Implementing PM in manufacturing industries

Project Management in Action


Phillip Nunn

In the manufacturing industries, projects routinely use shared resources. This draws the project manager and the line managers of functions into continual negotiations over the performance of work. The current trend to downsizing and flattening of organizations has only heightened the tension and led both project and function managers to compete with each other for power and authority. This unpleasant issue needs to be examined and discussed thoroughly.

As we have tried to implement project management in manufacturing industries, there have been numerous delays and false starts. The result has been only scattered islands of enlightenment in most organizations, even though the company management has stated adoption of project management as an imperative.

As I have read my monthly PMNETwork, I have detected notes of managerial resistance to the implementation of project management. I think that these hints are just the tip of the iceberg and we have a problem of major proportions here. This resistance is evidently frustrating people who are dedicated to the modernization of management in manufacturing firms. I think that this problem is important enough to be placed on the table where it can be the topic of full discussion.

To kick off this discussion, I offer the following observations from my industrial con-suiting experience and a model which could lead to effective change.

Most of this resistance seems attributable to three causes:

  1. We are trying to alter the existing vertical organizational structure and its system of command and obedience into a horizontal organization structure and participative decision making. This is a major human change.
  2. There is still only a vague understanding of what project management is and how it works among industrial managers.
  3. There is practically no understanding of how to make the changes necessary to implement project management in the existing industrial organizations, and therefore no plan for implementation.

Let's examine each of these.


Almost universally, people doing the work, whether they be highly educated engineers or highly skilled union workers, favor changing to modern project management (MPM). They see PMP as bringing some reason and order to their jobs. They generally want to have an empowered work team. The delay and resistance comes from their managers.


Philip Nunn, PMP, is currently the Western Michigan Manager for Plan Tech, Inc. During 28 years of experience in project management, he has personally managed more than 100 development projects for industry, government and academic institutions. He has a masters degree from Western Michigan University with emphasis in management research and has been an invited lecturer at several national universities and professional societies. He has been a contributing author to several books, the latest of which is Total Quality Through Project Management: An Application Guideline. As academic dean of the Master Degree Program in Project Management at DeVry Institute of Technology in Chicago, he taught Project management at the graduate level. Mr. Nunn was also the driving force behind the 1993 establishment of a PMI Chapter in Western Michigan to promote professional standards in the management of Projects in that region. His PMP certificate number is 17.

For the line manager of a functional department, this change can be a serious threat. Many line managers view their own job function as being similar to a first line supervisor's job on the plant floor. These managers believe they must be able to perform all tasks better than the people who report to them. This bull-of-the woods-type boss is straight out of the industrial revolution of the last century.

Changing to a horizontal structure with its participative management is perceived to leave this type of manager with no value attached to any of the talents which helped earn the management position. Such an individual would be bankrupt; likely to be thrown on the trash heap of life. Therefore, there is a strong personal motivation to fight for preservation of the old command-and-obedience system.

There are other more logical and more subtle managers who resist by skepticism and injecting doubt at every opportunity. They are 20th century managers who have learned how to stall with doubt and motivate with poorly supported fears. Even the wimp can play this game.

This is only a very small example of the resisting managers. I'm sure that there are a lot of project managers in PMI who can add to this list and describe the characteristics.


PMI and many of its members who are in the training business are focusing on solutions to this problem. Most medium and large manufacturing companies are willing and sometimes eager to buy project management training. But the training does not seem to be effective. Again there seems to be some problems.

  1. First, in spite of PMI's efforts, there is wide variability in the competency of these trainers and in the consistency of what they are teaching. We have not imposed a visible system of quality control on project management training, such as requiring the PMP as a minimum for recognition.
  2. Classroom training is almost always generic and leaves the burden to the students to integrate what they have been taught into their jobs. We need on-the-job follow-up and coaching. This is risky and many project management trainers don't want to expose themselves to possible failure or criticism. However, it is inescapable that modern project management requires as much skill as knowledge.
  3. The training of executives and support managers in how to execute their roles in a horizontal structure has been almost non-existent. They are the critical element in project failure because in the manufacturing industries resources are almost always shared. They need to know when they must participate and how to participate appropriately to enhance the success of projects. They may not be regular players, but they are part of the team.

