Home HomeContents ContentsPrev PrevNext Next

HPMD Quotes & Sources


Here's an excerpt from a 4/91 article I found in my archives by Tom Peters. It's also in his book, Liberation Management, on pp. 212-15. This is the book's version.


Here's an excerpt from a 4/91 article I found in my archives by Tom Peters. It's also in his book, Liberation Management, in chapter 14. This is the book's version.
. . .

o Projects. Projects, rather than repetitive tasks, are now the basis for most value-added in business. But there's nothing mysterious about projects -- except bosses' longstanding belief that workers can't deal with them. Consider a typical weekend: Blue-collar Sam and Sally do their fall planting, attack's complex home improvement project, and log several hours of community work as part of a team of volunteers spiffing up a local playground. See my point?
. . .


As "project," "network...... horizontal," and "organization" (in quotes) become the norm, "Who's in charge?" becomes a wrongheaded question. We will need to learn to work "in" teams "with" multiple, independent experts, often from multiple, independent companies. (Note the words: in, with.) Shades of the Dallas Organization -- each will be dependent upon all others voluntarily giving their best.
Yet this does point to a paramount player in the future -- the "project manager." Project management prowess is hardly an original idea. The stars at huge contracting firms such as Fluor or Bechtel are their several hundred project managers. Directors are movieland's real kings and queens. Or think back to your high school days: Remember that skinny kid with thick glasses who was a master at putting together proms and other major events? He or she was a project manager in the making.
Project management turns out mostly to be about mastering paradox:

o Total ego/no ego. Project managers must have phenomenal ego involvement. They are faced with a most daunting and complex task. To succeed, they must be consumed by it; the best "become" their projects, for 90 days or even a couple of years. But project managers must have no ego at all. They deal with numerous outsiders and insiders, whom they can hardly "command." (They neither have formal authority over them nor understand the details of the expertise these specialists provide.) Moreover, all "subordinates" must also have high ego involvement -- which means the project manager must be expert at letting them take complete credit for what they've done and take a disproportionate share of the credit for the overall organization's success, no matter how "tiny" their bits.

o Autocrat/delegator. When the chips are down, the commander in chief (project manager) has got to issue the orders, fast -- when the lights go out in the conference center as 5,000 people stream in. On the other hand, the project manager-as-superb-delegator will have turned "ownership" over to the lighting expert long ago -- she or he will have gone to the battle station and made the fix before the chief ever hears about the problem.

o Leader/manager. Project managers, more than in traditional organizational settings, are as good as the commitment and energy of others whom they don't directly boss. That is, they must be "leaders" -- visionaries, spark plugs, masters at transferring passion to others. On the other hand, "management," which seems to have been denigrated of late, implies being on top of the boring details. In fact, effective project bosses must match their passion for inspiring others (leading) with a passion for the grubby nuts and bolts of doing the job (managing).

o Ambiguity/perfection. The essence of any complex project (running the Olympics, developing a new product, putting on a high school prom) is ambiguity. "It" is always unfolding. The only "for sure" is the unexpected. The effective project manager must be able to handle almost complete ambiguity and uncertainty with `elan -- and a sense of humor' But she or he must have an equal zeal for perfection. Taking one last look -- and then another really last look -- to make sure the setup for tomorrow's filming is just right is a must.

o Oral/written. Most people are either "oral freaks" or "written freaks." Ho hum: Good project managers must be both. On the one hand, they're off base to insist upon an "audit trail" of memos to document every this, that, and the other. Dealing orally and on the run comes easily to effective project managers. But they must also be masters of the detailed plan and the daily checklist.

o Complexity/K.I.S.S. Nothing is more complex than dealing with a sophisticated, multiorganization project. The effective project manager must juggle, sometimes for years, hundreds of balls -- of differing (and ever-changing) shapes, sizes, and colors. On the other hand, she or he must be a fanatic for the Keep It Simple, Stupid dogma, making sure that a few essential rules and values dominate the project -- e.g., nobody misses the 7:00 a.m. Monday meeting!

