unlocking the power of project management
Project Management in Action
From the Executive Suite
Rudolph G. Boznak is an executive advisor, strategic operationalist, futurist and internationally recognized authority on the new product development continuum and BIOS 21, a Business Integrated Operating Stratagem for the 21st Century. He is a pioneer and leading proponent of strategic project management and the project-oriented company.
Boznak has worked with Rolls-Royce, General Dynamics, Abbott Labs, IBM, Apple Computer, Hughes Aircraft, Litton, Rockwell International, British Aerospace, General Motors, Boeing, United Technologies, Devon Royal Dockyards, and other Fortune 500 companies. A certified Project Management Professional, Boznak has an M.S. from American Technological University and a B.S. from the University of Nebraska. Rudy is the author of Competitive Product Development, and is president of Robinstone Tower, Incorporated, a research, education and consulting center in Boerne, Texas.
There is a simple, uncomplicated, yet powerful Eastern concept that embodies the intent, if not the principles, that must become an integral element of today's project management mission. It is known as MUSUBI—the practice of harmonious unification. The inherent principles of MUSUBI are balance, harmonious unification, and oneness.
Greater awareness and understanding of these principles can enable one to better develop the art of visualization … to see that which is invisible to others … to visualize that which others can only intellectualize. The significance of being able to visualize your environment can be found in the following examples:
A knowledgeable sports fan “sees” the game through the words of a radio commentator. He “visualizes” the quarterback scrambling to elude a blitzing defense, the game-winning double-play or the slow-motion magic of a three-point basket at the buzzer. Another listener, who has a knowledge of the sport, is unable to relate to the same broadcast. The difference is not in the game. The difference is knowledge and understanding of what is to be visualized.
In another case, a trained pilot “sees” the approach of a fog-enshrouded airport through the aircraft's instruments. The pilot's understanding of navigation, aircraft systems and air traffic control procedures permits immediate detection and correction of out-of-balance conditions and completion of a safe landing.
Visualization requires an ability to identify key indicators and determine their patterns and tendencies upon the whole. The greater your awareness and understanding of these indicators, the more lucid will be your visualization capability. As a point of illustration, take a moment to examine Figure 1.
At first glance, most observers see “Pac-Man”-type icons. Now stare at the bottom left grouping. Notice how a new relational pattern (a white triangular image) emerges once you have become attuned to visualize it?
Effective visualization can do much to achieve a balanced project-oriented company environment.
Figure 1. The Art of Visualization Source: Jearl Walker, “The Amateur Scientist,” Scientific American, January 1988. Illustration by Hank Iken. Used with permission.
As this simple example illustrates, the power of visualization can enable you to see patterns and conceptual relationships where others may not. As such, visualization is an essential art if project managers (PMs) are to address the needs of the various constituencies involved in successfully implementing project management. While most project management software enables the inner workings of a project to be readily apparent to most PMs, few executives or functional managers (those that must support the project) enjoy the same vantage. As a result, executives tend to overcommit their organizations, functional managers neglect project tasks in lieu of functional responsibilities, and the angst of project managers continues to rise.
The level of visualization suggested does not portend to overwhelm executives with detailed project network charts. On the contrary, PMs must simply convey the relationship of project success to corporate: strategic objectives, revenue contribution or cost reduction targets, effective resource utilization, and satisfaction of functional performance measures. Admittedly, attaining this degree of visualization is not a simple task. The concepts of organizational balance, harmonious unification and oneness are not taught in business schools. As a result, most businesses are ill-prepared to implement them. Therefore, let's review these concepts within familiar experiences and scenarios.
Balance is a wonderfully fragile mechanism. A child's toy top, for example, achieves its balance when spun very quickly in a circular motion. On a lighter side, many employees feel their management attempts to maintain equilibrium in the same way … by running around in circles. In contract, balance within the human structure is maintained by a complex vestibular system. Here, minute changes in motion are continually monitored, detected and interpreted. These impulses trigger constant subconscious corrective activity to maintain balance.
Unfortunately, maintaining balance in a project-oriented environment is neither as simple nor as spontaneous as in the examples above. The reason is because much of a project “exists” logically, rather than physically. This makes the task of visualization more difficult. As a result, most “business vestibular systems” are not attuned to receive, interpret or initiate the necessary correction actions to “balance” their product development project.
For example, in the early phase of a new product development project, the product is defined by requirements, specifications, drawings, and other types of data. During this stage, the product is typically “unseen” by management and is, therefore, beyond their conscious ability to perceive or interpret. Data is inherently more difficult to assimilate and comprehend than a physical product.
As development continues, these data are transformed into physical components, subassemblies, and finally a finished product. It is much easier to see and touch the problems encountered in a completed printed wiring assembly or a component than it is to identify problems in the data required to produce them. Similarly, most product cost is also incurred before it becomes visible.
If a company’s management attempts to fly a helicopter like they have been trained to approach business problem-solving, they have already crashed?
The combination of these criteria will typically cause management to look in the wrong direction for cost reduction solutions. They can see excess and obsolete inventory, manufacturing cost overruns and scheduling delays. However, without the ability to visualize a product's development, they won't be able to “see” the source of these problems.
