Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Here is the problem with the new Blog

From Anonymous:

Here is the problem with the new Blog, I cannot make this comment anonymously on the new Blog. I’d love to sign my name, but I cannot be this honest and open. Reprisal is still a very real possibility (Bob Foley is a good name to keep in mind).

There is a trend in how the Lab is being managed that is working to drain the science out of programs that would be good to discuss. Over the past few years there has been a move to apply stricter project management to everything in sight. This appears to be a one size fits all approach that does not differentiate between science and engineering. There does not seem to be any recognition that managing science is different. The net result is the transformation of what should be research projects into engineering projects with little scientific vitality or original thought.

This trend has driven the scientists from the management ranks. Since scientists have historically led Los Alamos, we have a system where management and scientific leadership come from the same body. Today to a very large extent we have (too) few scientists in management positions and the net result is little to no scientific leadership. I am amazed by the lack of scientific content in most of the reviews held here. Some managers have placed edict on their programs to not have any technical content in project and program reviews! This ought to be unacceptable, but instead it’s become the way we do business. Science ought to be job number one, instead it is a troublesome afterthought that defies the conventions of project management.

For years there has been a broad-based recognition that “milestones” are driving the programs. These milestones control the resources within the system. Because failure is not allowed, the milestones are chosen to be something easy to achieve (or something already achieved!). The net result is to push us away from anything that will actually provide the best return for the taxpayers’ dollar. Instead of fewer milestones, we have more. On top of this we now have “earned value”. This idea is being applied in the same manner. It measures everything on a linear scale and acts as if its all been done before. I understand that it is going to be with us a long time because it is in the RFP. It’s the world’s greatest science being managed by the world’s smallest minds.

All of this is acting to make our management risk averse and hold them to a standard where no risk is taken, and no science actually gets done. (Great) Science is about taking risks, about trying ideas that have a good chance of failing because you are doing something that have never been done before. What we have is management that is driving us to be as mediocre as possible because failure has become unacceptable.

What needs to be done to fix this?
1. If we need to bring ideas and people from the outside to manage our science, bring these things from organizations that have a successful track record in science (not engineering, manufacturing or facility management!).
2. Create a system that has a tolerance for risk and failure. This will allow the goals that we set for ourselves to be high rather than systematically low-balled because we’ll get hammered for failing.
3. We need to have some scientific leadership coming from somewhere. It would be best if it were somewhere in the management system, but in lieu of this it must be incorporated in the process.
4. More leadership needs to come from inside the ranks. Too many of the people brought in from the outside have little or no idea about how Los Alamos works, its history or where to find science. Most of our current management success is window-dressing, the core of the Laboratory’s abilities are rotting. We need management that will cherish and grow science rather than quash it.
5. Stop applying management fad of the day in a mindless way to science. We’re not building a house, or running an assembly line, etc… Some things cannot or should not be measured; we need room for discovery and serendipity.

If the trajectory of the Lab is not changed we will end up with a useless husk. The time to act is now.

Comments:
Excellent post with accurate assessment of many of our foundational issues with current "management" approaches that are tried. Harold Agnew provided great insight into the failed approach discussed in this post. He pointed out that bureaucracy becomes consumed with administrative self-propagation. Harold fought this kind of nonsense and, in 1976, predicted the erosion of science by the forthcoming bureaucracy. He, again, accurately described the problem in the following statement from
Tenth Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures, October 1990, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts:
"We have a big problem with competitiveness, and I think three-quarters of that is that the guys making the decisions don't understand the technical things any more," said Dr. Harold Agnew, a physicist who worked with Dr. Fermi on the world's first chain reaction at the University of Chicago in 1942. "You can't run the bomb factories with a bunch of lawyers and administrators" (Dr. Agnew said). This is the inherent danger in DOE/NNSA oversight. Micromanagement is built into their thinking; they can't help it because "bureaurcratic" priorities (often in the form of milestones) are foundational to their existence, hence, they are consumed with "self" by the very nature of bureaucracy.
 
Isn't this what most of LANL has already become, PADNWP, ADWEM, etc.?
 
Micromanagement and project management are not the same thing. I agree that science is not well served by micromanagement.
But there are lots of projects at LANL that would be well served by project management -- building and engineering projects mostly. Having a schedule and trying to stick to it and planning ahead certainly would help building anything. So would documentation. LANL has very poor documentation of everything including locations of electric, water, gas and sewer lines down to the outcomes of many experiments. Requiring documentation and maintaining it in a systematic way, may slow down the immediate project but it will prevent disasters such as water and gas line breakages, and electrocutions. And in science it will keep scientists from having to start over every time they do something.
LANL has put little priority on documentation and archiving of documentation over the years leaving current workers scratching there heads at how everything from buildings to weapons were actually built. This is not good.
 
