Project Management Institute

Mouse tales


Noble Coker, Hong Kong Disneyland, Lantau Island, Hong Kong


Creating a Magic Kingdom takes more than a wave of the wand. When entertainment mega-conglomerate The Walt Disney Co. decided to open its first theme park in Asia, Noble Coker was there from the start. “It was just drawings and water when I came on board,” he says.

As CIO at Hong Kong Disneyland, he established a project management office of sorts to integrate and coordinate the massive number of IT projects and team members working to ready the park for opening day. That was seven years ago, and the office continues to thrive.

Now vice president of park operations, Mr. Coker previously chaired the technical steering committee for the integration group, ensuring projects not only met their goals but also supported the larger objectives of the park.

It's not all fun and games. Still under pressure to deliver returns, Mickey Mouse and the rest of the Disney crew got some local competition when rival Universal Studios opened a theme park in Singapore in March.

How would you describe the Disney approach to project management?

The leading group for designing cutting-edge project management strategies for the company is Imagineering. It regularly manages billion-dollar projects when we start new theme parks. When you do that, you have to be extremely good at estimating, contract management, communication and coordination.

Building a Space Mountain roller coaster is a one-off experience and not a skill set that you develop through repetition. So Imagineering created core competencies for project management that have spread to operations and IT. It's not necessarily called a “project management office,” but we moved to that type of project management environment some time ago.

It's not about signing off on every process. It's about looking at the larger goals and what we need to do to achieve those goals, then enabling our teams to do that.

What was the role of the integration group when the park first opened?

We were putting in 30 system applications along with telephony and data structures all at the same time, while hiring 70 permanent positions plus more than 100 temporary project team members. Each project leader was focused on getting his or her own tasks done, but we needed an independent arbitrator responsible for connecting all these projects.

What's the relationship between leadership and project management?

When most people think about governance, it's usually a lot of committees and processes designed to make sure everyone's role is clear and that blame is put in the right place if something goes wrong. When you factor in leadership, it becomes about personal interaction across the project management process.

It's not about signing off on every process. It's about looking at the larger goals and what we need to do to achieve those goals, then enabling our teams to do that. Sometimes with project management we're too focused on what steps need to get done versus letting people do their jobs and looking for opportunities to make it better—but that's what makes a great leader.

What leadership advice do you have for project managers?

It's one thing to get things done that need to be done. It's another to add value. When you function as a leader and you focus on delivering value—to the process, your people and the business—you take your projects in new directions that are better for the business. When you add value like that, you go from being just another project manager to someone who truly contributes to the success of the organization. PM

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