PROJECT MANAGEMENT

In Figure 3.1 we see the basic management structure of an ERATO project. Each project involves between fifteen and twenty researchers. Participants are further divided into an average of three groups, composed of five or six researchers each, with one person in each group designated the group leader. There is also a "project office" composed of a research manager and an administrative manager, who help with many of the day-to-day details of managing the project, including ordering the equipment, managing the finances, doing the paperwork, and interfacing with ERATO headquarters. Including supporting staff, most projects involve about twenty-five persons.

The 1995 JTEC panelists found surprisingly little variation in this basic structure in the projects they visited. However, within this structure, there was unusual variability in project management styles, team composition and skill mix, and budget utilization. In some projects, especially those with higher numbers of doctoral researchers and loosely defined project themes, the researchers work almost independently of one another. In such cases, group leaders were more experienced researchers who functioned chiefly as coaches or facilitators. In other projects, especially where there were many inexperienced researchers, the JTEC panel found more structure and hierarchy and consequently, more control of the project by the director and group leaders. No matter what the management style, once their projects were defined, ERATO researchers were given sufficient freedom to explore interesting avenues of research within their chosen areas.

organizational chart
Fig. 3.1. ERATO organizational chart.

Most likely, such variability exists because of the extremely broad discretionary power vested in the project director. Within the basic ERATO framework, the director has almost complete freedom to determine the scope, staffing, and management of the project. In fact, the director must fulfill just three obligations: to conduct the research within budget, to present progress reports at annual conferences, and to submit a final report after the project is completed.

With some variation, the project director usually hires all the researchers and negotiates salaries and terms of employment (within the limits set by JRDC). However, he usually plays a minimal role in the day-to-day execution of the project. Per agreement with his home university or company, he is usually limited to 20% time on the project, or about one day per week. However, he typically spends considerably more time than this just thinking about and planning the project.

The ERATO system is designed to enhance individual-oriented research activities as well as organizational flexibility and fluidity. For example, a particular research theme is assigned to each researcher in accordance with his or her own research interests. In each project, allocation of research funds is the responsibility of the project director or group leaders.

However, researchers also work together as a team and usually meet at least once a week to discuss their work. There is some evidence that group peer pressure is significant. In some cases, researchers from Western countries have encountered problems in coping with the Japanese group dynamics. For example, several researchers (from different projects) encountered significant "conflict" because they failed to obtain the consensus of their group before starting new lines of research. In other instances, foreign researchers encountered some resistance in the group to openly discussing and criticizing each other's research ideas and findings.

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Published: September 1996; WTEC Hyper-Librarian