Rice University - Carbon Nanotechnology Lab

The Carbon Nanotechnology Lab at Rice University deployed Traction to support information exchange throughout a research program team. The deadlines were very tight and reporting cycles to the sponsor, DARPA, occurred weekly. Traction enabled the program team to coordinate activities and allowed the program manager, Howard Schmidt, to both manage the team effectively and be accountable to his sponsor. The solution brought hard returns to execution time and quality.

The Institution
Rice University’s Quantum Institute (RQI) has brought together a well-known collection of scientists and engineers dedicated to research and higher education in areas relating to quantum phenomena. Located in this prestigious institute is the Carbon Nanotechnology Laboratory (CNL) – a facility dedicated to continued development of carbon-based nanotechnology. Nanotechnology, loosely defined as the study of functional structures with dimensions in the 1-1000 nanometer range and is based on the principle of building with chemistry and biology one atom at a time.

The Challenge
In late 2004, The CNL received DARPA funding for one of its highly visible projects and wanted a more efficient and streamlined way to facilitate reporting and communicate frequent progress updates among the original 30+ researchers, post doctorates, professors and students working on unusually tight deadlines for this high profile project.

Previously, CNL researchers primarily used e-mail to communicate progress on a particular project. During these informal communications, many project members were inadvertedly left out of the e-mail string and were not kept abreast of important project details that could impact their work. Incremental results were jotted down in lab notebooks that could not be shared easily and researchers did not know what progress had been made in a particular research project.

Howard Schmidt, Executive Director at CNL and Program Leader, saw the problems in the traditional communication methods and recognized the need for a technology that would enable more efficient working communications. A further issue was his need to report to DARPA weekly with program progress. With so many people involved, it would be very time consuming to provide an accurate, up to date, report. Schmidt decided to seek a solution.

The Solution and Results
Schmidt needed a way to implement a new project management system across eight groups reporting to him. Schmidt looked for communication and collaboration tools that were easier to deploy and use than Lotus Notes, yet provide good organization, discussion, and reporting capability. After investigating his options, Schmidt chose Traction TeamPage Enterprise Blog software. After purchasing the product, Schmidt was up and running in 90 minutes and found the tool extremely easy to use.

Traction’s blog solution offered dramatic collaboration and working communications benefits and was used as the new project management system. Researchers now were able to communicate, share, organize and link lab research information from all sources in context in a centralized place.

As compared to using e-mail, Schmidt noticed that people were more thoughtful with their comments and that the quality of reporting was enhanced. The software allowed Schmidt to automatically generate “Daily Digest” e-mails that consolidated and summarized the previous day's new content to all project members keeping them informed and up to date.

By using Traction to track program/project team activities, incremental project results were now able to be documented in a way which tripled the progress rate and significantly reduced the time to project completion. Also, because Traction allowed all members to share information, new ideas were generated which were crucial to the outcome of the research project.

The user community increased to over 55 people using Traction in 8 different groups across the facility and Schmidt is extremely excited about how this tool enhanced the quality of the research, decreased the completion time for research projects, and improved management reporting.

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