Then is project management to blame for the complete stoppage of the new building at TA-16. The ground is leveled, foundation is poured, piping infrastructure in place, girders, blocks and other building material stored on site, there is even a construction trailer in place. Now we are told it will never happen because of the shutdown. What a complete waste of taxpayer money and another lie to employees. Is the Lab going to salvage the building materials or let them rot where they are, or worse yet be stolen?
 
It has always seemed to me that there's a delicate balance of skills needed at LANL - the innovative, creative and yet meticulously methodical, risk-taking scientific skills and the common-sense driven operational skills. The balance isn't necessarily required in the same person though that certainly would be helpful in some ways but organizationally it's necessary to allow the science to push forward agressively while support for those efforts holds down the fort.

I know I'm preaching to the choir but it seems these fundamental elements, scientific skill/talent and common sense, are being irradicated by an organism which parasitically requires more and more funding, time and effort to proliferate itself.

Managing activities and showing what you got for your time and effort isn't a bad thing but c'mon, there must be a point at which one can clear away the processes & piles of paper and say that we spent a reasonable amount of time or money and got a reasonable return on the investment - without the burden of a dozen extra people or their salaries who didn't truly support or contribute to the effort directly or indirectly.

The processes and procedures don't always pass the reality check of 'value added' toward the real goals of a National Lab or even in the individual projects. More often, there's a massive marketing effort on the part of those who want to hang onto their jobs to justify their existence to those who provide funding and also to those who directly impact the outcome for which the whole organization will be recognized.

The more complicated the process and procedures, the more the purveyors of the same can justify their existence. How difficult is this to understand?
 
Even though the new blog is supposed to be nothing but positive, the inability to post anonymously renders it useless. Even positive, constructive postings may very well go against some manager's pet idea, project, etc. One still fears retaliation. So, the new blog is useless!
 
You can comment anonymously on the new blog. Sheesh, give it some time! Were you born knowing differential equations?
 
A few others things to add:

(1) Establish a fair and equitable grievance process that complies with due process and that seeks resolution without bankrupting employees.
(2) Have a rewards system that promotes creativity in science/engineering and encourages the implementation of efficiencies in processes.
(3) Insist on and implement technical solutions to potential security and safety problems that negate human error as a contributor to failure.
(4) Require managers to talk with employees instead of spending all their time in meetings.
(5) Have a rule that no piece of paper can be signed by more than two additional persons beyond the document's creator.
(6) Empower and resource persons tasked to do work. Resourcing includes the provision of proper, safe, and up-to-date work spaces.
(7) Encourage bottoms-up solutions from the people who best understand the technologies and the inherent dangers involved.
(8) Develop a work environment wherein leaders are respected and supported and workers are respected and supported. Workers cannot expect to have that which they are not willing to give and neither can leaders.
(9) Insist on fostering a work environment that does not punish human beings for being human and that encourages self-reporting of real and potential problems.
(10) Don't daydream for a return to Harold Agnew's World. It never existed. Even Oppenheimer worked for a demanding general officer.
 
My GL and DGL are REALLY stressed out because they are throwing themselves into the beaurocratic sh*t stream that flows down from the division office - and that comes from high up above. We have a high-performing group that is burning up our middle managers because they are trying to shield us from the crap flowing downhill.

I like these people, and they're doing the best they can, but with all the internal BS flowing downhill, they don't have time to plan and execute what needs to be done. They're too busy getting their chains jerked and reacting to events and edicts to do anything strategic.

They know what needs to be done, and the system won't let them do it.
 
Our well-liked GL just bagged it. Said he had enough and someone else could do the job.
 
Change our name back to Los Alamos SCIENTIFIC Labrotory
 
I agree Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory is a name, motto, and logo all in one. Moreover, LASL is much better that LANL which sounds like a part of a French person's anatomy.
 
