Q: Michael, you’ve been at the Lab for five years in March. What have been the top challenges you’ve encountered as deputy lab director for operations?
First, serving the Laboratory as Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Lab Director for Operations has been a privilege. I remain impressed by everyone’s commitment to our scientific mission, regardless of their role here. This is truly the essence of what makes our Lab exceptional. We collaborate as one Lab to help humankind.
My top priority is reflected in the nature of operations: to resolve challenges and solve problems. We do so daily with our highly qualified and experienced leaders and staff committed to carrying out our science mission safely.
Over the past five years, my top priorities have been to hire a new leadership team to improve operations efficiency and effectiveness, modernize and maintain our facilities, and lead Operations through several unique investment opportunities to improve the condition of our facilities and utilities.
My answer is complete with recognizing a top challenge for my leadership team and, frankly, for the entire laboratory, which has been to continue operating the Lab successfully during emergencies and events. The most notable of these began in October 2019 when we safely responded to the public safety power shutdowns by PG&E. Then we safely restored power to the Lab and resumed our research mission.
Then, of course, followed by three years of the Covid pandemic.
I’m so proud of the Lab coming together to navigate this unprecedented period successfully. We responded to those events while accomplishing our mission and protecting the health and safety of our staff and neighbors.
Q: The people of the Lab have worked hard in the past few years to gain the trust of our sponsors. How does Operations play a role in gaining and keeping the trust of our regulators, and why is that important?
Trust happens when we commit to daily living by our stewardship values. This begins with mutual respect, which builds trust to form between individuals and groups. Ultimately this creates a foundation for teaming to occur across the Lab. These values are self-reinforcing, resulting in improvements and innovation in service and our science.
The DOE has very high expectations and standards for operational performance. Individual and collective success relies on applying our values in everything we do and communicating with our sponsors and regulators.
The continued success of our laboratory is directly related to partnering with DOE and our science sponsors to accomplish our mission by efficiently and effectively managing the Lab in a way that accomplishes several things. One is the hiring and development of a diverse and highly skilled workforce. The next is protecting the health and safety of our employees and our neighbors while satisfying the many regulatory and performance requirements of the DOE. We need to maintain and modernize our research labs and, of course, successfully complete our many construction and maintenance improvement projects.
Q: Everyone at the Lab knows all the construction at the main site. What’s happening, and why is there so much of it suddenly?
We are improving our existing facilities and building the Lab of the future. The DOE continues to invest in large scientific and new construction projects because we have an excellent record of project performance and delivering on our science mission goals.
Lab leadership is committed to growing our research portfolio which requires upgrading our utilities, cleaning up old sites, and constructing new facilities to replace obsolete ones.
While a lot of construction is happening suddenly, the Lab Director and our senior leaders have been working over the past seven years to modernize and revitalize our Lab. It takes a long time to construct or even renovate a new facility. Each construction project typically takes three to eight years to complete and move into the new facility.
Q: These sound like wonderful projects, but what about the changes to parking, food, and coffee for the next few years? Those things are important to the successful completion of our work.
I agree these things are important and the revitalization of the Lab is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the quality of our buildings and the reliability of our utilities. These are badly needed projects to improve the entire Lab’s condition and create modern research facilities that we can be proud of. But I’m the first to admit it won’t be easy.
Of course, I miss the convenience of buying a cup of Peet’s or grabbing lunch at the cafeteria. But even more importantly, I miss those spontaneous and casual conversations that happened so often and were enjoyable before the pandemic. Now that we’re coming out of the pandemic, we have new opportunities to engage with one another.
I’m asking each of you for your understanding and patience. The inconveniences we are experiencing will be resolved over time. Let me talk about what we’re doing in the meantime.
We do have food and beverage options. Each day we have a food truck in the parking lot in front of the IGB, Building 91, from 11 to 2. We also have plans to add a second food truck in the coming months. We’re also planning to provide additional food and beverage services around the Lab, including a micro market at the Guest House with beverages, grab-and-go salads, sandwiches, drinks, and microwavable options.
For coffee, we added a high-tech coffee machine in the IGB on the third floor and watch for news of a coffee truck or cart coming later next month. You can grab a shuttle and go into Berkeley. And as always, food deliveries by DoorDash, Uber Eats, and other delivery services are permitted.
You asked about parking. We currently have open parking spaces around the Lab each day, but they may sometimes be farther away from your building than you would like. If you arrive after 9 a.m., please allow extra time to walk or take a shuttle to your building from your parking space. To help with this inconvenience, we have shuttles circling the Lab. Typically, they arrive within ten minutes, so I encourage you to take advantage of this transportation option.
In addition to shuttle routes linking the Lab to transit centers such as BART and the train station, we plan to introduce several new commute innovations such as sit-down scooter rentals and e-bike leases.
Finally, we do want to hear from you. We are listening. Our Parking Policy Group is looking at the current parking policy and will be making recommendations for updating the policy later this spring. And we look forward to those comments at email@example.com.
Q: How does Operations partner with research on large and small projects?
While there are many examples of how Operations collaborates to support research across the Lab, I would like to highlight one division, Facilities. They have piloted a model to improve service delivery that directly supports science.
