Thursday, April 14, 2005

No one is going to come in and “save” LANL

From Anonymous:

Doug, I would ask that you post this anonymously, as I am a Lockheed Martin employee (though I have nothing to do with the lab bid) and don't want to seem to be speaking for Lockheed Martin, which I don't.

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The current LANL management team certainly seems to have mishandled their assignment, but in all fairness, managing a lab full of scientists is never easy, and no director is going to make everyone happy. Scientists taken as a group (though individuals vary, of course) have several characteristics which tend to make them harder than average to manage successfully:

a) They are experts in their own field, and often think that automatically makes them experts in other fields, when it doesn't. They would readily see the absurdity of, say, an experienced industrial program manager undertaking to design a nuclear weapon, but don’t see the equal absurdity in thinking that they could better manage their own large development programs without professional help. There is a tendency among many scientists to think that by virtue of their extensive training and expertise they know best, both inside their field of expertise and outside of it. A study of the history of science might introduce just a dash of humility to this view, but few scientists study such “irrelevant” fields.

b) As others in this blog have commented, there is often a level of arrogance mixed with naiveté. One poster, for example, asserted that a PhD in physics is the hardest PhD to earn (I presume because this poster has also earned PhDs in biochemistry, mathematics, history, and linguistics, among others and can make a comparison…). Many posters seem naively to assume that no one else is really up to the intellectual level of the LANL scientific staff, and certainly not anyone at Sandia or UT or in any of the likely industrial partners, and this is not that uncommon a view among scientists at large. It often doesn’t seem to occur to scientists that there are many, many other fields every bit as complex and demanding as their own, and that some of those working in those fields are every bit their intellectual equals.

c) Many good scientists have the “Feynman” tendency to resent authority and imposed structure on general principles, whether it makes sense or not. In fact, the ability to think outside the box and question established views is one of the strengths of a good scientist, and one certainly doesn’t want to extinguish it, but at the same time it often does make scientists hard to manage as a group.

d) Many scientists (though by no mean all) are largely oblivious to much of the world outside their own field of study, and hence don’t really understand or value those around them who make their own work possible – such as the mechanics and machinists who build their experimental equipment, the upper managers who play the political games in Washington to assure their budgets (arguably a far more complex and difficult field than simple physics!), the IT folks who keep their computer networks running, and the vast support staff who deal with the legal issues, the purchasing issues, the building maintenance issues, etc. etc. There is a tendency among scientists (actually, among academics in any field) to look down on these people as a “lesser breed”, and to resent any process they might have put in place to make their own jobs possible. This tends to make it difficult for many scientists to work well in large organizations of any kind, whether it is a research lab or not – and by the way, it breeds a lot of resentment among all those undervalued and underappreciated support people who work hard to support the scientist’s efforts.

So I would urge the LANL staff to back off a bit from all the personal attacks on current, past, and possible future lab managers, and understand that managing a large group of highly individualistic scientists is going to be hard for anyone to do, and no director and no university sponsor or industrial partner is going to make everyone happy.

In the end, as one recent blog poster noted, no one is going to come in and “save” LANL -- LANL is going to have to save itself, and that will have to start with the whole staff pulling together as a team toward the common goal of restoring LANL to its pervious glory, rather than bitching and bickering and backstabbing each other, as has happened rather too often in this blog.

It would be nice to see some constructive discussion start on this blog, focused on what LANL needs to do from this point forward to succeed, rather than on rehashing the sins of the past.

Comments:
Thank you, LM employee, for some thoughtful comments. You do offer up some good advice, but the sad fact of the matter is that the present work environment has been so poisoned by our current director, and, by proxy, his ring of top managers that we simply cannot begin to move forward until they are gone.

In the mean time, LANL continues to bleed talent as respected, experienced scientists and staff leave. UC is clearly not capable of recognizing that in order to preserve the lifeblood of LANL, it needs to replace Director Nanos with an interim director. Neither, apparently, is NNSA nor DOE. If LM wins the contract, I hope there will be enough people remaining at LANL for you to help rebuild the place.
 
amen brother!!! even though I work with many Phds, most of them are down to earth, and easy to work with. (because we work together on a daily basis), but there are some that you can tell that take anything that you say as trivial. I am not liked by some of these, because I don't have the same view as they do, but what they don't know is I have lived in many different countries, (lived, not vacationed) and I see the world as a whole. I hear some of them worry about their retirement benifits. that should be considered when they commit all those security violations, especialy the ones not reported.
 