o Big/small. Project managers must appreciate forests and trees equally. "Big picture" project managers will come a cropper over details. "God is in the details" project managers may miss the main game. Project managers must be able to see the relationship of the small to the big, the big to the small -- and do so at every moment, simultaneously.

o Impatient/patient. On the one hand, project managers must be "action fanatics": Get on with it, try it, forget about yesterday's boo-boos and move on to tomorrow -- those must be their watchwords. But at the same time, they're "running" a network and often dealing with hundreds of fragile (by definition) egos, cultures, and relationships at once. In fact, they're not "running" that network at all. The project manager is, at most, primus inter pares, or first among equals. In the 10-person, multifunction team (even if all are from the same corporation), the project manager (unlike the supervisor of 10 people all doing the same thing) is wholly dependent upon each player's unique skill and passion for improvement. Smart, dependent "leaders" spend lots and lots -- and lots -- of time on relationship-building and "networking"; it's exactly as important as perpetually pushing for action.

It's not clear that Mother Teresa could pass the test of all eight requirements laid out above! Yet there's no doubt that project management is the "coming" premier skill, and that something like this list of paradoxes lies at the heart of project management effectiveness. So how can firms start to emphasize the role of effective project management?

o Train. Project management is often a "taken for granted" skill, not even subject to special training. (McKinsey and EDS's "sink or swim" approach, marked by little or no formal training, only works if "the institution" has been living with nothing but projects for decades.)
o Feature project management skills per se in all managerial performance evaluations. (And emphasize project member skills in everyone's evaluation.)
o Get Junior people working on project teams and "commanding" bits of such teams, as soon as possible -- e.g., from about day one, as EDS does.
o Recruit with an eye toward project management skills. The good news: Would-be project managers leave unmistakable footprints -- in short, previous success at project management. When prospecting among college grads, the key is a history of putting together high school proms, a prizewinning yearbook, starting and sustaining a new association. Tomorrow's best project managers, by and large, were yesterday's best project managers.

"Heavyweight" Project Managers Bring Home the Bacon

Quantitative research on the importance of effective project management is skimpy, but there is some. In Design Management Journal's Spring 1991 issue, Takahiro Fujimoto of the University of Tokyo describes a study of project management in the global automotive industry. His article, "Product Integrity and the Role of Designer-as-Integrator," reflects on 21 automotive product development organizations (17 from "Volume producers," 4 from "high-end specialists"). He compares "modes of organization" that run from a strong functional orientation to a "heavyweight PM" (powerful, autonomous product/project manager). Success is measured in terms of a "total product quality index." In sum, Fujimoto found that "dependence on heavyweight product managers tended to result in higher total product quality index scores."
Heavyweight product/project managers by and large shared these traits: (1) responsibility from concept to market; (2) responsibility for coordination and concept creation/concept championing ("They go beyond being just neutral referees or passive conflict managers, sometimes aggressively advocating a particular approach"); (3) responsibility for costing and technical details, as well as design: (4) direct contact with customers, performance of independent market research "as a counterpoint" to research undertaken by formal, central market-research groups in the corporation; (5) one-on-one communication favored over "doing paperwork and convening formal meetings."
Fujimoto's research took place in the mid-1980s, when product quality, the study's principal dimension for evaluation, was considered the crucial variable in industry competitiveness. His follow-up research reveals that the "heavyweight PM" is just as important, perhaps more so, in coping with today's consuming time-to-market issue."
-- Tom Peters, Liberation Management, Knopf: 1992, , pp. 212-215

Short Quote:

"Project managers must appreciate forests and trees equally. 'Big picture' project managers will come a cropper over details. 'God is in the details' project managers may miss the main game. Project managers must be able to see the relationship of the small to the big, the big to the small -- and do so at every moment, simultaneously." --Tom Peters
Copyright 1995, 2000, HP Management Decisions Ltd., All Rights Reserved.

Author:Peters, Tom
Title:Liberation Management
Publisher: Knopf
Place (City):
Publication Date:1992
Pages:pp. 212-215
Source Type:Book
Quote Number:23
Categories:Project Management