Pauwels people

Working as a Project Manager Labs: Joeri Vercammen

15 Jan 2020
In our series ‘Pauwels People’, our colleagues introduce themselves and their projects. Today, we are going to get acquainted with Joeri Vercammen, Senior Life Sciences Consultant at Pauwels Consulting.

Joeri joined Pauwels Consulting in 2015 and he has just finished an interesting project at Genzyme. In this interview, Joeri talks about this project and he shares some good advice for consultants who are looking for an interesting job.

Joeri, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Joeri: Of course! I am Joeri Vercammen. I am 41 years old, married and I have two children: Noah and Brynn.

“I am an entrepreneur at heart. I am very passionate and I love swiftness and flexibility.”

What do you do in your spare time?

Joeri: I like to spend the little spare time I have with my family. I also try to stay in shape by exercising regularly. In the gym, for example.

Where and what did you study?

Joeri: I studied chemistry at Ghent University and. In 2002, I graduated as a doctor. My specialty was chromatography / mass spectrometry.

Great! And what did you do after college?

Joeri: After my studies, I worked as an operational manager at an environmental laboratory for 6 years. Since then, I have been working as a freelance consultant with a specific focus on lab management challenges.

What kind of ‘lab management challenges’ are we talking about specifically?

Joeri: Well, I am responsible for the ‘rationalization’ or improvement of measurement procedures by means of a clever combination of existing equipment and new techniques. I also determine the right balance between throughput optimization (lean) and quality assurance. In my job, I really need a healthy dose of creativity and perseverance to find the right solutions to many challenges, but that’s what keeps the job interesting of course.

Why do you prefer working as a freelancer?

Joeri: I am an entrepreneur at heart. I am very passionate and I love swiftness and flexibility. I really don’t like the inertia or sluggishness that are often characteristic of larger companies.

What are the main advantages of a freelance job?

Joeri: I love the freedom to choose interesting projects and develop opportunities. I enjoy getting in touch with different kinds of people, building my own network, and creating new opportunities on my own within that network.

Are there any disadvantages as well?

Joeri: Yes, there are. I don’t like the uncertainty. You never know for sure whether you will succeed in the long run or not, which results in extra pressure. The best thing you can do to cope with that pressure is converting it into positive energy, but – of course – that’s always easier said than done.

“In my job, I really need a healthy dose of creativity and perseverance to find the right solutions to many challenges, but that’s what keeps the job interesting of course.”

Which of your previous projects did you like most of all?

Joeri: I’ve already worked on more than 300 projects. So it is rather difficult to pick a favorite. (Laughs). But if I would have to choose, I would opt for a series of projects I’ve done in the context of the new measurement technology ‘SIFT-MS’. This is a revolutionary technology for the analysis of gaseous components, and I have contributed to its commercialization. Thanks to these projects, I also had the opportunity to spend time with the producer in New Zealand (Syft Technologies). Beautiful country!

What were the timelines of your past projects?

Joeri: They varied considerably. I usually manage multiple projects simultaneously and I act as a gatekeeper for the approach and strategy. I also work very closely with dedicated ‘Subject Matter Experts’ in the name of the client.

Can you tell us a bit more about some interesting clients you enjoyed working for?

Joeri: Interscience comes to mind, a supplier of laboratory equipment in the Benelux. At Interscience, I mainly supported feasibility studies and the evaluation of new equipment. SampleQ was an interesting client as well. SampleQ is a supplier of automated sample preparation systems. Thanks to my experience in the field of Lean, I was selected to simplify manual lab processes and translate them into an automated alternative.

How did you get in touch with Pauwels Consulting?

Joeri: To keep abreast of the laboratory market, I’ve been running a query on some job sites for years now. Of course, Pauwels Consulting is very active in that market and regularly offers interesting projects, for their employees as well as for freelancers.
That’s why I decided to contact Pauwels Consulting. I wanted to see what we could do for each other. This led to the first collaboration in 2015.

You have also just completed a great project at Genzyme for Pauwels Consulting. Can you tell us a bit more about this project?

Joeri: Years ago, Genzyme started research activities in the Technology House in Geel. These activities – including the construction of the pilot plant – eventually led to a first active product with FDA approval. In recent years, Genzyme has grown considerably. As a consequence, the Technology House was getting too small to accommodate all research activities in an effective way. Therefore, in 2015, the company announced the construction of a completely new MSAT (Manufacturing Sciences And Technology) lab.

What was the goal of this project?

Joeri: The aim of the project was to develop a relocation plan and coordinate the move of all laboratory instruments in accordance with the specific ‘Quality Assurance’ requirements of GMP and with attention to the complexity of the instruments themselves. In other words, I needed to create a logic in a complex set of instruments – over 800 items – by streamlining requirements.

What were the timelines of this project?

Joeri: The project started on January 4, the move itself took place in April, and the follow-up lasted until May.

Which parties were involved in this project?

Joeri: Let me think… MSAT management, representatives of the various MSAT departments, representatives of QA, validation, calibration, finance and procurement, project managers for the construction of the new lab and a site manager ‘lean’. In addition, we also hired a moving company and instrument suppliers for additional support.

What were your responsibilities during this project?

Joeri: I was responsible for the development of the relocation plan, the consultations with the moving company, the coordination of the move and I was the primary contact for questions about the move as well.

What kind of tasks did you have to perform on a daily basis?

Joeri: In the first few months, I mainly inventoried the various assets and I also mapped the requirements of all the MSAT-related departments. Then I coordinated the move itself.

What results did you achieve?

Joeri: In short? The relocation was successfully completed within the deadline (smiles).

What did you learn during this project?

Joeri: I have learned that planning is important, but your planning should not be too rigid. After all, there will always be some unexpected problems that can only be tackled the moment they present themselves. For example, we had prepared a tentative timetable for the removal of all items. We would move all items in two separate ‘waves’, but – thanks to the motivation and enthusiasm of the MSAT employees – a lot more items were available for relocation during the first wave. We decided to seize that opportunity and move all those items during the first wave, but this resulted in a lack of moving equipment such as containers, pallets, etc.

What were some of the fun aspects of this project?

Joeri: I really liked working with people from different departments. Thanks to our motivated team, everything went smoothly.

What were the less pleasant aspects of the project?

Joeri: There weren’t any, really. Or maybe one: to move some of the items we needed a crane. The night before we would use the crane I did not sleep very well (laughs). But in the end, the crane was installed and used without major problems.

“The Pauwels Consulting network offers many opportunities. I’d say: be open to those opportunities and actively participate in them.”

What are your personal ambitions for the future? What kind of projects would you like to perform next?

Joeri: Everything about the ‘lab world’ – in the broadest sense of the word – fascinates me. I do have a slight preference for top / down projects though. By this I mean projects where I can work on an organizational level, preferably in the field of R&D.

Do you have any tips for new or future colleagues?

Joeri: The Pauwels Consulting network offers many opportunities. I’d say: be open to those opportunities and actively participate in them. The first step – deciding to take a new direction – is usually the hardest, but once it is taken, everything will be all right.

Thanks for sharing this wisdom with us Joeri. And thank you very much for this interview!

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