The model is showing excellent results. For example, work order cycle time has been reduced by 40%, the backlog of old work orders has been reduced by 25%, and communication has improved by having a single point of contact to listen, understand, and take action on your concerns. Overall, feedback from our scientific colleagues has been very positive. While there is still much work to be done, these early results are encouraging, and we will continue to partner with you, listen, and modify our plans as we learn more.
Each of the other operations divisions has teams working across the Lab to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their service delivery to support you and your organizations to help you successfully perform your work so we can achieve our important scientific mission for the nation.
Q: The Lab is made up of buildings and infrastructure, but at heart, it’s the people. What have you learned about the people of the Lab?
I’m most impressed by our colleagues’ commitment to the Lab’s scientific mission and advancing discovery science, and I’m even more impressed by everyone’s commitment to our stewardship values.
During these three pandemic years, I’ve learned that we are a resilient and collaborative community of colleagues united in continuing our crucial scientific mission while protecting the health and safety of one another and achieving outstanding institutional performance during this difficult time. I have seen that we have lived our values of respect, trust, and team science to continue to innovate and serve one another.
Q: You’ve been on site almost every day during the pandemic. Why was being physically at the Lab important to you?
If you recall, March 2020 was a confusing time. People were concerned about how the virus was transmitted. We only had limited reliable information. The majority of the Lab moved to telework. At that time, in late March 2020, I met with a group of Facility employees, spread apart in a parking lot, to listen to and understand their concerns and respond to their questions. They were rightfully worried about their safety and being alone, given that most of the Lab was now working remotely.
I was inspired by each of our essential workers who came to work and courageously performed their jobs during the uncertainty of the Covid crisis and kept the Lab safe and operational. I heard their concerns, and I committed to being here for them. I’ll always remember that discussion in the B76 parking lot with our Facilities staff, and I’m proud of their dedication to our laboratory.
My daily presence continues to be an important leadership lesson. Lead by example, be visible and available at the Lab, and show our staff that you care about their well-being. I lead by being here, from the front, to support them and their colleagues.
Q: More people are physically coming to Lab sites again. What makes you excited about that change?
It’s been three years since we could congregate freely at the Lab without Covid safety protocols and restrictions on group gatherings.
So, as more people return to the Lab, I look forward to chance encounters where we can visit with one another and personally connect. I miss speaking and interacting with all of you in person. For me, these conversations create a deeper sense of connection, and that connection can lead to new ideas. This is what reflects the essence of what being part of our Lab culture means to me.
Here’s an example. I met with Miles Green and Darrin Chavarria from IT yesterday, and they showed me a set of high-definition video screens. It was a chance encounter, but we talked for 15 minutes about their work, and they were excited to share their new tools with me before formally rolling it out to the Lab. It’s these kinds of things that I miss. It’s the conversation that can’t be planned or scheduled. It just happens.
Q: What accomplishments or progress are you most proud of in the last five years?
There’s a lot to be proud of. I’ll share a few observations.
Arriving at our Lab five years ago, I was impressed and encouraged by our collective commitment to team science, regardless of one’s role at the Lab. I found that our culture fosters building trust-based and collaborative relationships. And most importantly for me, as a new person at the Lab, I felt welcomed and hopeful that I could do my best and contribute to the future of the Lab.
I’m proud of the leadership team that I’ve assembled. They are dedicated professionals committed to the success of the Lab in everything they do. A few accomplishments we’ve achieved together include managing unanticipated operational challenges and events, the most notable being the PSPS events and three years of the Covid pandemic.
Another important accomplishment has been listening to performance improvement feedback about Operations. That feedback comes from all of you, and it also comes externally from our various regulators. All of this has helped us steadily improve the Lab’s performance over the past five years, and it has earned the DOE’s confidence so much that they have given us all “As” in our annual performance assessment for the past two years.
Another is teaming across the Lab to anticipate, identify, and mitigate or prevent risks that could have harmed any of us, impacted our neighbors, or impacted the environment. This can be seen in how we work safely together, demonstrated by the best safety statistics of any Office of Science lab.
I’m proud of how we implemented maintenance and construction projects to improve the reliability of our utilities and the condition of our facilities to enable research activities. We have earned and kept DOE’s confidence in our construction project support because we have a healthy safety culture. We keep our commitments.
And finally, being part of a Lab that fully embraces and celebrates our IDEA principles which significantly contribute to our collective mission success.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What do you enjoy doing when you’re not the Deputy Lab Director for Operations?
When I’m not at the Lab, I enjoy being outdoors, whether cycling, hiking, climbing, or enjoying the beauty of the Bay Area, the Eastern Sierras, and the desert of Joshua Tree in Southern California with friends and family. The outdoors has always been rejuvenating for me, and it’s where I do my most creative thinking. You’ll see me walking around the Lab whenever my schedule allows.
I’ve recently resumed gardening, which is a lifelong passion. As our community has safely reopened, I enjoy my early morning gym workouts, attending concerts and sporting events, and our cafe culture here in Berkeley.
I’m delighted to live and work here in the Bay Area.