Amen to the LM poster and to beamer bob. LANL must save itself. I am no fan of Pete Nanos, but I have seen him do some things that are good. He is attempting to enforce safety and security rules, though he could do it better without the temper tantrums. His decision to fire managers who did not enforce safety and security rules was a wakeup call for all of LANL management which has been in the cover-up and retaliate mode for as long as I have served at LANL.
Some of these firings were painful because somr excellent scientists were fired because of their safety and security failures. Unfortunately, Nanos, forgot to fire himself ( resign) because some of those security failures we due to his not providing enough funding to the groups who had the failures.
I am afraid however these improvements have been too little too late. LANL employees seem doomed to work in the private sector for some souless corporation in the future. Not that UC was so great. Unfortunately this change in management will result in a loss of benefits for all employees, even the ones who worked hard and served well.
I am particularly pleased with LM's pointed emphasis on the combination of arrogance and naivete that causes all too many scientists to discount and mistreat those who they do not consider their intellectual equals, meaning experts in other fields and support personnel. Managers also fall into this trap because they tend to pay little attention to the employees who do not have jurisdiction over managers' pay checks. To use an expresson from recent national news stories they are "lick up,kick down" sorts of people.
I am a great believer in the value of science and I fear that the current troubles at LANL have further weakened our once great institution and our nation's ability to perform great science.
This isn't just happening at LANL, but in other fields as well. Most new scientists receiving PhDs from our universities are from foreign countries and a new tendency has begun for them to go back to their own countries to live and do science. Not only is that brain drain weakening our technical edge, but it is increasing the technical power of countries that don't necessarily have our best interests at heart.
I would like to see all of us at LANL reach some consensus on what is good for LANL in the long run and try to enforce that in our own workplace. I would call it a change through grass roots activism but I do not consider that the changes we would decide to suppport would have anything to do with national or local politics. I would like us to form a culture that promotes reward for hard work, creativity and vision and does not reward backstabbing, rigid thinking and arrogance. I don't think any organization on earth can do that, but employees can.
 
LM's posting and the following comments are the best I've seen on this blog. Rational, thought out, and lacking the venom that seems to be gleefully flailed about. All of us have a responsibility to make things better in our own separate areas to make the whole survive.
 
1:35. Nanos fired and disciplined many who did not violate any rules. His statements have been outright lies so if you choose to believe them that's your business.
The man is despicable and most people here realize that. When people in power screw up like these people have they concoct stories to cover their incompetence. Take their rhetoric with an entire shaker of salt.
 
Posters- Please listen to this. I used to read the blog hoping to see possible suggestions and solutions for current issues discussed. Instead, there has been little but hateful complaining about everything management.
 
The original poster has many excellent ideas. The sound advice will be applicable after Nanos leaves. No platitude will overwrite the fact that, by credible estimates, our director has cost the American taxpayer $1B and much of this cost lies unethically hidden in programmatic codes. If a diversion of this magnitude has not adversely impacted national security then what are we doing here? But as one poster said, Nanos has done some good things. Of course, throughout history all tyrants have sometimes made the trains run on time, lowered crime rates, and reduced the prevalence of genetic abnormalities. Some may says these are some good things, but one must always carefully weight costs. The cost I see is the Laboratory to which I have devoted most of by professional life being sucked dry of its vitality and corporate knowledge, having its people abused and belittled, being destroyed by petty procedures and impediments, and having its future decimated and raided for petty convenience.

Scientists will behave like scientists in everything they do. Why should we be surprised. That behavior includes critiquing their managers. Some managers have trouble with this fact of life. I don't. In fact, if my staff will not question my actions as a manager then I should replace them with staff that will. Experience has shown me that great scientists have problems operating within structured oligarchies because oligarchies operate under the premise that the paths to solutions have already been developed. History gives us an example uniquely applicable to this place. Specifically, the reason the Third Reich failed to develop a nuclear weapon was that German scientists were in a structure that forbade questions. Most of the questioning scientists that would have questioned Heisenberg's errors had fled Germany and many came to Los Alamos where in the give-and-take environment they accomplished the impossible in the space of just two years.

Without that legacy of questioning physics and management that forms the bedrock of Los Alamos, there would be no requirement for this blog. If one existed, it likely would be composed in either German or Japanese.
 
