It is our pleasure to introduce Sean Bolton, the Project Manager in CPI who he has a strong process development engineering background with a demonstrated history of working in the research industry. Within SmartEEs project, Sean is responsible for the service delivery management and portfolio management of the selected Application Experiments (AEs). In this interview he will be elaborating on his experiences and major challenges with management of the first three cut-off selected AEs.
- What it the role of CPI in the SmartEEs project?
CPI, as an RTO, is providing expertise and equipment to ensure ICs developing projects can do them with greater speed and less risk than would happen if they were to develop projects on their own. CPI is leveraging knowledge or capital equipment from previous EU and UK projects to highlight and then overcome problems with individual AEs.
CPI is also managing some of the work packages or tasks within SmartEEs to ensure a smooth flow of information between ICs and RTOs.
- When did you join the SmartEEs project? How would you describe your first experience with the SmartEEs project and partners?
- CPI, along with many of the RTOs, started working on an FP7 project COLAE and therefore were supporting the bid writing of the project from its inception. As the project was developed with the collaboration partners each has contributed something extra to ensure a well-run and interesting project with very interesting AEs.
The collaboration partners have worked well together on several projects and so there is a good understanding and respect for each other’s skills and expertise. SmartEEs has been especially successful with the outreach to SMEs and the delivery of new prototypes and demonstrators.
Myself, I joined the SmartEEs project late in 2018, about 13 months after the SmartEEs project had started. I came in with a fresh pair of eyes and not a clue what was going on! However, I quickly got up to speed with the project as the partners were very helpful and took the time to clearly explain areas I lacked understanding. I have good attention to detail, with which I noticed little discrepancies that longer serving partners had missed; each time that I had raised these with the SmartEEs partners, they could have easily been unwelcoming to someone new picking away at little details. However, they were open to my comments and suggestions, and we worked collaboratively to address them; just one of many reasons why I love being involved in this project.
- You have been assigned the roles of a Service Delivery Manager and a Portfolio Manager within the SmartEEs project. Could you tell us a bit more about the two roles, and what are the major differences between them?
- A Service Delivery Manager is a form of Project Manager, who is assigned to an AE and they work for the organisation providing the IC with the technical services. Their role is to manage the overall progress of the AE, ensuring all is running to plan. As well as making sure the AE is delivered on time and cost, the SDM plays an important part in making sure that the quality of services delivered is of an acceptable standard and that potential impact (such as IP, technical developments and market opportunities) are captured for the IC to later exploit.
A Portfolio Manager oversees the SDMs and the progress of all AEs, each month each AE’s progress is reported to the portfolio manager and can make an assessment on how well the AE is doing. From the assessment, the portfolio manager can make a judgement on if the AE or SDM needs more support or if the AE is fine without any intervention. This information can then be reported to the wider consortium. Additionally, it is the portfolio manager’s responsibility to make sure the SDMs are managing their AEs to a good standard which is consistent across the AEs.
The key differences are:
- The portfolio manager provides the SDM’s with the support and tools to run an AE, whereas the SDM provides the support directly to the AE and IC
- An SDM runs an AE, whereas, the portfolio manager oversees the progress of all the AEs
- The SDM is responsible for reporting on the specifics of the AE and the Portfolio Manager is responsible for compiling this information to report it to funding authorities and project partners.
- How many Application Experiments do you currently manage as a Service Delivery Manager? What is your relationship with the selected Innovative Companies (ICs)?
- I have had 3 AE’s, one is currently live, one was cancelled due restrictions in the ICs own funding mechanisms and one is currently in the contractual development phase.
As an SDM, I aim to be helpful and accommodating to the IC; I encourage collaborative behaviour between the IC and the teams working on the AE. As AEs only have up to 9 months to develop and produce a prototype, I must make sure that progression on all sides (IC, business services and technical support) is happening according to the plan; I find that taking an honest approach to inform the IC about the progress is best to overcome any challenges that I can directly influence that may arise.
In general, I aim to establish a trusting relationship with the IC and to provide them with the confidence that they will have a successfully developed and produced prototype at the end of the AE; so that they can look to move closer to commercialising their product.
- How many other Service Delivery Managers do you currently interact with? What is your relationship with them?
- There are now 10 other SDMs since the last round of AEs being selected in May. I have met many of them in person and between us, we recognise the value that each other brings to the portfolio. The backgrounds of the SDMs are very diverse and we can learn a lot from each other. My favourite part of working on SmartEEs is meeting and working with the amazing people that are also involved with the project.
- What are the major challenges you face in the two duties you perform? Which role do you prefer?
The biggest challenge is balancing priorities. As well as these two duties, I have other commitments to the SmartEEs project; I am a work package leader and I also oversee a large task to do with the delivery of AEs. My preferred role is that of the portfolio manager, as it is a new area for me and I find that overseeing and reporting on the successful delivery of multiple projects/AE very rewarding. Alongside SmartEEs, I manage many other development projects, so portfolio management is also a new and exciting challenge for me to gain experience in.
- What are the major risks in the delivery of the Application Experiments? How do you deal with them?
- The major risks that we face in the delivery of AEs are unforeseen delays, scope creep and technical barriers. These are all common risks to a technical prototype development project. The delays often occur because there are many known unknowns during development; for example, materials might not be known until the AE is in delivery and once selected it may be found that the lead time is 2-months out of the 9-month AE. Technical development is not easy, as developments progress new technical challenges can arise. Scope creep can occur when planning is poor or if the IC is asking for more than what was originally specified. Therefore, we start to consider ways in which to deliver a successful project with the IC whilst we draft the contract (Service Delivery Agreement), this allows us to consider materials, plan delivery with contingency and work with the IC to mutually agree on the specifications of the prototype; minimising the risks stated above. If a risk does become an issue or increases then the SDMs are skilled in dealing with it and they also have support from their own organisation, as well as the SmartEEs partners to help them.
- How long does an Application Experiment approximately last? When can we expect to see the first prototypes of the AEs?
- AEs last up to 9 months and the first round of AEs are beginning to end now, so you will be able to see the first prototypes start to emerge very soon!
- What are your priorities for the upcoming period?
- As an SDM, I plan to work more closely with the ICs of my AEs to get a better understanding of what ICs need from SDMs. As a Portfolio Manager, I am working with the other SDMs to review and document the role of an SDM to provide guidance notes to future SDMs who are new to SmartEEs and to implement continuous improvement of the role and how it is executed.
- Thank you for your time. What would be your message for the Innovative Companies who would be interested in applying to the SmartEEs Call for Application Experiments?
- SmartEEs provides ICs with an excellent opportunity to take their concept ideas through to prototype, whilst accessing business support and guidance through our business service providers; which will help you accelerate your prototype to market. You will not find many other opportunities that have all this service in one place and deliver it within a year of your application submission; the range of skills and capabilities across the SmartEEs consortium is very impressive. The funding opportunity is currently a very attractive package too!