First 12-Week Plan for a New R&D Lab Manager

Congratulations! Now, you are a manager of R&D lab. Either you call it the first 100-day or the first 3-month, it is critical for you to plant a solid footing, establish credibility,  and demonstrate leadership. Here, I present you a 12-week plan to build a foundation for future success.

Week 1: Group

Get to know the group.  Socialize as much as possible in your new group. Go out for a group lunch where some people open up with ease over food. Have one-on-one meetings for some people prefer private conversation. Walk around the lab at least twice a day. Show up and let people see you, don’t hide behind office and senior management meetings.

Week 2: Company

By taking this job, you should have a decent idea about the company. What you need to do here is to know the org chart: operation, finance, HR, QA, RA, clinical, manufacturing, warehouse, sales and marketing, and whatever in the company. Find out who plays a role in your lab operations, and what’s the extent of that role.

Week 3: Projects (Clients)

This should be what you are good at and why you are tapped for this job in the first place. By your own inclination, I would guess, you have already done a good job to understand most of technical stuff of the projects in the group. Hence, the key at this moment is to strike a balance between big pictures and micro details. If you have external client-driven projects, you should try to be on every client meeting at least once by now.

Week 4: Month 1 Summary

The first month end should not impose too much burden on you. You may not be asked for any monthly report, major budget planning, or performance evaluation. Nevertheless, you should be aware of the routine month-end processes in your group. You should have opportunity to observe what needs to be done on a monthly basis, and what format for such month end reporting or briefing.

Week 5: Financials

If you are lucky, you are responsible to your own P&L. For many nature-born scientist, cost, expense, budgeting, purchasing, capital asset acquisition, and many other financial activities are part of their weakness. Learn and seek help. If P&L is not your responsibility, but your boss’s, don’t feel relaxed. You should be thinking about taking over such responsibility. Controlling your own P&L is preparing you to advance future career. Every business’ existence is to make money, so is your lab.

Week 6: Processes/SOP

Again, SOP is your forte. You should be trained on all SOP at this point, and know the training curriculum for your group. What to pay attention is whether any new processes or SOP need to be created and implemented. This is time consuming, but must be maintained. Try to delegate if possible.

Week 7: Communication

Never stop communicating. Communication takes time, a lot of time. By week 7, form routine communication channels which you fell comfortable with. Effective communication determines how you are going to influence people and culture. If you don’t have a habit of blocking time on the calendar for personal time, by now it is probably filled up by someone else. It is time to gain the control back. Block time everyday to meet group and key stakeholders. If you can meet them, don’t call; if you can call them; don’t email.

Week 8: Month 2 Summary

Second month end expects you to deliver reports as you may have known from the first month end. This summary report can comprise of schedule, planning, budgeting, P&L, personnel, or many other KPIs. This is your responsibility, no delegation. Your management will gain tremendous confidence on you, if you show the results.

Week 9: Prioritization

By week 9, you should be overwhelmed, especially as a rookie manager. Instead of 8-hour working day, 10 to 12 hours in the office and around the lab is the norm. To stay healthy and see the family at some normal waking hours, you should prioritize now. I suggest 36-hour rule: take action on clients, management, direct reports, issues, problems, requests within 36 hours. The action is basically prioritization. Buy time, respond or delegate based on prioritization.

Week 10: Delegation

Your effective team building and communication should help you find allies, in your group and around the corner. The allies are someone you can trust, you right hands. If not, you still have authority to mobilize your own troupe. Ask and delegate. Without delegation, you become your own worst enemy.

Week 11: Half-Year and 1-Year Plan

Now it is time to plan ahead. What you are going to do in next 3 months? in remainder of the year? Do you need more or less staff? Do you need more or less space? Do you need to gather more support in the organization? Is the cost out of control? Are the projects losing steam?

Week 12: Month 3 Summary

Month 3 routine shouldn’t be any surprise. Give yourself a score. If you demonstrated a firm grasp of lab operation with minor hiccups, that’s about average. With a couple of home runs, by winning new client, delivering ahead of schedule or surviving some big boo-boos, you will certainly earn kudos from everybody around. If you are able to show grand vision, rally every member, and influence the culture, you are on the way to a successful lab manager.


After leading several R&D groups with various size and cultures, I feel the importance of first 12-week plan for any new lab managers. I hope this will help you to steer away common pitfalls and pave the way to a productive career.


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