The most promising application of MPM in the manufacturing industries is for the development of new products. The development of a new product follows a process that in some companies has been analyzed and documented. This process describes the steps that must be taken in sequence to develop a new product. This represents how the product will be developed. A project plan is a parallel process that describes who must perform the how of the product development process, and when they must do it. MPM is the use of that plan as a guide and measuring tool to get the product development process steps done well at the appropriate time. If an overlapping system of product development steps is used—as in concurrent engineering, simultaneous engineering or synchronous engineering and manufacturing—managing with the MPM becomes imperative.


The diagram in Figure 1 shows a concept of how the major components needed in the development of a new product are related.

At the core is the new product being developed. It is the what of the product development, the product itself.

This core is surrounded by the product development process. It describes how the new product will be developed. It is a process guide for the engineers.

What is missing so far is the coordination of all the different engineering disciplines so that each does its job at the right time and place. This is management of the who and when for the development process and uses the tools of MPM. It is not engineering. It is management of people who are skilled in engineering specialties. The better these talented people are coordinated, the better the quality of the product and the quicker it is produced. This benefit occurs through minimizing delays and backtracking.

In a project environment … functional managers are primarily responsible for supporting the efforts of the projects with people and services. The project managers are their customers.

Figure 1. Relationship Among Major Components of a New Product's Development


The project managers must be the leaders of the project decision making team. They provide coordination for the engineers who are developing the product using the steps of the product development process.

The coordination function becomes especially complex when development activities are overlapped because several pieces of work must be managed simultaneously so that they produce a coordinated result at an expected time. This type of management takes considerable skill and is the special domain of the industrial project manager.

But the project managers need some help from the organization within which they are imbedded. The outer band of the diagram represents this company organization in general and the executives and functional managers in particular. They have a role in the development of new products in a MPM environment.

Initiation of a product development project is an executive function. This includes selecting the project manager and defining the product to be developed. Where the new product definition is formalized, these activities have a strong marketing input.

Budget approval for the development and periodic review of progress are regular duties of executives. Assistance with solutions of unusual problems and mediation of company-level impasses are also executive functions. Executives should be trained in these duties and responsibilities to projects.

In a project environment, the role of functional managers changes from what it was in the vertical structure. They are primarily responsible for supporting the efforts of the projects with people and services. The project managers are their customers. In a project environment, the project manager manages the work, while the functional managers manage their resource pools. To enforce the idea of the project manager as the customer of the functional manager, some companies have given the project manager complete budget authority and accountability. They buy their resources from the functional managers. The fictional manager now has a difficult job. People must be recruited, trained and otherwise supervised to ensure quality skills and performance. The performance of those people is evaluated by the project managers and given to the fictional manager as a report card. The fictional manager must always walk the scheduling tightrope, sharing people resources with more than one project manager. Performance of the work is what should be important, not ownership of the people. All of the administrative housekeeping for the people still belongs to the functional managers.

The diagram has another powerful message in it. That message is in the interfaces between the bands. These interfaces show the appropriate communications paths. The executives and functional managers mostly communicate with the project managers on project issues. The project managers must be the leaders of the project decision making team. They provide coordination for the engineers who are developing the product using the steps of the product development process. It is not appropriate for a functional manager to cross two or more bands to present abetter way to develop the product, and to want credit for its development. These actions would only confuse the development, slow work and reduce quality. It is better to provide suggestions and recommendations through the project manager. This enhances teamwork and keeps changes under the control of the project team.

In a MPM environment, the route for promotion to executive-level positions is sequentially through the project team, engineering leader and project manager positions, more than through line management positions.

The shift to “lean, mean, flat” organizations must be accompanied by a new paradigm for manageing…modern project management.

Each of the groups identified need to be trained separately in their role in MPM. When a person changes position, retraining must be provided. It must be based on the premise that this individual is a beginner in the role of this new position. Generic MPM training is of value only as an introduction. Beyond that, the training must be specific to the company and each role. This does not mean that these groups are trained in different topics but that the emphasis changes. Their roles must be highlighted for them. Classroom training must be followed by coaching on the job. And above all, members of each group must be strongly encouraged to cooperate in the new way of doing things.

The shift from the classical bureaucratic structures in the manufacturing industries to “lean, mean, flat” organizations is underway. If it is to be successful and endure it must be accompanied by a new paradigm for manage-ing. There is no better paradigm today than that offered by modern project management. ❏

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PMNETwork • February 1994



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