Overview Team- and Working-Structure
With such a large team, we quickly realized the necessity of a clear working structure in every aspect of the project. Thus, we compiled a list of everything we learned and established in the last months. We want to provide this knowledge to future teams to help them kickstart their workflow. Below, a compiled list with suggestions on how to structure the workflow can be seen.
Elect a Team Leader responsible for organizing the whole team and especially watches the competition requirements and the deadlines. It is recommended that this person takes a vacation semester.
Elect a Subgroup Leader for every existing subgroup (such as lab, human practices, design, etc.). Every Subgroup Leader is communicating with the Team Leader and is also responsible for organizing the subgroup.
Use Microsoft Teams or something similar as a team platform.
For any regular meeting, it is advisable to use the method of ‘silent meetings’. It works as follows: Before the meeting, every Subgroup Leader (or person with news) writes a detailed description about what they have to say. When the meeting begins, all participants mute themselves and read through the agenda. When finished, participants can give a response e.g. by raising their hands digitally. For questions during the meeting, the comment feature in Word can be used. Once everyone has finished reading, the team can go over to discuss topics that require further discussion. This method has two major advantages: Members that missed the meeting can easily catch up and it tremendously reduces the time needed for a meeting.
Carefully think about the file organization in Teams and correctly name documents, e.g., with dates. Prevent naming files ‘presentation’, ‘presentation_new’, ‘presentation_updated’, … as this only causes confusion.
Right from the beginning, start a list with every person that contributed to the project in any way, like ‘experts’, ‘supervisors’, ‘sponsors’.
Use a calendar to keep track of every meeting happening. It can also be used for vacation periods for members of the team.
Use ‘GitHub’ to work on the wiki with the whole team. We used the wiki-starter Template from iGEM BITS Goa and their WikiSync. That saved us a lot of struggle with uploading our content to the iGEM Website. Furthermore, team members with no knowledge of html were able to write the wikitexts in markdown, which is much simpler. It keeps the progress structured and allows constant backups in case some things go wrong. We wrote a tutorial for GitHub on the start page of our wiki GitHub repository.
It is recommendable to have at least one meeting a week. This year, we had two meetings a week: one general update meeting and one on Fridays to plan experiments for the next week.
The lab shifts can be scheduled in the next week with available persons by implementing a shift availability schedule into Teams. The Subgroup Leader then used this shift availability schedule to plan the shifts for the next week in a Google Calendar. We used a simple Excel table:
Figure 1: Schedule planner for laboratory subgroup.
It is advisable to assign specific tasks to group members, e.g. one or two people responsible for any orders, people who focus more on research or communication with supervisors and experts.
Additionally to the shift availability schedule, we implemented a general availability plan for the remaining weeks of the competition to estimate the available capacities. For example, it could look like this:
Figure 2: Availability planner.
Instead of a manual lab book, it is highly recommendable to use a digital notebook. We settled on the program ‘Benchling’ as it provided the best structure and features in the free version. Using a digital notebook makes the organization much more manageable. It allows every member to easily follow up and makes follow-up work much more convenient.
Our general folder structure with organizational features that will be described in more detail can be seen below:
Figure 3: Structural organization in benchling.
We started to introduce ‘Standard Operation Procedures’ (SOPs). These are detailed protocols for the methods we used in the laboratory, that follow a distinct structure. The goal of an SOP should be that every member of the team can perform a method just by reading through the document. The usage of SOPs has two advantages: Each member can perform every method relevant for the project, while also reducing the risk of errors or error propagation. Furthermore, when writing a protocol, a Benchling tag function can be used to tag the SOPs for the performed experiment. Below, the general structure for an SOP can be seen as well as an example SOP. All our SOPs are part of our contribution.
Figure 4: SOP structure.
In addition to the SOPs, the same protocol structure should be used for all experiments. For this, we added a standard protocol structure that is followed at all times. This ensures a clear structure for all the experiments and allows each member to quickly understand an experiment. Our standard protocol structure looked like this:
Figure 5: Protocol structure.
Adding a To-Do list to Benchling can help organize tasks and planned experiments. In the To-Do list, we defined short-, mid-, and long-term goals and experiments.
Another important part of lab organization is keeping up with an inventory. It helps everyone to immediately find where everything needed is stored. It is advisable to assign each tube its place in a storage box. To better understand the system, the picture below displays how we approached our inventory system. The place of storage of these boxes should always be added (e.g. freezer, fridge, etc.).
Figure 6: Inventory organization.
Figure 7: Freezer and fridge box organization.
A further step towards an organized laboratory is using a table to keep track of all the orders and planned orders. This way, every member can check what was ordered and not just the person responsible for orders.
Figure 8: Laboratory orders organization.
Tubes should be labeled properly! We cannot stress this enough, please label the tubes properly to avoid any confusion and mistakes in the lab. Always write down what the tube contains, the date, and the concentration (if applicable). Since the labels wash off easily when frozen or they get in touch with any detergent, circular paper stickers for labeling (see image below) should be used. If multiple copies or aliquotes of one reagent exists, the tube in usage can be marked with an ‘X’ so that one tube is emptied before using another one.
Figure 9: Proper labeling of tubes.
Try to define the way of writing units, labeling tables, labeling images, etc., from the beginning and make sure to follow this structure. This reduces the amount of revision and correction afterward.