Pioneering research requires pioneering project management

  • 09/11/2020

That is why Evoniks MACBETH Project Team of the HyFo Case is using an agile project management framework. Since beginning of this year, they have been working with Objective and Key Results (OKRs) to manage their goals and plan their activities.
In the framework all actions and initiatives are guided by OKRs. An OKR-set comprises an Objective – a clearly defined and inspirational goal combined with three Key Results, quantitative measures to track goal achievement. “An OKR cycle lasts three months, then we use a whole day workshop to look back at our achievements and define a new OKR-set for the next cycle. Since the whole team, from management to lab technician, is involved and has equal say in setting the OKR-sets, alignment of the whole team is guaranteed and high personal engagement created”, explains Linda Arsenjuk, project manager at Evonik Process Technology Department. The team uses aspirational “moon-shots” OKRs. That means they are set boldly, with a confidence of accomplishment of only 60-70%. Being used to a work environment where goals are usually set to be achieved, this can firstly appear intimidating. But once used to it, it is very motivating and helps to develop original ideas and strike unconventional paths to advance faster.
This method was originally designed to manage goal setting on a whole company level. It has been made famous by Google and is nowadays growing increasingly popular in other successful tech companies like LinkedIn, Twitter and Uber. Using this method for project management in chemical engineering research may seem unconventional at first glance, but it turns out to be just the right tool to manage such a complex project at high level of uncertainty. Developing a new reactor technology is a task with dynamic and sometimes unforeseen challenges. There have been times where new findings entailed a shift of actions. In contrast to planning with a conventional waterfall approach, OKR method allows enough flexibility to adapt fast to changing requirements.

“We are pursuing an ambitious time schedule to realize the heterogenized Hydroformylation in a production environment. When working on such a fascinating research topic, one must ensure not to get lost in detail but to direct the investigative spirit on actions to bring us closer to this goal. The OKR framework helps us to focus, while staying creative,” says Prof. Dr. Robert Franke, Project Coordinator of the overall MACBETH project and Head of Hydroformylation Research at Evonik.
As a great side effect, OKR-method also helps the team to work effectively in the pandemic. Having the framework already set and a regular meeting structure and tools established, there were little hurdles to transfer the routine to a virtual environment. Just recently the whole team took part in a one day workshop planning the next OKR-cycle half virtual, half personal.

See also Evonik website under this link.