High Throughput Strategy. Step 1

By | December 2, 2014

Step 1. What are we doing? How do we move forward?

High throughput experimentation is qualitatively different from standard laboratory work. The simple fact of 10-100x speedup changes the game as much as switching from propellers to jets changed the airline industry. This must be reflected in the laboratory strategy. Nevertheless, the basic development of business goals and objectives remains the same.

Goals and objectives

The very first step is to define the goals of the project and the objective of the experimental program. At this stage of the program, the focus should be on diagnosis, not on solutions. A good problem statement avoids looking to the solution prematurely, and helps make sure the right problem is solved.

Even though you may be working in the lab, the program must refer up to the goals of the business.

The Flowdown Tool – Business Goals

A tool called “flowdown” is useful for integrating the project into the company goals and assuring a return on investment. It helps to answer the following questions:

  • Who are your customers?
  • What is the flow of customer needs from the ultimate customer to you?
  • What are the goals for each specific customer need?
  • What is their priority?
  • How are those goals measured?
  • What is the specification for success?
  • Are we hungry enough for a real breakthrough that we are willing to tear up the old playbook?

An example for GE’s Diphenyl Carbonate (DPC) process might be:


  • General public
  • GE Plastics
  • LEXAN business
  • LEXAN research
  • Process R&D
  • R&D group

  • Better, cheaper plastics products
  • Lower cost raw materials
  • Cheaper route to DPC
  • Route based on cheap CO
  • New Catalyst
  • New search strategy

Warning: there are usually multiple needs at each level!!

Laboratory Strategy

From the business goals, we move to the laboratory strategy. We can ask:

  1. What is already known about the system? And what do we need to forget?!
  2. Have the tools of process mapping, root cause analysis, and Pareto Analysis been used to make sure the right things are being studied?
  3. Will some business action result from this experiment? (If not, why are you wasting your time??)
  4. Is this Exploration (really looking for something new) or Exploitation (homing in on a known target area)? If a High Throughput study is contemplated, it is almost certainly exploration. How broadly do we want to search for a discovery?
  5. What is the quickest and simplest measurement of our objective that will allow us to distinguish between a “hit” and a “dud”?

Once these are clear, the laboratory objectives can be defined. An objective should be unbiased, specific, measurable, and of practical consequence.

  1. Unbiased: the team must encourage participation by knowledgeable and interested people with diverse perspectives.
  2. Specific and measurable: the objectives should be detailed, preferably quantitative, and stated so that it is clear whether they have been met.
  3. Of practical consequence: something will be done differently as a result of this experiment.

Another good way to know an objective? Each objective will start with a verb. Here are some good ones: “Increase,” “find,” “decrease,” “speed up,” “implement.” Start an objective with one of these words, and then use numbers to make it measurable.

In the next section, we’ll put some reality about those words “make it measurable”.


If you want to jump right to the whole strategy, contact me at +1 413 822 5006 or cawse@cawseandeffect.com!




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