Blue Brain Project structure and governance at a glance

The Blue Brain Project is a research centre at the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), which is one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH).

The aim of Blue Brain is to establish simulation neuroscience as a complementary approach alongside experimental, theoretical and clinical neuroscience to understanding the brain, by building the world’s first biologically detailed digital reconstructions and simulations of the mouse brain. 

In pursuit of this goal, Blue Brain follows a four-year roadmap with specific scientific milestones to achieve during this period. The scientific milestones, which are verified by independent scientists, guide the Blue Brain in our day-to-day science but when achieved and shared, help other brain initiatives and the wider scientific communities achieve their goals.

Based on the requirements of the roadmap, Blue Brain Project is structured into three Divisions – 1.) Simulation Neuroscience, 2) Computing and 3) Operations, each led by a Division Director.

At the end of 2016, following the arrival of Director of Operations, (Adriana Salvatore), the Project underwent a major restructuring. Consequently, the traditional functional structure has been replaced by a specific function-project based matrix and in conjunction, the Project Management Office was established. By coordinating projects, the Project Management Office supports and channels the scientific innovation within Blue Brain using a variety of related techniques and processes.

Adhering to the roadmap, Blue Brain’s data-driven research approach is carried out through projects, each led by a Project Manager, a Science Lead and a Computing/Engineering Lead who together coordinate cross-disciplinary teams.

These projects are grouped into ‘tracks’ which contribute to the same broad area of research. A track sponsor lead (one of the Divisional Leaders) constitutes the interface between the project and the rest of the Leadership Team.

Within Blue Brain, decisions are taken, progress monitored, risks managed and information shared through a set of teams and meetings operating across three levels: strategic, managerial and tactical.

At a strategic level, the overall Blue Brain direction is decided and strategic objectives defined by the BBP Leadership Team. At a managerial level, strategic objectives are rolled out and led as tactical plans and at a practical level, plans are executed and routine activities and decisions are managed accordingly.

Blue Brain’s strategic management is provided by the Leadership Team, which consists of the three Divisional Directors (Henry Markram, Felix Schürmann and Adriana Salvatore).

Responsibilities include; setting the direction for Blue Brain, translating Blue Brain’s vision into high level planning, approving and guiding tracks and projects, making final decisions on budget, hiring and resources allocation, identifying and managing risks and monitoring progress and performance. The decisions of the Leadership Team are taken when unanimous consent is reached and are recorded in the minutes of the weekly meeting.

The Tracks Management team, who meet monthly, includes all Blue Brain’s section managers in the Simulation Neuroscience and Computing Divisions, the project managers, and the Divisional Directors.

The tracks team takes a helicopter view on ongoing projects, leveraging available resources and resolving bottlenecks. Its mandate is to; supervise project planning and resource allocations, manage interdependencies among projects, monitor progress and report to the leadership on progress, identify risks, and formulate proposals for their management.

The Section Managers team includes all Blue Brain managers and directors with the purpose to facilitate integration and collaboration among the different research disciplines. Meeting once a month, its mandate includes sharing of information and experience on people management, making recommendations to the Leadership Team on processes and systems and, mutual support in identifying needs and building competencies.