.e., working on right now)
  • Projects/Goals On Deck (i.e., working on next)
  • Projects/Goals In the Parking Lot (i.e., working on in the future)
  • Cross-Training and Escalations (i.e., for specific direct-report employees/trainees)
  • Professional Development Goals
  • Good Things That Happened
  • Not-To-Do List (i.e., Do not tell trainees what to do-only ask questions and coach them)
  • Personal To-Do List
  • Space of Infinite Possibility (i.e., Quotes, doodle drawings, anything)

Front Page:

Back Page:

Does your company use the Lean system and the Leader Standard Work sheet? If so, how have you adapted the template to match your needs in research administration?


Creating a File System That Works: The Ultimate Research Administrator’s Guide


Have you ever created something that wasn’t immediately useful for any reason other than to just understand a process better in your mind?

I always think about my brain as a huge cavernous warehouse with giant floor-to-ceiling filing cabinets full of random information. Random papers spewing out of some corners, slowing falling down at random moments. Every now and again, I try to reorganize the filing system of my brain and put things back into perspective. I LOVE to create folder hierarchies to organize complex systems. (I know, it’s crazy and I should probably see someone about this obsession, but it does prove to be useful.) There’s something about putting it all down on paper—organizing every single facet of a detailed process—almost as if you are setting up the filing cabinets in your brain to store and organize all this information. Am I making sense?

So, recently I took it upon myself to try and organize the world of research administration. If you were to make a filing cabinet and folder system for ALL of research administration—what would it look like? There are so many options, so many moving pieces, so many different departments. It’s truly overwhelming how many different ways you could take to organize the folders and categories.

So, let’s start small. Let’s define the boundaries. First, this is designed for (and from the perspective of) the Research Administrator. (So, for the PIs in the audience, this is way too detailed for your needs.) Second, the purpose is simply for information management and comprehensive comprehension. I chose to think of this project as the outline for a book titled, “The Research Administrator’s Bible.”

The Research Administrators Certification Council website was a huge help to me during this process. If you are attempting a similar project, I would recommend checking out their “Body of Knowledge” at:  http://www.cra-cert.org/bodyofknowledge.html.

Now, to get started we have to sketch the biggest buckets of research administration:

  • Research Administration
  • Funding identification
  • Proposal Development and Submission
  • Budget Development
  • Sponsor and Public Interface
  • Legal Requirements
  • Award Management
  • Fiscal Management and Compliance
  • Reporting and Closeout
  • Resources

Yes, I know, there are a MILLION different ways you could categorize this…but we must start somewhere! So now that you have your broadest and biggest buckets, it’s time to take a deeper dive into the tiniest cracks. Now, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is in no way a complete list and still needs a lot of work, but here’s what I’ve come up with.

Click here to Download: The_Research_Administrators_Bible

If perhaps, you’re a weirdo like me and find this useful, let me know in the comments section and tell me how you used it in your work!

Stop Paving the Cow Paths

photo-1454179083322-198bb4daae41As a leader you probably do this every single day without realizing it. I know that I do – it’s called process reengineering. Taking the work instructions and figuring out how we can make it better, leaner, and more productive. Ask yourself every single day: How can we take each of our workflow processes and make them better?

Reengineering strives to break away from the old rules—involves recognizing and rejecting them, and then finding imaginative new ways to accomplish the same work. This reconstructive work cannot be planned or accomplished in small bits—it’s an all-or-nothing proposition with an uncertain result.

If you’re going to dissect the workflow in front of you and build something new and better, you have to go all-in and you have to go whole-heartedly, accepting what you do not know.

Some key principles I’ve found to be true:

  1. Organize around the outcomes, not the tasks.
  2. Have those who use the output of the process, perform the process.
  3. Absorb information-processing work into the real work that produces the information.
  4. Treat geographically dispersed resources as though they were centralized.
  5. Link parallel activities instead of integrating their results.
  6. Put the decision point where the work is performed and build control into the process.
  7. Capture information once and at the source.


Further Reading:

“Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate” by Michael Hammer at https://hbr.org/1990/07/reengineering-work-dont-automate-obliterate

A Leader’s Guide to Just-In-Time Training

When there’s a tight deadline, several things need to happen all at once. And, in a moment of crisis, the two most important things are leadership and education.

You need to know what needs to be done, and you need to know how to get it done.  But all too often, we as leaders focus on the managing more than the education. We hate to delegate—especially in a time of crisis, because we feel we do not have the time to switch into teaching-mode. There simply isn’t time to teach, it just has to get done correctly as soon as possible. But this is a critical mistake because it is that moment when employees need the education most.

