Sandia LabNews

Labs’ new structure emphasizes consolidation, operational excellence, 21st-century engineering

Labs’ new structure emphasizes consolidation, operational excellence, 21st-century engineering

In his interview with the Lab News, new Labs Director Tom Hunter talked about the drivers behind the new organizational structure.

“Let’s just go back to where we were on the 29th of April,” he says. “At that time all we knew was that Paul Robinson was leaving and I would be taking over as Laboratory director. We also knew we had some pending retirements — Pace VanDevender [VP 1000] had announced his retirement. And we knew that we had one vice president, Lenny Martinez, going on assignment to support Lockheed Martin’s Los Alamos bid team. That changed the executive population by a total of three people.

“Armed with that knowledge, we [the Laboratory Leadership Team, which includes all the VPs and several selected directors] decided to take our strategic planning effort and convert it into one of strategic intent, establishing what it is we wanted to do as a laboratory, what we wanted to be. Once we had established that, then we could look at organizational restructuring — how we would like to structure the laboratory [to facilitate our strategic intent]. At the same time we had to replace a couple of executives. So, simultaneously, we had this question of how do we want to be structured and who do we want to have as executives.

“Now we have done all those things. We put together a proposed organization structure that had to be approved by our Sandia Corporation Board of Directors. In addition, NNSA/SSO [Sandia Site Office] needed to concur with our key personnel appointments. Both those things have happened.”

In the planning process that has occurred over the past several weeks, Tom says, “We wanted to focus on a set of what we called visions for success — you could call these long-range objectives. In each of our mission areas we wanted to establish our view of what success would be. We talked about success in nuclear weapons, success in nonproliferation, success in all the different mission areas that we have. We defined, if you will, a future-state view of what the laboratory should be.”

Operational excellence, transformation of engineering

In addition to defining mission success, Tom says the planning team placed a new, heightened focus on operational excellence. “We wanted to have the whole leadership team engaged in assuring that the laboratory has the best possible approach to operations and operational performance. And we wanted to allow for the continuation — but with even more focus and emphasis — on what I have called the transformation of science-enabled engineering or science and engineering. We want to play a leadership role in the transformation of science and engineering.

“So those were the three areas we wanted to be sure we were focused on: A vision of success; operational excellence; leadership in the transformation of science and engineering.”

The MESA complex, which will create a unique 21st-century, supercomputer-driven engineering design environment, will play a key role in Sandia’s leadership of the transformation of science and engineering. So important is the MESA vision to the Labs’ future that Tom has moved the MESA program office from Division 1000 to report directly to the Director’s office. And, he says, John Stichman, the labs chief engineer as well as deputy director, will play a key role in integrating the MESA vision across all mission areas.

There were some specific intents going forward with the transition planning process, Tom says.

  • Restate the importance of nuclear weapons to the Labs.
  • Focus on operational performance and stewardship of Labs’ capabilities.
  • Focus on transformation of our engineering practices Labs-wide.
  • Integrate all mission programs other than nuclear weapons more closely, but also integrate them with nuclear weapons.
  • Emphasize the importance of personnel succession planning.
  • Consolidate all the centers into larger divisions to enable VPs — and directors, too — to play more strategic roles, while placing more operational responsibilities on the level II managers.
  • Assure a strong link between the president’s office and all of the VPs.

Tom says he thinks the new organizational structure largely accomplishes those intentions.

“The thing that I would hope we can highlight in all this is that it will allow us to focus on our mission and support our mission customers more effectively but also allow us to achieve operational excellence,” Tom says.

A team effort by LLT

Tom emphasizes that the entire transition and reorganization process has been very much a team effort.

“We made sure that every member of LLT was involved and had input into the structure that we would use,” he says. “We spent quite a bit of time as a team forging out affinities and the way things fit together. And we as a team used our succession-planning process to identify our next VPs.”

Though the overall effort was a team process, Tom did not embark on it without ideas of his own. “Certainly in the last several months the idea of how to better structure the Labs is something I’ve given quite a bit of thought to. Having the nuclear weapons program responsibility [as senior VP for the Nuclear Weapons SMU] and having to bring a level of coherence across a large set of the laboratory gave me some strong indications that we can have more coherence across all the organizations, and that we can focus our efforts toward better operational performance if we spend some time being really clear about roles, having deliberate processes that are as simple and practical as possible and are well understood. Those were ideas that I carried forward. And we tried to realize that in this restructuring.

“And then, of course, there’s one area that all of us are concerned with and that I’ve thought about a lot myself — you build an organization for and around people. And how you engage the people in the process. How we went about it was in large part based around our ideas of inclusiveness, of bringing people together, and then looking at the future development of people.”