Canadian Plastics

Project Management Mayhem

"Project Manager" is one of those tasks, like computer network administration, that has morphed from something that somebody does in your organization into a full-fledged job title and resume-building...

May 1, 2007   By Jim Anderton, technical editor



“Project Manager” is one of those tasks, like computer network administration, that has morphed from something that somebody does in your organization into a full-fledged job title and resume-building bonus.

Translating paper management strategies into money-making systems, however, can’t be “titled” into existence any more than quality can be inspected into a product. It’s not that I have anything against the concept of project management, but it’s been misunderstood, misused and misapplied enough that manufacturing professionals (especially those of a certain age) view project management with suspicion. What are the signs that it’s not going to work? Here’s a sampling of my personal list:

1. Wrong goal/no goal.

For a high-performance team, youth is usually a benefit, so the target has to be sensible and attainable. Improving productivity or quality isn’t a project, it’s continuous improvement, part of the core manager’s responsibilities. Prototyping a new process or production capability qualifies, but it had better work, or the up-and-comers will head for the exits rather than associate with an “Edsel” project. Either make the target achievable, or be prepared to declare victory when you’re close enough.

2. No resources/ management commitment.

If you’ve hired or assigned a project manager, it’s implicit that the task is special. Staff can’t do it on top of their current duties, and need project-dedicated support, whether it’s office help, software or an additional photocopier. If the project is perceived as a scam to squeeze more productivity out of the existing team, forget about enthusiasm or creativity.

3. Not enough winners/too many losers.

Is there something to gain for the members of the team? It can be something as simple as chance to try something different, or as tangible as a bonus or promotion, but there has to be something in it for the whole team, not just the project manager. Similarly, if success means a higher workload or a glass ceiling for staff not in on the game, the project can divide your team.

Is there a best way to manage a project? I like the “Skunk Works” approach, where you lock a bunch of young engineers and technicians in a conference room and feed them take-out pizza 24/7 until the job takes wings. Give them enough technology and declare a moratorium on needless reports and meetings, then stand back. Lockheed once designed and built a new jet in 180 days this way in the days of the slide rule, so there are few limits to what can be achieved.

When they hit the finish line, remember to remedially document the project and give your crew some rest, because if it’s a full court press, they’ll be exhausted. Done right, they’ll also be exhilarated. Project success isn’t cheap, but failure is a lot more expensive.


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