Solving the lab workflow design to implementation problem
For the modern laboratory, workflows require translation to software in order to become working systems. But, representing lab workflows can be difficult, and there is no standard for representing a lab workflow. Without careful definition and representation, you can introduce inaccuracies when translating a workflow to a software system or communicating it to a colleague. In addition, translating a workflow to software often requires workarounds to make the workflow fit into a traditional lab software data model. To help get around these problems, laboratory workflow representation should be standardized.
What is a BPMN graphical workflow?
Labbit Intelligent Lab System uses Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) to represent lab workflows. BPMN is a standard developed by the Object Management Group® Standards Development Organization, whose purpose is to incorporate best practices into standards that drive innovation across industries.1 BPMN effectively represents business processes so that they are understood by everyone from the business analyst designing the process, to the technical developer performing the implementation, to the manager overseeing the process. It is a powerfully intuitive form of graphical process representation that is flexible, expandable, and capable of complex modeling and exception handling.2
As we designed Labbit, we wanted to leverage the hundreds of thousands of hours of work that experts have already put into existing libraries, frameworks, and standards. Using a universally recognized process modeling system would prevent us reinventing the wheel or, in creating our own system to model any laboratory process, accidentally locking people into a custom system. That, coupled with our firm belief in open science, led us to select BPMN as the standard to represent workflows in Labbit. BPMN enables labs to model their workflows, no matter how exceptional, complex, or nuanced.
Applying BPMN to laboratory workflows
The best tool we have found for representing lab workflows is the Camunda Modeler®, a collaborative BPMN workflow design and process automation platform we’ve integrated into Labbit. Labbit is configured simply by drawing BPMN diagrams that match your lab’s workflows. Below is an example of a BPMN diagram that represents a sample preparation workflow (Figure 1).
Figure 1. A BPMN representing a single Illumina DNA Prep workflow3. Once samples are accessioned, a decision point (“X”) is reached where samples are sorted by type (tissue, blood, or DNA). The samples then move through various sample preparation processes and are routed at decision points based on certain conditions.
The BPMN in Labbit is integrated in such a way that each “box” in a diagram corresponds to a group of tasks in the Labbit user interface that together forms a logical step in a real-world workflow. As samples move through the workflow, each task defines the processing steps the sample undergoes. Exception handling is built into the BPMN so that samples can be automatically routed to the correct tasks within the workflow. With Labbit, you can use workflows to describe and manage tasks in addition to sample processing, such as sample and reagent lot accessioning, equipment validation and maintenance, and data review and approval, all of which impact laboratory turnaround times and data integrity. The first step to controlling a process is being able to model it, which in our experience is best done visually.
BPMN is intuitively powerful for labs
The BPMN standard bridges the gap between lab workflow design and implementation. It can be an empowering experience for labs that have never seen their workflows in a standardized graphical format. The benefits to seeing the workflow, versus reading through it in an SOP, are impactful for both stakeholders and implementers. Once labs see an accurate depiction of their processes, they begin to understand where variation can be introduced, where processes need to be formalized, and where bottlenecks may be affecting turnaround times. Since BPMN is a standard that most business analysts are already familiar with, it can accelerate both new employee onboarding as well as new and updated workflow design. And due to its readability, lab stakeholders can collaborate on complex workflows with ease. Perhaps most importantly, the BPMN standard opens up a way for labs to share and understand each other’s workflows across platforms.
The experts at Labbit can take any process, whether described in a series of bullet points or a detailed SOP, and quickly turn it into a BPMN diagram that accurately represents your specific laboratory workflow in a standardized way.
Labbit can help you accelerate the design and implementation of your laboratory workflows. Connect with us for a consultation.
- Mission & Vision. Object Management Group. https://www.omg.org/about/index.htm
- Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) Version 2.0.2. Object Management Group. Dec 2013. https://www.omg.org/spec/BPMN/2.0.2/PDF
- Illumina DNA Prep Reference Guide. https://support.illumina.com/content/dam/illumina-support/documents/documentation/chemistry_documentation/illumina_prep/illumina-dna-prep-reference-guide-1000000025416-10.pdf