Unfortunately, just-in-time training is often most needed when it’s the very hardest to implement. In these moments when anxiety is at its highest, our brains shuts down and it becomes difficult to make cognitive decisions. Anxiety makes it difficult to plan and organize for a long-term project, and yet this is often exactly what we need to do.

I’ve done a lot of reading on just-in-time training, and here’s what I have found.

There are basically six teaching modes depending on the situation and what you’re trying to accomplish, and they can be broken down into three main categories: competence (how to do something), character (way of being), and technique (way of doing.) All three of these can be broken down further two separate teaching styles, for a total of six ways to approach education with an employee:  training, coaching, encouraging, mentoring, performing, or managing based on the problem.

Competence (How to Do):

Training is the most basic stage where you give fundamental and technical background, this is what we most often think of as training—a crowded room with a PowerPoint show.

Coaching is more of an interactive experience where the employee is given space and room to come up with their own solutions.

Character (Way of Being):

Encouraging an employee is when you give them tools to build constructive workplace habits and practices.

Mentoring takes it a step further and you’re helping to develop an employee’s career path.

Technique (Way of Doing):

Performing is when  you’re giving instruction to complete a specific task. This is closer to true “just-in-time” education and will based on the leader’s ability to provide knowledge soon enough that the employee can apply it successfully, but late enough that the employee doesn’t need a full-blown training session.

Managing, is truly the heart of “just-in-time” and is focused solely on performingand not on knowing which, for most of us, goes against our nature.

The next time that you’re facing an educational moment, pause to think about what approach best fits the situation. Do you need to impart knowledge? Or simply get a task done within the next hour? Undersanding your teaching style and the many options available helps you to become a stronger leader and mentor to your employees.

For additional reading, I recommend Dr. John Kenworthy’s article “What’s the difference between coaching, mentoring, and counselling? at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/whats-difference-between-coaching-mentoring-dr-john-kenworthy?trk=hp-feed-article-title-share

Is my Masters Degree Worthless?

From the end of the tunnel standing in the clear sunshine of graduation, the educational system seems broken.

When I look back on the past 19 years of my education, the lessons that I remember the most are the classes which taught me how to interact with the world and the people around me—to truly appreciate differences, to recognize brilliant inspiration, and to trust my intuition. And yet, not a single course on this cardstock transcript is named “Curiosity 101” or “Trust your Gut.”

In preparation for a recent interview, I contemplated the inevitable question “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” And my answers were not formed in a classroom. I have a knack for identifying other’s motives and defusing a conflict before anyone else even notices what’s happening. I crave creativity and will act with imagination and conviction. I will use my intuition to understand the goal, to see it from every possible angle, and zoom down to the relevant (or irrelevant) details to better understand the path to success. My weaknesses? I’m rarely at complete peace with myself—as a perfectionist, I always think there’s a better way, a better state, a better option down the road.

When I look at these answers, I cannot help but wonder if my 19 years of education contributed more to my weakness than to my strengths. And, to me this is a tragic, terrible conclusion. The educational system was created with the intent to impart wisdom, knowledge, and to prepare our youngest citizens for a worthy and contributive life as Americans. And yet, today’s Bachelor’s degree has become a perfunctory requirement that amounts to four years spent without energy or enthusiasm because it is expected.

America houses some of the most brilliant minds in existence today, and so I ask you: How can we turn homework reports and assignments into creative fodder for Science or Nature magazine? How can we fix a broken educational system? How can we reshape expectations?

How can we fix what we have broken?







Lean and Six Sigma in Clinical Research

I think we can all agree that the current clinical research enterprise is broken. Processes are filled with duplication, overproduction, excessive motion and at the very end of it all, a dark yawning cavernous void of space and time between the translation of scientific discovery into the practical and widespread use in clinical applications. We all know that an entirely new infrastructure is needed, but the question is how do we get there? The methodologies of Lean and Six Sigma are one tool needed to help revamp the research setting.

Since the late 1980’s, healthcare organizations began looking at process-improvement systems. Today, many are implementing the Lean and Six Sigma philosophies to improve healthcare delivery and patient outcomes.  Hospitals big and small are now implementing a culture-change toward this style of management. While Lean and Six Sigma methodologies are applicable in both the basic science and clinical laboratory settings, there are currently more articles detailing the success in clinical laboratory settings. But, it is my belief that this will soon change and basic research laboratories will be swept up into the larger vortex of organizational lean thinking.

