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Zen and the Art of LIMS Troubleshooting

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Zen and the Art of LIMS Troubleshooting

By Brian Jack, Principal Consultant


A fellow consultant recently turned me on to the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is a fascinating look into the philosophy of quality. While the premise of the book (at least I think it is the premise) is that science and art are not entirely inseparable, one of the effects the book had on me was that it made me revisit the "scientific method".

Although the words may not ring familiar, anyone having gone through a high school junior level chemistry class should remember the method of conducting science experiments:

  • Observe a phenomenon
  • Formulate an hypothesis
  • Design an experiment to test the hypothesis
  • Perform the experiment
  • Draw conclusions based on the data gathered

Through the analogy of motorcycle maintenance, the author illustrates how the scientific method is used effectively in everyday operations. This made me think about applications of the scientific method in everyday life. Of course, I found that in the world of LIMS and software development, there is the opportunity to practice the scientific method - we constantly find ourselves troubleshooting issues during the development and support of our applications. We don’t think about phenomena, hypotheses, and experiments in those terms regularly (at least I don't), but in reality, the art of a good troubleshooting session lies in following the scientific method. In other words, a troubleshooter, like a good mechanic or a scientist, doesn't draw conclusions prior to formulating a hypothesis, creating an experiment, and conducting the experiment.

I tell anyone that listens that I love working support desks for LIMS projects. My reasons for liking it have always been vague. I'll say something like: "I like solving puzzles” (but in real life I hate puzzles) or “I like the fact that each problem is like it's own little project and has a beginning and end.” But I realize now that the real reason is that I like following the scientific method in order to learn. Before joining LIMS implementation teams, I was an analytical chemist. Troubleshooting problems in a support organization brings me closer to my roots of chemistry experiments.

Now, Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance made the point in his book that those that excel at the scientific method do so because they are in touch with the quality aspects of the job. That gets into the "Zen" part of the method. And again, in the book, motorcycle maintenance is the example used. Never mind. Read the book- whether you agree or disagree, it is worth the time spent.

I don’t know if I completely agree with the idea that quality gives birth to the subjective and objective, but I have come to believe that those that enjoy LIMS troubleshooting (I mean really enjoy it) are those that were trained in the scientific method and use it automatically. Conversely, those that do not excel or enjoy LIMS troubleshooting do not know the scientific method. I am going to be exploring this more with my associates to see if this theory holds true.

About the author: Brian Jack is a Principal Consultant and partner at J&R Consulting, Inc, a consulting firm specializing in LIMS systems.. Weekly articles on LIMS software and contact information can be found at .

Posted by: limsfinder on Jul 05,05| Profile| LIMS - Laboratory Information Management Systems


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