'The Human Element'

Brookhaven's Andy Broadbent and team win DOE Project Leadership Institute Capstone Project Award

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Andy Broadbent (Jessica Rotkiewicz/Brookhaven National Laboratory)

Sometimes, the best way to see what you’re made of is facing a challenge. Andrew Broadbent, an accomplished project manager at the at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility located at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, took on such a challenge earlier this year though DOE’s Project Leadership Institute (PLI) and emerged from the yearlong endeavor with his team victorious.

Cultivating Leadership

Every year, PLI selects around 25 experienced project leaders endorsed by DOE national laboratories, program offices, and site offices to participate in their intensive, yearlong leadership development program. This program is designed to cultivate the necessary skills to effectively take on and execute high-risk projects. The cohort is split into five teams that work together over the course of the year to conduct a case study analysis of a recent DOE project. Throughout the program, the cohort travels to different national labs across the country to attend events and participates in self-paced learning during the summer. These modules cover important concepts, like leading innovative teams, that often highlight real-life success stories.

“Everyone on the team has extensive project management experience,” said Broadbent, “so we were all, largely, in the same boat here, and we learned a lot from each other along the way. Each event provided something useful to take away, making it a really valuable program for anyone in the DOE involved with project management.”

As the program concludes, each team creates a final report and presentation capturing the successes and failures of the project, analyzes the lessons to be learned, and submits them for judging. The judges confer on the analysis they found to be the most impactful and present the winning team with a shared plaque that travels to each teammate’s home institution. Broadbent’s contributions ensured that the plaque would make its final stop at Brookhaven later next year.

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The 2023 cohort of DOE's Project Leadership Institute (PLI) standing in front of the U.S. Capitol building. (DOE Project Leadership Institute)

Transforming cUlture Through inclusiOn (TUTO)

Broadbent’s team, dubbed TUTO, consisted of members from different national laboratories—Jessica Bentley (Sandia National Laboratory), Lisa Ehlers (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), Vincente Guiseppe (Oak Ridge National Laboratory), and Hiro Tanaka (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory). Each member strengthened the team with their diverse backgrounds, talents, and project experiences. Broadbent drew plenty of inspiration from the projects he has helped manage. For 16 years at NSLS-II, he has been instrumental in the design, installation, and commissioning of several beamlines that are currently serving users who are performing cutting-edge research, as well as future beamlines that will offer the facility new capabilities.

For their project, the team explored the execution of DOE’s Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) project at Michigan State University (MSU). FRIB’s mission is to produce and research rare isotopes for advancing knowledge in nuclear physics, material science, medicine, defense, and industry. The project was completed in June 2022.

“FRIB is a unique project not only for its one-of-a-kind mission and technological success but also for its leadership. They successfully navigated an unusual funding and regulatory framework to project completion within budget and five months ahead of schedule,” remarked Broadbent.

While they explored the project through PLI’s core concepts, they also sought out the values employed by the FRIB team that made their project so successful. In their analysis, they narrowed it down to four main concepts: curation, fluidity, character, and engagement.

“Curation” was reflected in several aspects of project management, from making a team of diverse people with diverse talents to only selecting processes within the project that are predicted to add value.

“Fluidity” goes hand in hand with curation. As much as one can try to control a project, unexpected changes are bound to happen at any stage. Things that were carefully curated can suddenly take a different shape. Fluidity is about having that expectation and being able to adapt strategically without compromising on core needs, like safety.

“Character” fueled these concepts, as it described how respectful relationships from effective and empathetic leaders fostered trust, good communication, and conflict solutions that allow work to be performed smoothly and safely.

Lastly, there was the concept of “engagement,” teams taking pride and ownership in their work, creating a positive safety culture, sparking community and stakeholder involvement, and promoting inclusivity. All of these concepts link together in such a way that each reinforces the others.

While the presentation covered a lot of ground and sparked some productive discussions, the competition was formidable. There was one more Brookhaven employee in 2023’s cohort: Angelika Drees, collider group leader for the Collider-Accelerator Department. While she was working with another team, she enjoyed comparing and contrasting her experiences with Broadbent as the program concluded and brought back a lot of insight to her current role.

“I have never looked at another DOE project that closely before and I feel like I learned so much just from making comparisons,” recalled Drees. “It made me think about the new Electron-Ion Collider project in a different way. In some sense, there are a lot of similarities; it's an accelerator and it has complex physics. And though it may not be the same in terms of scale and scope, there were general concepts that translate from one project to the other. Looking at this project so closely taught us a lot.”

The scoring between teams was reported to be closer than it had ever been in the past. Regardless of the outcome, the exercise was valuable to all involved and provided a lot to think about for future projects.

“We really enjoyed doing this,” remarked Broadbent. “Even though writing reports like this tends to be a lot of work, we worked together very well as a team and managed to have fun. It was a very different kind of experience and really made us think. The human side is something everyone can understand, and something everyone can improve upon. That thought came to mind very early on in the project and never went away. Each attribute we uncovered was very human-focused.”

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit science.energy.gov.

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