The Einstein Factor in Leading Science Based Projects

When asked if the people, practices and techniques required to lead science research projects are different from those in the general population, the answer is not just YES, but a resounding DUH!

The differences are vast, in part because we believe there’s an Einstein Factor at work. In other words, in science organizations, academic brilliance is astounding. People are passionate about their work, committed and motivated to discover cures that heal a world population or design instruments that unleash the secrets of the cosmos.

And, like Einstein, high science or technology workers tend to push back the established status quo with an expectation of peer defaulting interaction and inclusion. Respect, recognition and reward commensurate with work are all assumed.

On the flip side of the Einstein factor are also those challenges encountered when it comes to emotional savviness. Einstein considered himself somewhat of a dunce on the topic with two failed marriages and only a handful of friendships over the years.

While the statement of emotional impairment may be more stereotypical than not, it does raise an interesting point about the preconceived notion that a trade off is required – the intellectual superseding anything emotional. And yet, according to the State of Engagement Corporate Leadership Council survey in which 50,000 employees from 27 countries were surveyed, knowing how to create an emotional commitment with people is at the very core of increased productivity and performance.

Not only are people differences great, but the way in which project teams are populated and managed also vary from the norm.

Some of the more intriguing differences between coordinating and staffing a Science Based Project Team from those in other industries are highlighted below:

The differences between managing science based research projects from those in other sectors are enough that even Einstein himself would have lamented the gaps. The passion, commitment and motivation found in those who work in the high sciences and technology areas represents an uncommon population.

Scientists and Medical Doctors are really, really smart.

In fact, they tend to be in the 120 to 140 IQ range (Very Superior Intelligence) with some in the 140+ (Near Genius or Genius Level).
This isn’t to imply that you don’t find smart people in other industries. You do, just not so many gathered together in one spot.
Note: We certainly know those who hold Ph.D. or M.D. titles and couldn’t communicate directions to their Aunt Matilda’s house. Still, you get our gist- scientists and medical doctors are pretty dog gone bright.

Science based project teams are made up of different specialties.

The Aubrey Group, a bio-tech consultancy organization, has estimated that the typical medical device project requires 12 different technical/scientific specialties.
They believe this number also applies to pharmaceutical discovery projects.
What ifs are the language du jour. The more varied the background of people gathered together, the greater the boundless thinking.

It takes a very long time for a scientist to achieve the necessary proficiency in their field of study (PhD plus post Doctoral efforts)

Spending roughly 16 years studying their field of expertise, scientists usually end up knowing almost everything about their discipline.
On the other hand, it also implies that as specialists, they may not necessarily be savvy about general business functions.

Medical Device and Pharma Discovery projects are L-O-N-G, typically requiring many years from inception to product roll-out.

In fact, projects are often measured in decades.
This requires several project hand-offs as well as built in transfer of knowledge (both tacit and explicit).
Patience is paramount as is having a passion for staying the course over the long haul.

Based on extensive research, scientists and technical specialists tend to be “internal thinkers” and highly analytic in their approach to problem solving and decision making.

Myers and Briggs (originating with Carl Jung’s work) identified basic personality types. Those in high science and technology positions tend to fit in certain dimensions.
It certainly doesn’t mean they can’t fit into other niches, only that there’s a preference to be highly analytic when it comes to gathering information and very logic focused when making decisions.
A great deal of “noodling” takes place. Typically speaking, scientists and technical specialists are going to cogitate and extrapolate on the inside before opening their mouths and spouting off on the outside.

The impact of the differences requires that the leadership of the Science Project Team (whether pharmaceutical or medical device oriented) must take into account those emotional arguments which engage their fellow Einstein-like colleagues.

Engaging Fellow Einsteins – The Project Leadership Challenge

In the majority of cases, scientists are introduced to leadership by being drafted into managing a single laboratory function. For example, a Senior Chemist may reluctantly take on the job of guiding a group of chemists in a laboratory.

