DOE uses SNS as role model for project management

SNS Building Marker

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is speaking Thursday at an event hosted by the National Academy of Public Administration, timed with the release of the agency’s year-in-the-making report on project management reforms.

snscontrolThe report, of course, acknowledges DOE’s bad times with project management, including a long residency on the GAO High-Risk List. There are a number of recommendations for improvement.

Interestingly, the report cites the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as a positive “case study” for project management. The $1.4 billion SNS came in on schedule and under budget. (That project was one reason that then-NNSA Administrator Bruce Held last year asked ORNL Director Thom Mason, who guided the SNS to completion, to head a Red Team to evaluate alternatives for the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12.)

“The Spallation Neutron Source, a neutron scattering research facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, exemplifies a large and complex project that evolved through several leadership teams in its early phases, until the team that ultimately delivered the project came together at the right place and time,” the report from DOE’s Contract and Project Management Working Group stated. “Success stemmed from proactive and actively managed team composition changes, as well as defined and clearly executed roles. Successful team actions and interactions defined the project’s ability to overcome challenges and day‐to‐day issues.

“DOE can showcase an excellent example of the Spallation Neutron Source.”

The report quotes Les Price, the federal project director for SNS, about the use of a small onsite federal team at ORNL to help make the project a successful partnership.

The SNS involved the work and direction of multiple national laboratories around the U.S., and Price — according to the report — kept up with their progress through a contact person at each of the DOE sites offices at the laboratories.

“It was what I called a ‘soft glove’ approach,” Price said in the report. “We wanted to make sure it was clear that the partner lab was working under the direction of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. They were not working under the direction of the DOE site office. That was kind of tricky but we all understood it. The guy at the site office was very careful not to direct them in any way that would conflict with the direction they were getting from ORNL, but the site rep and I would talk frequently, and he would give me his perspective and what the issues were.”

The report discusses the coordination of the big project in Oak Ridge through direction Washington, with Price taking his orders from Pat Dehmer, who at the time was associate director of DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences, and Program Manager Jeff Hoy.

“Jeff and I were in day-to-day contact,” Price said, “and Pat was involved in all major project issues.”

The various roles from top to field were “expertly executed” with cohesion, the report said.

“This coordination helped the team resolve issues that required everyone’s input, allowing the team to reach consensus on decisions and unwavering support for execution,” the report stated. “Trust, alignment, communication, accountability and common goals proved to be a successful formula for project success.”

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This entry was posted in DOE HQ, ORNL, Spallation Neutron Source on by .

About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.