A.  Situation:
The Lab was not producing enough high quality research that did not directly involve the Chair.  This was putting tremendous time pressure on the Chair and ultimately was reducing the sense of responsibility and engagement felt by the Lab members.  Previously the employees/members of the Research Laboratory had participated in a retreat that identified three areas that required attention:
  1. Improved administration.
  2. Improved laboratory management.
  3. Improved project management and oversight.

After discussion with the members, these were further clarified.  It was felt that the lab needed to be broken into teams with regular meetings scheduled for each team and as a whole group.  This tied in with a need for more supervision of projects from the beginning including pairing up new students with a senior person with some knowledge of the project. There was also talk of using project management tools to track project goals.  Goal setting and clearly defining the projects were stressed as important for all lab members.

B.  Approach:

After comprehensive discussions with the Lab Chair, it was decided that there were three main areas to be addressed:

1.        Adjusting the structure of the Lab organisation
2.        Clarifying the purpose, principles and activities of the Lab
3.        Developing a simple, straight forward project management process.

1.  A relationship/network map was developed to adjust the structure of the Lab into Resource Hubs.  This had a number of advantages:  it gave management experience to the senior scientists by giving them budget responsibilities (including funding priorities), refocused projects with common objectives, allowed technicians to be aligned to specific goals and budget management, and so on.

The new proposed structure (see below) was introduced to all the members of the Lab – their feedback and thoughts were addressed and incorporated.

2.  Clarifying the Lab’s purpose, principles and objectives was, as expected, quite an involved process.  It was particularly important that the Lab members realised the implications of this work.  It was not good enough for them to maintain that they were just interested in the science/research.  Every decision they make influences the direction of their research and the results that the Lab could ultimately publish.  It is extremely important that they make those decisions using the Lab’s purpose, principles and objectives as reference points.
3.  Developing a project management process was straight forward.  A draft process (including milestones and time frames) was created and introduced to the Lab members in a workshop.  They were able to work with the process and make comments and adjustments where required.  In addition, commitments were made by the senior people to provide feedback within the time frames outlined in the project.  This new project management process has been allowed to evolve over time to allow for improvements and new requirements.
C.  Results:
The changes have had a significant positive impact on the three areas originally identified.  They have provided much clearer lines of responsibility (encouraging each member to take more personal responsibility) and improved the Lab’s administration/management and project management.

As a result, research output and reporting has improved, there are better opportunities for additional funding, and there is an increased possibility that the research results can be utilised in practical applications.

Perhaps above all else, in the Lab there is a restored sense of responsibility to society (public service) and to those who are supporting their work.

Feedback:

‘Whatever you did with the lab, it’s working.  Manuscripts or outlines to be read are piling up.  The management structure with the hubs remains intact.  I would like to discuss ways of measuring the manner in which the new set-up has actually improved the lab.  I don’t just mean output, but the people seem happier and more dialed-in too.’  Laboratory Chair/Director