Project management and scheduling for a scientific team
July 16, 2014 5:42 AM   Subscribe

I am part of a large collaborative lab-based project. We are currently disorganized and inefficient and are are looking for some project management systems or tools.

I’m currently working in a university lab consisting of 15 volunteers as part of an international science competition called iGEM. It's a collaborative project where everyone gets together on a weekly basis, comes up with ideas, and then as a team we get those ideas to work in the lab. I’m looking for some project or workflow management tools that can help us be more efficient.

In the lab, there are multiple experiments/streams of work running at the same time. Each person may be involved in multiple streams, and they come in to the lab 2-3 days a week or whenever they have time to do lab work.

The problem at the moment is that no one knows what’s going on in any other experiment besides the one they are working on. As a result, people don’t know what needs to be done. No one, even the leader, knows where we're at with everything at any given time, which makes scheduling impossible.

This results in inefficiencies. For example, Person A will start an experiment and then can’t come in for the next few days for whatever reason. In the interim that experiment doesn’t progress, even though Person B may have capacity to continue the work. So, we have these islands of work being done, with people being unable to see what else they can do in the lab.

I’d like to find some sort of system or groupware that would allow us to easily see what work is underway and what needs to be done next. It would also be great if we could somehow assign this work to specific team members on specific days. This would allow us to schedule in people based on what needs to be done.

I had a look around but I couldn’t find anything specifically designed for this application. However, I imagine there must be some kind of task management/scheduling tool out there that we could use. Thanks in advance for your help!
posted by strekker to Technology (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Trello has some of these capabilities. You can create lists of things to do along with checklists within parts of the project. You can assign work to other people (or indicate that you are doing a specific part) and also add deadlines. It's free, and I find it pretty easy to use. Part of what I like about it is the transparency and accountability it creates. It also has a nice iphone app (don't know about android).
posted by Mouse Army at 5:57 AM on July 16, 2014

In addition to a scheduling problem, it sounds like a communication problem. You need to make sure people will update the info consistently and accurately/fully and also check on the status of experiments within the software. Since they are volunteers, not students or employees, there is also a lot more hand-holding necessary and that time-suck needs to be built into the expectations of the PM. Are you sure a giant white board with a chart (what has been done, next steps, timelines for individual experiments etc) right by the exit to the lab with tonnes of markers ready wouldn't be the most efficient way to ensure information is entered and shared with everyone? Whatever you chose, make sure you have everyone's buy-in and a bit of training at the weekly meeting since this is a new process and some people may be "set in their ways" and resist additional work/change even though they recognise the necessity of it.
posted by saucysault at 6:00 AM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

How about Asana? Good at delegating tasks, keeping people accountable, and easy to manage.
posted by kariebookish at 6:56 AM on July 16, 2014

If you have a relatively hierarchical structure of organization, then Asana is great; if you have a collection of people working relatively, then Trello is great.

It can get a little hard to get Trello, but the best two ways to use it, in my experience, is to 1) chart out a sequence of processes/statuses ("to do", "processing", "waiting for response", etc) with lists and have each 'card' stand in for a single project or task, so you can see where each project is immediately. Internal to each project are checklists, comments, etc. Or 2) to use the lists to chart out the days of the week, as a mix between a calendar and a week-planner, but so that every to-do item has a specific date attached to it rather than accumulating in the pile of "to-do-sometime-soon".
posted by suedehead at 7:04 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

For the scientific workflow side: Have you looked into workflow software, there are many available that could be helpful to your project. Try myExperiment, Taverna, or Vistrails.

For the project management side: Several people have suggested Trello, which I agree might be your best option

Hope this helps, good luck!
posted by lullu73 at 7:09 AM on July 16, 2014

No idea if this is a good match at all, but I randomly have a friend who works for a lab management start-up called Quartzy.
posted by forkisbetter at 7:18 AM on July 19, 2014

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