iMicrobes

Building Safety Into Core Values

At a glance

Problem

iMicrobes needed a way to codify proper experimental procedures to ensure the safety and success of their growing team.

Solution

With Slab, every experiment is built on documentation that includes a baked-in safety section outlining the requirements of every lab protocol employees perform.

Key Points

  • Standardizes safe experimental processes for the whole team
  • Makes complex protocols accessible and easy to follow
  • Increases document visibility leading to more consistently updated policies

iMicrobes is a synthetic biology company that engineers microbes to make renewable chemicals and materials from methane, biogas, and waste materials.

Early on in the life of iMicrobes, CEO Derek Greenfield knew he wanted safety to be a core value of the company. He also knew that one of the biggest challenges in the way of doing that was crafting the right way to store and organize all the relevant information for helping people conduct safe experiments.

Making sure that all information on safety and protocols is not just accessible, but easy to find—not just usable, but useful—is a crucial problem for experimental ventures to solve. That's how the iMicrobes team started using Slab.

We decided safety was going to be a core value for the company... And we were thinking, "Cool, where are we going to store this information? How are we going to store it in a way that people find it useful and are actually going to read?"

Picture of Derek GreenfieldDerek GreenfieldCEO

Often, Greenfield says, safety in a lab “can be something where you discuss it once, and you come up with some set of rules, and then it becomes stale and outdated.”

Eventually, circumstances change. Your safety protocols get out of date and people start going outside them—in small ways at first. At some point, however, people just stop paying attention at all.

Normalization of deviance can be highly dangerous in a laboratory environment. For iMicrobes, the most powerful way to bring safety into the lab would be literally introducing safety into the experimental workflow.

After documenting all of their protocols in Slab, iMicrobes added a section to each doc on the safety considerations researchers should take with particular techniques or materials.

Now, when a member of the team embarks on a “new experiment they've never done before” or a new material they've never used, “they go to Slab to read the protocol” and “get the safety right there as part of a document.”

Since it's always in the doc, this keeps safety top of mind. And since each Slab doc is easily edited, there's zero friction for members of the team to update the safety protocols if it is out of date when they perform the experiment. Each time a member of the team does update a doc, it pings the team's Slack—keeping everyone on the same page about changes in the documentation.

With this systematic approach to documentation in Slab, every employee understands how to safely move forward with an experiment regardless of their personal past experience.

With Slab... we've rolled out safety. On every protocol page, there's now a safety section for it. And that is, I think, pretty cool, because it's just part of the workflow when people are thinking about experiments.

Picture of Derek GreenfieldDerek GreenfieldCEO

Documentation through Slab ensures that every experiment builds on an existing base of prior knowledge. When new information comes to light, existing processes can easily be updated to account for any changes.

And because people can access safety information quickly, they know their own contributions to it wouldn't get buried under other documents—and they become more likely and more motivated to contribute.

“It's hard to get people to write a protocol. It's somewhat tedious and there's no benefit to them immediately, so I think making it more of a social experience for them and that they feel like it's not just being buried when they get a Slack notification about it and people can thumbs-up,” says Dr. Greenfield.

This boosts engagement and leads to documents that live and grow with the team. For a company whose business model is built on continual experimentation, the ability to scale their internal processes is paramount.

team

Ensure safe experiments for every team member

Using Slab as their internal wiki gave the iMicrobes team a way to create documentation on testing protocols that prioritized the welfare of their team and supported the company's adoption of safety as their number one core value.

“We use it for protocols. We do a lot of lab work here, and people write up a protocol for how to set up a type of an experiment or for safety type protocols,” says Dr. Greenfield. This created a framework for standardized experiments that was repeatable and easily tracked.

Systemizing these protocols on a company-wide level ensures compliance throughout the team. With each employee reminded of proper protocols at the start of every experiment, the company can trust that important precautions are always taken.

By documenting important safety protocols in Slab, iMicrobes is able to uphold their core values at scale.

Simplify complex processes for faster growth

As a small but growing team, iMicrobes needs to work quickly and independently. Encountering bottlenecks or a lack of information makes it harder for employees to run experiments, even ones they were unfamiliar with. This is especially true for new team members who are just getting up to speed.

Slab helps structure the way that iMicrobes shares information within their team. “We started using it as a knowledge repository and it's become more dynamic as we continue to use it for protocols and policies and postings.” Dr. Greenfield adds, “As we bring on more people to the team it [Slab] grows to fit the needs of the organizational change.”

To scale their team quickly in a field that requires a substantial amount of specific knowledge, every new team member needs to understand experimental processes and best practices from the start. When information is easy to find and reference, it is immediately more memorable and, therefore, more valuable.

The ability to simplify and codify the inherently complex processes involved in lab experimentation gives iMicrobes a clear path to sustainable growth.

assay

Boost engagement with existing documentation

With Slab, every team member's contributions to experimental protocols are highlighted in documentation. This collaborative knowledge-sharing boosts engagement across the entire team and makes each member more likely and more motivated to contribute to the conversation.

Making safety protocols visual and collaborative also decreases the cognitive effort needed to complete a task. This makes compliance easier and moves products forward systematically.

“When it was just the three of us, we just saved Word documents on our Google Drive,” says Dr. Greenfield. “But it was annoying to maintain, and it didn't have a lot of the functionality we wanted—mainly it didn't connect with anything else. It was also really annoying to use images and make lists, so people weren't using it.”

Ease of use and searchability increased engagement with iMicrobes documentation and helps make sharing updates and new documentation better throughout the team.

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