DOE Project Leadership Institute award returns to Fermilab

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Project Leadership Institute has awarded Cristian Boffo a 2022 PLI Capstone Project Award. Boffo is project manager for the Proton Improvement Plan II, or PIP-II, project at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

Cristian Boffo displays the Project Leadership Institute capstone award plaque alongside his teammates, from left: Janet Kan, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; Chris Crawford, Savannah River National Laboratory; Ann Shattuck, Los Alamos National Laboratory; Cristian Boffo, Fermilab; and Matthaeus Leitner, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Photo: Los Alamos National Laboratory

The Project Leadership Institute is a DOE program to support the development of the future leaders of major, high-risk DOE projects. Its mission is to cultivate a diverse network of successful DOE project delivery practitioners, thus contributing to building a culture of project management excellence across DOE.

“Highly complex projects require not only the right tools, know-how and ability to problem solve but also effective collaboration and interpersonal skills,” said Elaine McCluskey, PLI director. “The PLI program is focused on developing project leaders, inviting them to be introspective and support their growth from managers to leaders.”

The PLI takes a cohort of 20 to 25 program managers, project directors, project managers, control account managers and project controls analysts, and DOE federal employees engaged with major projects from all the DOE laboratories. The program provides participants with the tools necessary to be a successful project leader in the DOE system, including training on how to collaborate with others and respect one another.

“The program is building a strong foundation of leaders at Fermilab and all the DOE sites to address the challenges in DOE now and in the future,” said McCluskey.

PLI divides the cohort into teams of four or five people. Each team works together over the course of a full calendar year to perform a case study analysis. The program culminates in a final written and oral team presentation.

The 2022 case study analysis focused on the performance of the multi-laboratory team that successfully completed the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Testing facility — or DARHT, the first hydrodynamic test facility instrument built in the nation — at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The PLI participants watched presentations about the case study, interviewed project leaders at all levels from DOE to group mangers, and visited the facility to analyze the performance of the project and the team dynamics behind it. 

Boffo and his team kept their attention on the culture around the project, which he thinks helped them stand out from the others. “For us, the focus was to understand how project culture and personal interactions affected the performance of the project. How did people act? How did they change the way they acted to be successful?” said Boffo. “We named our team ‘Culture Club’ to make our intentions very clear.”

From the left, Doug Glenzinski, Cristian Boffo and Lia Merminga stand with the 2022 PLI Project Capstone Award winners’ plaque. Photo: Dan Svoboda, Fermilab

He also thought their final presentation, titled “Riding the Waves to Success,” helped them clinch the top spot. After being taught strategies for effective presentations, his team employed “waves” as a theme throughout their summary. The waves represented both the waves employed by the technology involved in DARHT, as well as the metaphorical waves of the stalls and starts of the project’s progression.

Boffo said the experience allowed him to perform a deep dive in the DOE system. “I learned and applied project management in industry,” he said. “When I joined PIP-II, I had to learn the DOE processes, and that’s very different than industry standards.”

Boffo also said the program is an excellent networking opportunity. He has kept in touch with his cohort, as well as members of previous cohorts, thanks to the extensive PLI alumni network.

Nearly nine months after the 2022 PLI program ended, Boffo said he still sees the benefits in his work today. “The more you do with it, the more you get out,” he said.

The winning PLI team receives a plaque that is passed between the labs of the participants, after which it is permanently displayed in DOE headquarters in Germantown, Maryland. The plaque recently arrived at Fermilab and is on display in the executive suite near Director Lia Merminga’s office.

In addition to Boffo, the winning team consisted of Chris Crawford, Savannah River National Laboratory; Janet Kan, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; Matthaeus Leitner, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and Ann Shattuck, Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Previously, Fermilab’s Luisella Lari received a 2018 PLI Capstone Project Award.

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