Here are just a few Lean resources to get you started into the world of Lean-Research:

  1. Article, “The Applicability of Lean and Six Sigma Techniques to Clinical and Translational Research” by Sharon A. Schweikhart, Ph.D. and Allard E Dembe, Sc.D. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835466/pdf/nihms-174869.pdf 
  2. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Re-engineering the Clinical Research Enterprise. NIH Roadmap for Medical Research website. Available at: http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/clinicalresearch/
  3. Article, “GLP (Good Laboratory Practice) Guidelines in Academic and Clinical Research: Ensuring Protection and Safety” by R. Vijayaraghavan, S. Ashok, Jayanthi Swaminathan, and G. Ramesh Kumar. Available at: http://www.rroij.com/open-access/glp-good-laboratory-practice-guidelines-in-academic-and-clinical-research-ensuring-protection-and-safety.pdf
  4. Article, “Evaluating Laboratory Performance on Quality Indicators With the Six Sigma Scale” by David Nevalainen, Lucia Berte, Cheryl Kraft, Elizabeth Leigh, Lisa Picaso, and Timothy Morgan. Available at: http://www.archivesofpathology.org/doi/pdf/10.1043/0003-9985%282000%29124%3C0516%3AELPOQI%3E2.0.CO%3B2
  5. Book, “Advanced Lean in Healthcare” by Craig Albanese, Darin Aaby, and Terry Platchek. Available at: http://www.amazon.com/Advanced-Lean-Healthcare-Craig-Albanese/dp/149614189X

Writing the Biosketch

macbook on wood deskWith all of the research going on, I often wonder about the people who do research about doing research. Yes, it does offer a circular logic, but think of the possibilities! For instance, I would really love to know the number of grant applications that were tossed into the reject pile simply because the PI was (yup, you guessed it) lazy. Once place I find this to be most prevalent is in the biographical sketches. How many of us reuse the same biosketch over and over again? I can hear you saying, “no one reads those anyway.” But it’s a lost opportunity to let you and your people shine their brightest!

You are brilliant. Your team is brilliant. Let them SHINE!

Usually, all senior/key personnel and other significant contributors are required to submit a biographical sketch or curriculum vita (CV) that describes their education background and degrees, professional certifications and experience as it relates to the leadership approach, governance, and organizational structure appropriate for the project. The credentials of collective team members needs to exude expert knowledge, authoritative understanding, proficient familiarity, and accomplished skill.

Consider the following when you assemble the biosketches for your proposal:

  • Understand the instructions for biographical sketches for your agency. Most use the NIH biographical sketch (biosketch) format which has recently changed. Prepare your biographical sketch exactly as instructed and using the form provided.
  • NEVER, NEVER copy a biographical sketch from another application to save time. This would be a grave strategic error! Reviewers will grade your team’s ability to complete the entire project based on the Biosketches.
  • Educational Block: At the top of the format page begin with your baccalaureate or other initial professional education, and include postdoctoral and residency training. The entries should be in chronological order and should include the name and location of the institution; the degree received; the month and year the degree was received, and the field of study.
  • Positions and Honors. At a minimum, each profile must include the person’s name, title, and position, however, reviewers are especially interested to know each individual’s previous experience, past performance, and training in the field of the proposal and, secondly, that researchers, investigators, and other team members are appropriately trained and well-suited to carry out the research.
  • Personal Statement: This is the most important piece, and should immediately support the viability of this project in your hands to the reviewer.
    • Should be written in first person singular.
    • Relate how your formal education, training and experience contribute to feasibility.
    • Stipulate how participation assures access to relevant resources, equipment and/or subjects.
    • Call attention to past publications or previous project with other current team members.
    • Indicate previous extramural funding that is relevant to current project.
    • If you are a new or young investigator, call attention to the fact here.
  • Selected Peer-reviewed Publications: NIH encourages applicants to limit the list of selected peer-reviewed publications or manuscripts in press to no more than 15. Do not include reviews, book chapters, published abstracts, or anything that is not a peer-reviewed manuscript. Separate the articles into two sections: most relevant to the current application and additional publications of importance. You may choose to include selected publications based on recency, importance to the field, and/or relevance to the proposed research.
  • Research Support: This section should have two sections, ongoing support and research completed in the last three years from the date for submission of proposal.
  • Ask your team to update their biographical sketches with a personal statement that is relevant to this application and then collect electronic copies of everyone’s biographical sketch and curriculum.
  • Update all biographical sketches so that they are formatted the same to emphasize that you have a fully integrated research team that is in perfect synchronization.

Taking these extra steps will help to polish off your application to a radiant shine for your reviewers. Remember to always put your best foot forward!