Sandia LabNews

Improving mission delivery highlighted at day-long technical symposium

Transforming decades-old business and engineering practices takes time and bold ideas. It also takes a village, and that village came together last month at Sandia.

Image of APR-symposium
FASTER DELIVERY — Deputy Labs Director Laura McGill listens to an audience member’s question during the Accelerated Product Realization Symposium last month. Implementing an accelerated product realization approach is one of many efforts that support the Labs’ strategic goals. (Photo by Craig Fritz)

Participants in a day-long symposium tackled accelerated product realization — a Sandia strategic milestone — sharing concepts, accomplishments and lessons learned. The milestone is driven by national security needs as a complex combination of a dynamic geopolitical climate, parallel modernization programs and fiscal constraints all point to moving faster, saving time and resources, and greatly increasing agility without sacrificing quality.

In early 2022, Sandia leadership asked multidisciplinary teams to develop plans to implement an accelerated product realization approach, aimed at reducing the time it takes from nuclear weapon program conception to full-rate production by driving transformational business practices and engineering methods.

Associate Laboratories Director Rita Gonzales kicked off the day by thanking the teams for their dedication and collaboration and stressed that this is a Sandiawide effort.

“To become faster and more efficient, we need solutions across the Labs,” she said. “We need to challenge how we have realized product in the past and look for opportunities to improve.”

The symposium included presentations from teams on the capability areas of agile methods, digital engineering, modeling and simulation, accelerated business practices, knowledge gaps, accelerated hardware development and delivery, and weapons architecture.

Presenters shared progress ranging from software created to enable sharing lessons learned across the Labs, to mitigating roadblocks in procurement, to using modeling and simulation to provide thermal battery options three times faster than traditional methods. Each presentation allowed time for discussion with the more than 350 Sandians who attended at the Steve Schiff auditorium and those who joined online.

Building momentum

Moving forward in 2023, the milestone will focus more heavily on applying digital engineering tools earlier in processes to further accelerate delivery. Such tools include computer modeling, software and other digital technologies to assist in the creation, testing and analysis of engineering designs.

“We’re leveraging digital processes to minimize the risk of human error when moving across the production process,” said manager Justin Serrano. The team elaborated on what that means for Sandia’s nuclear deterrence mission and shared recent examples of how applying digital engineering practices helps reduce timelines and streamline work.

Deputy Labs Director Laura McGill reinforced the importance of faster decision-making combined with digital engineering during her address and shared tangible examples of ways leadership has leaned in to improve operations and capabilities, with plans to do even more this year.

“We need to apply modeling and simulation early in the design phase,” she said. “We have strong examples of success in conceptual design and test planning, but we still have room to grow in detailed design. Until we have our component design community writing requirements for modeling and simulation developers that support earlier design decisions, we’re not taking full advantage of these technologies.”

Laura spoke about initiatives that are enabling Sandia to deliver products faster, including Technical Expert Networks, where Sandia’s top experts in technical domains provide a framework to resolve roadblocks faster.

“We’ve made great progress here, with our partners at other labs, NNSA, and across the NSE (nuclear security enterprise),” she said. “I believe we still need to work on our risk tolerance and developing modular component and test architectures so that we’re all aligned on the path forward.”

Call to action

A common theme for the day was that it “takes all of us” and teams asked for support from the audience. Advanced Systems and Transformation Director Ernie Wilson closed the event via video.

“We need leaders thinking about opportunities in both new and existing work to increase the pace of delivery — whether it’s in Human Resources, Supply Chain, Facilities, Security or across the national security missions,” he said. “We’re built for hard problems at Sandia.”

Sandians interested in learning more about these efforts should contact or visit the symposium webpage.

Milestones make a difference to Labs’ mission

Accelerated product realization, the topic of a lively symposium last month, is just one of several milestones that organizations across the Labs are working hard to accomplish this year, and all of them feed into the overall Sandia strategy.

“Wherever people work, and whatever their role might be, they are contributing to at least some of one or more milestones and to the overall strategy,” said Cally Maloney, an executive strategy professional. “Accelerated product realization is truly enormous in its scope and impact on our mission, but efforts to achieve other milestones make a big difference day to day, and to future success.”

Milestones are aligned to five-year goals in the plan. Speakers at the symposium recounted how accelerated product realization saw significant progress in 2022 and moved Sandia toward achieving its goal to radically improve mission delivery. In fiscal year 2023, the milestone continues moving toward the goal as “accelerated hardware and software delivery through digital engineering,” which was discussed extensively during the symposium.

Among other Labswide efforts that tie directly to the 2023 milestones are reinvigorating Sandia’s role as systems integrator across the nuclear security enterprise, improving practices in project management and supply chain resilience, better recruiting and retention, redesign of the performance management system and building a more agile infrastructure to support the Labs’ evolving hybrid workforce.

Small teams across the Labs spent last year developing the milestones, and leadership teams have taken responsibility to marshal people and resources to ensure progress on each. A major focus of the 2023 process was how to plan and complete work in the face of rapid change — in the global picture, in the national security threats Sandia confronts and in the workforce.

The Strategic Plan and goals are key guideposts that help focus attention on who Sandia is, where it’s going and how it plans to get there, Cally said.

“Our goal in Strategy and Executive Operations is to help everyone understand how the Strategic Plan and the milestones connect directly to their work,” Cally said. “It only takes a few minutes to review materials that explain the plan, and I think people will be surprised by how relevant the plan is to what they do every day.”

Recent articles by Jennifer Awe