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  • Writer's pictureJeff Behrens

Managing Time and Priorities for Scientific CEOs

Updated: 4 days ago

The challenge

In the realm of scientific innovation, CEOs of science-based companies face unique challenges. The fast-paced nature of scientific advancements, combined with the responsibilities of running a company, can create uniquely overwhelming workload. This is especially true for those leading scientific organizations where the demands of R&D, operational management, fundraising, team building, and strategic planning intersect.


Scientific CEOs often spent much of their training working independently without significant opportunities to develop and hone people and team management skills. And many of the key early employees of science-focused startups may themselves have only recently left academia and haven’t yet developed comfort with team-based working habits.


Managing a science-focused company requires juggling a wide range of competing responsibilities including:


  • Operational Demands: Keeping the company's day-to-day operations efficient and responsive to the needs of ongoing projects and staff.

  • Scientific Research Management: Overseeing research projects, ensuring they align with company objectives and deliver valuable outcomes.

  • Team Building and HR: Building a culture of innovation and collaboration while managing the complexities of human resources.

  • Board Management: Navigating the expectations and strategic input of board members and investors to align with company goals.

  • Fundraising Efforts: Essential for fueling research and development but requiring significant time investment and strategic planning.

  • Strategic Leadership: Being able to rapidly switch between 'working on' versus 'working in' the company, focusing both on longer-term vision while managing the day-to-day crises.

Effective Strategies for Time Management and Priority Setting


1. Invest in Delegation and Team Dynamics to Build a Supportive Team Structure


Leveraging both internal talent and external expertise is critical for reducing workload and fostering innovation. First time CEOs often, out of necessity, wear many hats and dig into all sort of details while getting the company up and running. But this instinct is not scalable and can become a significant set of handcuffs to a growing company.

New science-CEOs need to learn to delegate effectively to other team members so they can increase focus on CEO-critical activities including fundraising, board management, early business development outreach and overall strategy. This means both building the team and implementing work and communication patterns that enable effective delegation.


In the early days of team building there is constant tension between outsourcing a function, finding external advisors/consultants, and bringing in full-time talent. Tasks that first are completed by consultants may be “in-sourced” over time as they grow in scope or complexity. Added challenge: as the extended team grows, it becomes a growing time-demand on the CEO and can, early-on, feel like it takes more time to manage than just doing the task yourself! Over time with practice people manage really does start to pay off!


And be sure to find opportunities to celebrate wins, interim milestones, and individual and team accomplishments. Taking the team out to lunch somewhere fun; organizing an afternoon wine tasting, or a chili-cookoff can boost morale and strengthen the team.


2. Optimize Communication & Establish Productive Communication Flows


It can be helpful to schedule regular time on the weekly calendar for recurring meetings, check-ins and other critical communication events. By scheduling far in advance and establishing rhythms that the entire team can buy into, CEOs can focus dedicated time to these issues but equally can clear other blocks of time on the calendar for other critical activities. Some suggested pre-scheduled management slots include:


  • Daily Huddles: Quick meetings to align on daily research goals and operational priorities.

  • Weekly Check-ins: with direct reports to gauge progress and tackle emerging issues. These can be short (15-30 minutes) unless major problems have arisen. A walking meeting can also get you outside with a little exercise!

  • Team Meetings: Regular sessions to discuss project updates, share research insights, and strategize.

  • Strategic Reviews: Quarterly meetings with the board and team to review achievements and plan future initiatives.

3. Streamline Project Management By Leveraging Technology


  • Utilize platforms like Asana for project management to allow for transparent tracking of research and development milestones across your team. These are effectively super-enhanced todo lists with assignment to individual people, deadlines, dependencies and other bells and whistles.

  • Alternatively, develop a simple custom solution with a tool like Airtable - once in place for a first task management role it can be extended to track many other company data sources, tables, and critical lists. (See below)

  • Don’t forget personal planning and todo management. Setting daily and weekly goals can help to maintain focus on both immediate tasks and long-term objectives.

4. Leverage Email and Communication Management Tools and Build a Shared Culture Around Communication Expectations


  • Adopt email management tools to streamline communication and ensure timely responses. These can include building a culture on “inbox zero” and using an email client that allows for scheduling an email message, if not responded to, to re-appear at a specific time in the future.

  • Chat tools like Slack can increase communications efficiency especially in today’s often remote workplace. Building a shared culture on what types of team communications should go on Slack vs. Email is important as well.

  • Set expectations for on- and off- site presence and response expectations. How quickly should emailed be responded to during the week vs. evenings and weekends?

5. Centralize Data and Information Sharing: Create a Unified Knowledge Base


  • Utilize cloud services for document and data storage to facilitate easy access and collaboration. With remote work becoming part of many companies’ culture, it is essential to use tools like Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, or Google Docs for central shared file management. And backups are now built in!

  • Build shared databases for critical company info with a tool like Airtable. In a startup a couple of people often become the informal data “gurus”, developing simple apps and databases and leading implementation and usage.

  • Employ structured data tools to build shared resources. Electronic lab notebook (ELN) software is affordable (and essential.) Citation/bibliographic/reference management tools for academic articles can be very helpful in many science-driven startups - EndNote and Mendeley are great examples.

Conclusion


For CEOs at the helm of scientific companies, effectively managing time and priorities is not just about personal productivity; it's about leading scientic startups towards innovation and growth in a highly competitive landscape. By strategically delegating tasks, fostering efficient communication, leveraging technology for project management, and streamlining information sharing, scientific CEOs can navigate the complexities of their roles more effectively. Investments in systems promote a shared knowledge base and work patterns. These strategies, though challenging to implement, are essential for sustaining productivity, promoting team cohesion, and ultimately driving scientific and business success.


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