Management of physics projects

This summer, ITER found a solution to its money problems. It also got a new director general: Mr. Osamu Motojima, who was previously responsible for the construction of the Large Helical Device, another fusion-related facility. He announced that his intention was to simplify the management and even to push some changes in the design in order to keep the costs capped. He will give a talk at the SOFT conference in Porto at the end of the month; it will be interesting to see his personality.

It is a very difficult task to manage such huge projects and there is an interesting article in Nature about this topic:

World view: Leaders wanted

The idea illustrated by this article is that:

[…] major projects should be led by top scientists, with little input from engineers or, heaven-forbid, managers from business or industry.
They notice that today’s projects are headed by managers with strong skills in negociation, budgeting, planning, but with a limited scientific background.
The problem is that:
major facilities and laboratories — especially new ones, most especially in a recession — need truly inspirational leaders to enthuse staff, charm civil servants and politicians, and provide a face to the outside world. That’s on top of their routine tasks of setting budgets, choosing senior staff and setting out strategy.
And this is exactly the case with ITER, but also with smaller experiments: the lack of scientific leadership, someone with the ability to make researchers dream and transform these dreams in reality.
But it is interesting to see that the problem is acknowledged and addressed:
A key challenge for such efforts is to train talented scientists in the mundane aspects of project management — such as employment law — without scaring them off or ironing out the personality traits that make great leaders.


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