The good news is that he or she will usually have the respect of the team based on proven subject matter expertise and results. The bad news is that many organizations typically fail to provide the resources needed to support the scientific project leader. The reality of managing and leading science based projects (and the Einsteins who comprise the project team) requires an aptitude not readily understood.

Frankly speaking, scientific project leads must be schooled in the following:

Cross-Functional Capability – Chemistry, Biology, Animal and Human Modeling, Fluid Dynamics, IT, Statisticians, Clinicians are just some of the intertwined functions

Cross Company Alliances – As in Big Pharma meets Start up Biotech

Inclusion of Contract Research Organizations (CRO’s) – Integral parts of the project are often outsourced

Cross Cultural and Cross Country – Virtual research labs can be found in China, India and Neuchatel

Heavy emphasis on meeting schedules, cost objectives and scientific objectives – Complex drug discovery or instrument prototyping requires more than sticky notes on the wall

Key management involvement and visibility – Approval, sponsorship and guidance from the highest levels is paramount

Obviously, the challenges are enough that an organization’s senior management team must recognize that parachuting someone without an applicable track record into a complex project is akin to the darn parachute not opening – in other words “the flop heard round the world”.

What makes for necessary leadership traits? The following are specific tips and suggestions for those finding themselves thrust into a high science or technology project leadership role:

5 Steps to Leading Successful Science Based Projects

Step 1. Initiation Phase

During the early discovery phase, it’s extremely important that the project leader develop a project charter that includes the following:

* Final outcomes sought

* What is in scope and what is not

* Assumptions for each member of the team

* Constraints and limitations (time, money, resources, etc)

* Key stakeholders that must be involved

* Reporting and escalation ground rules

A charter document, even if only partially completed, is a reasonable start. With a mindset of inclusion and peer defaulting repartee, scientists can become involved early on in the project. They’re then more likely to champion the efforts throughout the project life.

Step 2. Planning Phase

As the leader, recognize that fellow scientists might resist detailed planning with the following “How can you ask me to schedule a break through? We’ve never done this before; how should I know how long it will take?”

Leaders must provide boundaries on how long individuals will be allowed to pursue a discovery quest. If the researcher can’t come up with a pre-determined time frame, then obtain a range of probabilistic estimates based on similar research.

Other areas that are important to put down on paper include: initial assessments of the risks and uncertainties; resources that will be needed in terms of personnel, consultants, equipment, and facilities. Building a Work Breakdown Structure to at least the third level should not be too difficult a task and completing a Responsibility Assignment Matrix provides sufficient planning details to launch the initiative.

The last stumbling block faced during planning is how to determine the milestones and defining what completion actually means. If done poorly, it will come back to bite you in the behind during execution and monitoring. If the milestone is the completion of an experiment, then establish clarity about ultimate measurements. For example, the leader may determine that the results which achieve a 90% success rate are adequate for completion.

Einstein was a perfectionist, so are most scientists and technologists. Set reasonable parameters that meet veracity tests versus striving for absolute perfection. If you don’t, scientists will tend to try for that 100% proof which may not only be unreachable but also unnecessary.

Step 3: Execution Phase

One of the primary difficulties during this phase is to maintain a single minded focus on the project. Especially on a longer project, a project team can become bored, frustrated and revert to their individual functional assignments. They may even want to jump ship to join some other project with seemingly more appealing project parameters.

What works well is to “chunk” the project into shorter phases (less than six months) with concrete milestones that are met including documenting results. This alleviates some of the frustrations related to a long term multi-year project.

The other primary difficulty is maintaining project scope. Scientists, who have natural curiosity, tend to chase after what may be promising lines of inquiry. The project leader’s job requires assessing these digressions and to decide whether or not to chase after the possibilities, go back to the original scope or shelve the promising approach for another time and another project.

Step 4: Control and Monitoring Phase

Monitoring a project’s performance is exasperated by getting status from members of the team. Often times, the project leader will be found chasing down status information. This usually requires the leader abandoning the computer screen in lieu of walking the lab hallways.

