Virtual workshops set new standard

Published 10:52 pm Friday, November 14, 2008

Sometimes the best solution is the simplest.

At least, that’s the conclusion David Prothero and his team at Lockheed Martin recently reached.

Lockheed Martin is a leading security company, focusing on researching, developing and manufacturing technologies for the U.S. Department of Defense and other government agencies.

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Prothero has been working at Lockheed Martin’s Center of Innovation – located in North Suffolk – since fall of 2005. For the majority of that time, he worked mainly in resource allocation.

He helped oversee the use of Lockheed’s technical experts, audio/visual network resources and actual models and simulations for experiments that were too complex for other companies to do by themselves.

Then, last year, Prothero’s attentions were taken from outside experiments to in-house workshops.

Throughout the year, Lockheed Martin hosts about 16 workshops on a host of topics, such as product or technology development.

Before each workshop, there is the same desire to get the best speakers, presenters and minds to the event in order to produce the best results.

“The key part of a workshop is getting the right people,” Prothero said. “But the problem is the guys we really want have day jobs.”

After considering the time lost from travel, away from their own jobs and other ordinary scheduling conflicts, Prothero said, the list of confirmed workshop participants often looks nothing like the wish list of workshop participants.

Prothero and his team were charged with finding a solution.

And the solutions they found were simple: Don’t make participants travel to the meetings, and don’t require them to show up at a specific time.

“If you can do that, can you get the right people?” he asked. “And the answer is you get much closer.”

The team began working to combine technologies already in use at Lockheed to create a collaborative environment for workshop participants. The result was an interactive, virtual network that participants from across the country can enter at varying times, listening to speakers/presenters and giving their feedback or votes in an instant-message-type format.

Prothero says a bonus to the format is that it allows an even playing field for every participant’s idea, regardless of rank, title or personality type. This is not quite the case in normal face-to-face or small-group environments, where the most outgoing people can dominate group conversations.

“We want to control the facilitation,” Prothero said. “We don’t want the alpha dog to.”

At the end of the workshop, Lockheed staffers compile and analyze the feedback and the input from each of the participants. Later, participants receive a report on the outcome.

“It can be anti-climatic,” Prothero joked. “We finish on the last day and say, ‘Ok, thanks. We just picked your brain, you’ll hear from us in a couple of weeks.’”

Anti-climatic or not, this new way to workshop has become successful.

Right now, Prothero estimates, only 10 percent to 20 percent of all workshops are held in this virtual form. But he said there are hopes that eventually only 10 to 20 percent of workshops will be held the old-fashioned way.

For their part, officials at Lockheed Martin appreciated and enjoyed the approach of Prothero and his team.

Three weeks ago, Lockheed Martin held its annual NOVA Awards Ceremony at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

The NOVA is the highest award Lockheed gives its employees, demonstrating outstanding contributions to the corporation’s mission. Of the 140,000 people currently working for Lockheed across the globe, less than 700 are honored with a NOVA.

Prothero was one of those honored, walking away with an Individual Exceptional Service Award.

“I was really more of a representative of the team,” Prothero said of the win.

“No one does anything in this building solo.”

Not to be outdone, another Suffolk Center team also was honored with a NOVA. The Global Strike Initiative Team, which includes Lisa Izumi, Harry Johnson and Julie Sanchack, was honored with a Teamwork Award for its work addressing a national security shortfall and creating a solution that the Department of Defense customer called “best in industry.”

For more information on the Suffolk Center for Innovation, log online to