This is an outstanding post to The Blog. It is well spoken and shows that thinking occurs at Lockheed Martin, as it does at Los Alamos. (The thoughtless stuff, whatever its origin, sticks out like a sore thumb and is quickly discarded like so much spam.)

Let me suggest that the real problem Los Alamos has faced in recent years has been the gradual failure to include a sufficient number of scientists in the mix of managers. Under the assumption that science is the principal contribution that the Lab can make to the world--not just the United States, but all of humanity--then science must be valued at the core of managers' life experiences. Here, I am not talking about business practices, procurement, and the like, but the valuing of science and therefore, those ornery folks who do the science. (Scientists must also give credit to those technical support people who contribute a significant amount to the overall program. And, if they were truly managed well, the standard bitching that scientists do would be far more muted than it is now.)

So, given these assumptions, why has Livermore, which is also "managed" by UC, seemingly escaped the horrible political blows that have fallen on LANL? Might I suggest that a significant part of that answer has to be the influence of one individual on the life of the Livermore Lab, from its very creation to almost the present day. That individual has bequeathed a legacy of rigor in the middle and upper reaches of LLNL management that cannot be denied. Unfortunately, with that has also come another part of that single individual's autocratic dark side: the ability to sell something even as flawed as Star Wars without breaking a smile. Now, I guess that I can name the name you all have by now guessed.

The guiding light of Livermore management has been none other than Edward Teller. Teller is dead now, and the hidden "hand" has lost its grip. But that "hand" has been the only real difference in management style between Livermore and Los Alamos. In the case of Livermore, UC's benign neglect was overshadowed by Teller; in the case of Los Alamos, Oppenheimer's grip was broken during the dark days of the McCarthy era. (And you can now see that the last Oppenheimer-guided, Manhattan Project-experienced Director of Los Alamos was Harold Agnew.) After Agnew, the management style at Los Alamos was overwhelmed by Matrix Management and UC's benign neglect.

And then, finally came the contract bid and the ultimate disaster--Nanos. UC's continued policy of "benign" neglect has reached its final days.

No one can now "save" Los Alamos. Teller is dead. Bethe is dead. The hand having writ, moves on.
 
If you read the Furman's "Sandia National Laboratory; the postwar decade", available at Mesa Library and the Study Center, a couple of things become clear. First, ATT took their management responsibility very seriously and sent some extremely capable managers to run Sandia, including Don Quarles. With the managment rotation from ATT to Sandia and back at about 5 years intervals, they kept getting new ideas into Sanda management. They also did a couple of major shake ups during their management. If one contrasts this with UC/LANL, UC sent exactly zero managers to LANL, which became very inbred and isolated from good management practice. Lockheed inherited a very good situation at Sandia, and hasn't screwed it up yet.
The other important item in the book is that ATT was asked to run Sandia only after Los Alamos had proved itself incompetent. Bradbury , and UC, alibied this by saying "making nuclear weapons isn't an appropriate task for the University". Now, in the "post cold war era" LANL has become a nuclear weapons plant and, as Bradbury said long ago. the University does a really lousy job of it.
Sandia has an excellent history, under ATT and Lockheed, of being good at the nuclear weapons business. It would seem likely that they can make LANL good at the nuclear weapons business. It seems very unlikely that UC can do this task; they have always stunk up the place making weapons; too little discipline and the wrong culture.
A closing comment. If one reads "The Brotherhood of the Bomb" by Herken, also at Mesa, it is clear that UC never wanted to run the Lab after WWII; they got pushed into it by Lawrence and his friends on the Regents. Result, UC had never constructively engaged the task of LANL management, if indeed they even knew how.
It is clear that ATT served the nation's interest at Sandia by sending a whole series of excellent managers to head Sandia. It appears that UC did not serve the nation's interests, as they ignored LANL, and did not provide management talent to the Lab.
The best hope for the future of LANL therefore would seem to be for UC to lose the contract, to Lockheed. Perhaps UC could serve in a science role, if their pride would allow.
 
Interestingly enough, the objective statistics, both in safety and in security, for Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia show remarkably little difference. Maybe Los Alamos is slightly better, but, oh the difference in how UC's management of Livermore vs Los Alamos is viewed!

--Um, not to mention how LockMart's management of Sandia is viewed.
 
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