If you’re the leader, don’t be put off by some of the more common responses from team members:

I’m almost done, and I’ll get back to you real soon.
If you stopped bothering me about status, I’d already be done.
I think I’m 50% complete. I’ve spent about ½ the time and ½ the money allocated so I must be ½ done.
I’ve missed the due date, but I’ll catch up some time real soon.
Don’t worry about the lack of documented results, its all in my head and I’ll sit down soon and put it all on paper.

The project leader’s job is to accurately determine where the project tasks are at any point in time and identifying deviations that impact project objectives.

It’s sometimes constructive to have a scientist or technical specialist in the same area ascertain actual progress, especially if in an area that the leader is not comfortable with.

If there are negative deviations, work with the folks that caused the deviation in the first place to see if there’s a way to catch up. If not, get the people that caused the gap to work with down-steam groups such as quality, test, or regulatory to see if time can be made up by acceleration or fast tracking.

Another suggestion in the controlling and monitoring phase is to have the leader select the review period based on the time lines of the project. The concept of the weekly or monthly meeting doesn’t always make sense. As the project leader, determine how long you can go between knowing what’s occurring. It may be weeks or multiple months that make for the best reporting cycles.

And, scientists should not be burdened with putting on dog and pony shows that lead to PowerPointitis presentations. That’s an unnecessary expense no matter how you slice and dice resources. Rather, use the same data that the scientists are using to track their own work as project input. Bring in some other people who can help package the presentation for a targeted audience. We can almost guarantee the team’s gratefulness at not having to spend oodles of hours playing the “presentation guessing game”.

Step 5: Closing Phase

At the end of this long project (remember we’re talking years or even decades), the project manager is still the project manager. There are a few key points to keep in mind when closing out the project:

Start accumulating the necessary documentation before the conclusion and re-assignment date. At about the 90% point (based on weighted milestones) do an audit to see what exists and what is needed. This provides a fighting chance to get people to finish up reports and documents before they move to their next job.
The lessons learned and retention of tribal knowledge is particularly difficult in long-duration projects. No body remembers, assignments have changed and getting anything useful is normally not worth the effort. We recommend that lessons learned be conducted at key phase gate reviews during the life of the project and that these be used and summarized at the final project recap and assessment meeting.
Be particularly fair and inclusive in giving credit for work done and making sure that the key participants and contributors are included in technical papers, internal company reports or patent applications.

Some People Points to Ponder when Becoming a Project Leader

Very smart people don’t like to be told, they prefer to be asked

They need to be included in the decision making process

The advisory approach to decision making works well in this environment.

Scientists often respond best to peers rather than bosses

Consider having a respected peer deliver criticism or improvement suggestions if needed.

Never, ever criticize in public

Scientists and technologists tend to be emotionally married to their ideas. Unless you’re highly respected in the same field, your input may be rejected. Come at the argument by making a strong intellectual or business case followed closely by acknowledging the emotional underpinnings such as time spent, methods employed, merits of overarching objectives, etc.

Do your absolute best to obtain the latest and best enabling technology to support the project efforts.

If you’re spending $150K per year for a top level chemist, don’t skimp on providing him/her with the latest tools in computational chemistry.

To engage a savvy workforce, project leaders must establish trust.

Trust doesn’t just happen. It’s built on the back of respect which in turn is built upon congruity of values and experiences. In other words, leaders need to act consistently paying close attention to both word and deed.

Some of the great characteristics of smart knowledge workers include a lot of curiosity, a strong work ethic and a passion for results.

Your job as a leader is to make sure you don’t do anything to turn these folks off.

Scientists are often more motivated by the work given to them, recognition received for the work performed and the quality of their peers.

These motivational drivers tend to outpace money, title or other perks.

Recruiting the right people for the project team requires the ability to clearly describe the opportunity as a unique challenge.

Follow up by crafting a sound vision which shows how the project aligns with the organization, how the project cures a patient’s ailment and how the project can change the world for the better – no doubt lofty sounding, but you’d be surprised at the impact this reasoning makes.

