anotech is a tiny wonder with titanic project potential. Across sectors as diverse as
energy, biomedicine and transportation,
startups and established organizations alike
are launching projects to develop new nanomaterials for use in everything from electric-vehicle batteries to life-saving medical implants.
Already, clothing and apparel companies make
nanotech shirts and pants that resist odor, water
and dirt. Nissan’s first self-cleaning car prototype uses
a nanotech-based protective paint coating that deflects
dirt and mud. And 3M recently introduced a flexible nanotech
solar panel that rolls out like a sheet of plastic but still has protective properties that rival those of glass.
The potential of nanotech to power next-gen products is clear—but the field’s
high innovation quotient also delivers major risks. While working to manipulate
atoms and molecules a million times smaller than the length of an ant, project
managers must navigate high-risk terrain from start to finish. Schedules and
budgets can spiral out of control when test results fall short. And a lack of standardized safety guidelines and dearth of experienced, knowledgeable talent also
pose project threats.
Yet organizations are undeterred. Each year, corporations and governments
invest billions of dollars in nanotech R&D, including US$18.1 billion in 2014,
the most recent year with available data. With big money at play, benefit expectations are sky-high—and the pressure is on project managers to flex their skills
to deliver ROI and mitigate risks.
“The project manager has to dive into many different disciplines on a
nanotech project. He [or she] can’t just be sitting in the helicopter,” says
Romano Hoofman, PhD, PMP, R&D program manager, NXP Semiconductors in Leuven, Belgium.
GROUNDING HIGH HOPES
Early in a nanotech project’s life cycle, project managers can provide a valuable
reality check. By honing the business case and pushing for a more detailed plan,
they can prevent internal R&D teams from overselling a project’s potential and
creating unrealistic expectations among stakeholders and sponsors.
A cost/benefit analysis is a good first step, says Paul Kozak, PMP, a consultant
on nanotech projects based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Factors
such as special raw materials, complex processing methods or long develop-
by corporations and