To the original poster: Hey, understand this: You can't build a bomb without the welder. Science is one component of what Los Alamos is about. Science is not the whole. When the transmission doesn't work, having a great motor or steering wheel or tires does't help. So get a life, get on as part of the Team, or get out. It sounds like you've been living in some sandbox too long. How nervy that them jerks who send money would Question Our Science...they need to understand that Science is King here, and not accountability, eh? Listen, if we here can't fight the battles where they are, we can get out too (spell "shut down", as in "Rocky Flats"). And where they are is places like "value proposition" and "business cases". With the end of the cold war, it wasn't just about our monopoly and save the free world, things changed, and bang for the buck and environmental cost and other equally ugly questions began to be asked. So just in the unlikely case you might get a glimmer of what we are facing and join the whole war and stop this incessant "Science Science Sceince" chant, I'd like you to consider the foot-soldiers in the war as having key value - techs, working TSM's, even engineers and technologists, and yes, even the business people who work maybe harder and certainly with less glory than you to make sure your paycheck gets to you (you do understant paychecks, right?) Yes science is important - key, even. Yes, engineering is important - key, even. Yes computing is important - key, even. Yes, technology is important - key, even. Yes, the way the placed is run is important - key, even. They lied in graduate school when they told you Science was the high ground, and they still lie about the great Science myth. It's about the whole, of which Sciece is a part - unless you go start your own company, then it's about whatever you want to do. But here - it's about teaming to reach measureable objectives - with some exceptions like some LDRD. Cool about our spinoff technology - however, it's about the bomb, stupid, it's about America and the nuclear umbrella. Its about SERVICE too. Comprende that?

If science at LANL is being drained to the point that we can't do our job, I'll stand with you. If this is about Science is our mission, sorry, you missed the boat, and are not part of the team, and ought to consider going somewhere where science IS the mission, ASAP, up to and including your own basement. I hope you (and this is to all) choose to join the team and fight the battles where they are. United we'll win. Divided we'll lose. So how about it, let's win - together, and when we win, everyone wins, the scientists and business people and engineers and techs and yes, even the country. So, let's do it!
 
Thank you 5:22. I'm part of the PhD-TSM ranks involved with our production mission. I hung up my Science hat several years ago.
 
5:22, whether I totally agree with you or not, I think you have painted an accurate picture of where LANL has been, and is going.
 
First post about something significant in long time scale. Some reactions to it show how the culture (and this time it is about culture) is changing at LANL from science to useless and costly manufacturing, which indeed better to close than put on tax payers welfare. The change is in progress for long time, may be somebody will see it and change this suicidal trend, but not very likely, sadly.
 
To 5:22pm: I’m sorry you’re the one who doesn’t get it. All of my comments were related to how science is managed. It is completely wrong to run the production operation in the same manner as the science. That’s the point! Don’t run the science operation like the production operation; it is not the same thing. The problem is that current management is trying to exactly that. One size fits all.

The answer is managing the welder in an appropriate manner for a welder, and the scientist in an appropriate manner for a scientist. This seems simple enough, right? Why is it that you and others can’t seem to understand this simple principle? I never said that all of the activities at the Lab were being managed poorly, just the part I know a lot about. Perhaps the formality of operations is working wonders in some quarters. I really can’t speak to that, I’m talking about what I do know something about. People working in other areas are free to comment on whether the current management trends are helping or hurting.

A couple of other points, I am part of the team, working at the core of the Weapons’ Program. I’m working on topics where important scientific question remain unanswered. These questions need to be answered for the good of the country. The current management of my part of the Lab is endangering our ability to answer these questions. I’m not in any sort of sandbox. My professional direction and emphasis has been guided by the needs of the Stockpile. If you think that all the science at the Lab is in “sandbox” I suggest that it is you who is not on the team! The attitudes expressed in your post indicate that you are quite uninformed about what problems the stockpile actually faces. I think you need to become a bit more educated on what the Weapons’ Program is really being challenged by.

One your last point, LANL is being drained to the point we can’t do our job. We’re almost there and will be soon without a dramatic change in direction.

Lastly, your comments along the lines of “get a life, get on as part of the Team” etc… is utterly divisive and counter-productive. They are truly ugly and offensive thoughts. I’m already part of the team; I suspect we agree on the importance and centrality of the Lab’s mission. I have great respect and admiration for people working all over the Lab as engineers, technicians, administrators, janitors, electricians, cooks, programmers, and many other endeavors. All should be done with excellence and professionalism. All of our jobs are all necessary to succeed at our mission. Somehow you are implying that because I want our science to be managed in a manner that leads to excellence that I want to diminish the importance of whatever you do. Nothing is farther from the truth.

All I’m asking for is a management that allows the scientists to make the contributions necessary for our National Security. If the new management is making a positive difference for you, then great, let’s keep the changes. I’m suggesting that perhaps these same changes are completely screwing up my ability to contribute to the Mission as a scientist.
 
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