Summary

The differences between managing science based research projects from those in other sectors are enough that even Einstein himself would have lamented the gaps. The passion, commitment and motivation found in those who work in the high sciences and technology areas represents an uncommon population.

As one of our colleagues said when asked why he worked in a science environment “I wake up each morning frothing at the mouth with the anticipation that I’m going to discover a cure for mankind.” Pretty heady stuff if you ask us. And pretty darn compelling – not only from an intellectual perspective, but from a view that takes into account – the heart.

Toast Etiquette – A Detailed, Yet Manageable Science

Giving that maid of honor or best man toast isn’t an easy thing to do.

Say for instance you already know what you want to say and how you want to say it. You have a few funny stories sprinkled in that will entertain the audience while not embarrassing the bride and/or groom. You have a few heart-felt lines that you know will mean a lot to the couple and will impress the friends, family, and invited guests in attendance. And you have that perfect last line — the consummate conclusion to your three minute long toast — that will bring applause when you finish raising your glass.

Many would say you’re lucky to be so far along in the toast-writing process. I, however, say there’s still much to learn. Your last major hurdle?

Becoming accustomed with toast etiquette.

To begin searching for what you will need to do, try finding out where and when you will be giving your best man or maid of honor toast. Will it be at the rehearsal dinner? And if so, where is the rehearsal dinner located? If the dinner is going to be held in a less formal atmosphere in front of only some family and a few friends, then you can a slightly less formal speech — and vice versa. Say you’re told that you will be giving your toast at the wedding reception, just after the first dance but before dinner (when everyone is still there). Oh, and the reception is being held in the ballroom at the local country club or 4-star hotel. Hearing this would make me prepare a far more formal toast than if I were delivering the speech in the former scenario. All in all, it is vital to “know” your audience. Know whom you’ll be speaking to during the big moment and then plan accordingly.

Innovation Management: Experimenting With New Ideas

New ideas or creativity can also be defined as a synonym for idea generation and problem identification. Innovation is synonymous to development, idea selection and commercialization of solutions and product lines. Though there is no surefire way for commercial success, innovation management improves the probability of generating better ideas, and thereby, assures that investments made on the development and the commercialization of those newly found creative ideas are not wasted over time.

In other words, innovation management is the management science, which deals in successful exploitation of new thoughts and ideas. Once these thoughts and ideas are put into practice and brought to the market, one can easily add some value to the existing product line or solutions that the company is already selling to its consumers across the globe.

Though developing something can always be an individual process, but in an organization it is often seen as an activity done by a group of people who have strong knowledge about the solution or the product line within the firm. Scientifically speaking, inventiveness leads to innovation; without the willingness to experiment and solve problems by overcoming new challenges, we would not have grown as a species.

In order to discover something new, it is obvious that the most powerful way to learn newfound knowledge is through failure. However, it is innovation management, which teaches us how to minimize failures and explore completely new methods to lead, organize, coordinate and motivate individuals and succeed with new found approaches. Furthermore, it helps you to fight against the marketing competitions in the contemporary age.

For more than a few centuries, innovation management has allowed companies to appraise themselves with new performances and realize their goals. With more than just one new challenge like the cascading effects of globalization, new knowledge and technology, innovation management is the science that has made some of the big companies all over the world to stand apart from the rest of their ‘un-innovative’ competitors.

Innovation management has not only created great products, but has also created great people and great leaders in the industry who have outpaced the seamier facades of globalization and have found new patterns of trade and commerce, with new skills and ideas that is required for generating profits and motivating the workforce in the future.

As the future of many businesses firms depends upon their ability to innovate – marketing, management and development – all must contribute equally towards the process of innovation. It helps both the new and the old companies to speed up the end results of creating new processes and ideas and remain on the cutting edge by enjoying successful results.

Operations Research Analyst Jobs – Are You Interested in a Career in Management Science?

Management science involves using complex analytical techniques in order to solve complex problems and to make improve decision making. Operations research has frequently been used by the military in order to develop sophisticated radar systems that they can use to search for enemy equipment and supplies when they are needed.

In the private sector, operational research is frequently utilized in order to maximize business opportunities, using computer modeling in order to determine the best course of action for a corporation. Large corporations are incredibly complex, and they will frequently need to manage a large amount of resources. Research analysts will find ways to utilize these resources efficiently, and they will come up with a number of solutions which they will present to the managers of the company, will then choose the best course of action.

These professionals are frequently involved in the top levels of companies making strategic decisions and allocating resources properly. Operations analysts will frequently run various problems in some areas through computer systems in order to estimate probabilities of success for a course of action or a business decision, frequently constructing mathematical models in order to describe the process.

An example would be working for an airline agency, using computer modeling in order to estimate flight scheduling, passenger demand, ticket prices, fuel prices, maintenance costs, and other variables in order to improve the decisions of a airline company.

The working conditions for operations analysts typically involve overtime in order to meet deadlines, although they will frequently average 40 hours or work a week. Most of their day is spent in an office environment working on high priority projects, which can be stressful.

Most of these individuals will have a bachelor’s degree in a field such as computer science or engineering, and they will frequently be well versed in computer technology in order to create statistical models. Management scientist positions will grow slightly faster than the rate of population growth over the next decade, and most sectors of the economy will employ these professionals.

In 2006, these professionals held over 58,000 jobs in America, and the middle 50th percentile of earners made between $48,800 and $86,000, with those working in the Federal government having an average salary of $91,207.

Can Scientists Manage Science?

A very comprehensive and exhaustive discussion was provided by Douglas Hague in his article bearing the same title as this one. I admit I was quite absorbed by his brilliant presentation of how scientists can manage science under certain stringent conditions, i.e., “if they themselves acquire a practical understanding of the social sciences, not least, of economics and of management; or if they work in inter-disciplinary teams which include and value those who do have such knowledge.”

I for one will not argue the points Hague presented. In fact, I’m personally inclined to also answer the question positively at the outset. But on a closer look at the faces of today’s science and scientists, I’m afraid I am more drawn toward the sobering reality that many if not most of them can’t actually do it.

In medical jurisprudence parlance, we have a concept called res ipsa loquitur (“the thing speaks for itself”). It refers to an overwhelming circumstantial evidence actually present, proving a certain act of malpractice or negligence as in the case of a pair of forceps left in the abdominal cavity of a patient after a surgical procedure has already been completed and closed.

While most of today’s scientists and technology experts may flaunt the merits of their achievements and their subsequent contributions to society, still, an array of disturbing evidences point to their inadequacies in covering the necessary bases associated with their discipline. Even starting with the most basic element of a study – its purpose – many a scientist would not really want to ascertain whether his pet project would yield an environmentally, economically, socio-culturally, politically and morally beneficial output.

The adrenaline surge of being acclaimed as the discoverer, inventor or creator of something new, cutting edge or innovative what not seemed to eclipse the sense of purpose that is supposed to undergird any worthwhile scientific pursuit. And especially watch out when the budget preference, the publicity or organizational support is given to the other guy’s project. What happens next? We even have movies depicting scientists who cannot manage their own ego and emotions in the face of rejection and end up becoming vindictive monsters capable of harming mankind with the very same science they claim to be beneficial to the world. Another sickening side effect when science and technology simply go out of check are the alarming trends happening nowadays with our environment as well as our socio-political, cultural and moral climates.

Isn’t it interesting to note that planet Earth has increasingly been more hostile toward its inhabitants and Homo sapiens have also been increasingly hostile toward each other especially at the height of these scientific and technological revolutions? Spurious correlations maybe, but nonetheless significant. And expectedly, the blame can also be passed around to many other potential culprits. But as far as science is concerned, nobody can be held more responsible than the scientists themselves. And this gets all the more complicated especially in the absence of what Hague called “the missing attribute which scientists most needed” – HUMILITY.