As a result, data development is the most difficult area in which to control costs. Regrettably, it is usually the primary source of product and process changes, expediting, rework, and overtime … issues that directly contribute to unplanned project expenses.Effective visualization can do much to achieve a balanced project-oriented company environment.
Harmonious unification is the result of a successful and simultaneous integration of individual activities or processes to achieve a desired result. Now what does that statement really mean? I was struggling with how to illustrate the subtleties of this principle as my flight entered its final approach to Houston's Hobby Airport. During our taxi to the gate, I noticed a helicopter hovering near a taxiway intersection. Immediately, I knew I had serendipitously found the perfect example of harmonious unification: the act of hovering a helicopter.
Integrating Versus Intellectualizing
In ground school, a student pilot studies the academics of flight: the aircraft's powerplant, flight controls, navigation and communication systems, aerodynamics and the environment in which it flies. While most student pilots can “intellectualize” these ground school subjects, it is the visceral demands of flight that provide the greatest challenges. If it were not for instructor pilots as role models, most student pilots would be convinced that a helicopter is an impossible machine to fly.
The cause of their difficulty and doubt is that successful - helicopter flight requires that the pilot achieve MUSUBI—to “balance” multiple inputs and outputs “simultaneously.” As anyone who has ever attempted to fly quickly realizes, learning the purpose of each flight control is relatively easy. The challenge is to correctly “integrate” them, or more appropriately, to experience harmonious unification. The same is true of project management.
“Intellectually,” it is all quite straightforward. However, as most project managers realize, “operationalizing” knowledge is quite another story. For example, if you wish to maintain hovering flight:
- You must balance gravity and lift which requires constant adjustment of collective pitch and engine power. A need for more lift decreases engine and rotor RPM, causing altitude to be lost. Increasing engine and rotor RPM generates more torque. More torque requires more anti-torque pedal input to maintain directional control.
- More anti-torque pedal input requires more power, decreasing engine and rotor RPM. Decreased engine and rotor RPM causes lift to be decreased and altitude is lost. Lost altitude requires more throttle and collective pitch.
- Whoops, a little too much collective pitch! Now you're hovering too high, so the whole process must be reversed. Meanwhile, you must constantly maintain attitude and position with the cyclic control stick, maintain safety clearance around the aircraft, and respond to air traffic control instructions.
Only when the pilot has successfully mastered the integration of intellectual knowledge and proper action can harmonious unification occur.
Likewise, only when those charged with authorizing, planning and executing projects have successfully mastered the integration of intellectual knowledge and proper action can harmonious unification occur.
Business stability requires an effectiveproject management methodologyto enable all constituencies to“visualize” and “integrate” the resourcesand activities needed to successfullyconsummate each project.
Piloting Your Project
Now if a company's management attempts to fly a helicopter like they have been trained to approach business problemsolving, they have already crashed! This is because we have been taught to address problems or issues one at a time. Like would-be jugglers, we are taught in business school and experience throughout our careers how to juggle the red ball, then the blue, then the green one.
While it maybe true that we can juggle red, blue and green balls, it is probably not safe to say that we can juggle them simultaneously. Therefore, is there any question why corporate executives have a budget meeting to discuss expenses … followed by a manufacturing meeting to review shipments … followed by a marketing meeting to analyze sales projections. Rather than becoming polished integrators, they have become very good at juggling one “business ball” at a time.
In contrast, a successful pilot envisions self and aircraft holistically, continuously “cross-checking” the engine operation, flight plan, altitude, heading and airspeed. All the while, the pilot scans the horizon or monitors air traffic control for any oncoming hazards. Subconsciously, the pilot and the machine become one entity. The same need holds true for today's project managers in a project-oriented environment.
Business stability requires an effective project management methodology to enable all constituencies to “visualize” and “integrate” the resources and activities needed to successfully consummate each project. As such, the principle of harmonious unification recognizes that each project is an entity. It is not a collage of functional disciplines and activities that can be independently modified, rearranged or changed at will.
Like a skilled instructor pilot, project managers must lead the movement beyond mere corporate intellectual understanding of a project management environment. PMs need to create an integrated vision of their project activities, processes and more importantly, their benefits. This will add the power of action to the power of visualization … the ability to interpret, integrate and operationalize the information portrayed by project-oriented “business instruments.”
The principle of oneness, or holism, is both an illusion and a competitive necessity. Intrinsically, oneness poses a dichotomy of values for most of us. For example, companies aspire to successful teamwork from behind the walls they have built to protect “their parochial turfs.” It is a real “stretch” for most to even think, let alone act, as a holistic corporate entity. They think and act holistically by function, discipline or department, not by project.
Despite actions to the contrary, the need for oneness encompasses every project team. It links one to another. Oneness is an internalization of the corporate mission … it communicates “a larger than me” sense of purpose. Only when we see how we fit within the “corporate oneness” can fiefdom walls be scaled and an environment of mutual need and trust be created. We can no longer sub-optimize our industry, our company, our department, our project, or ourselves, and survive.
Today's competitive scenario clearly shows the need for dramatic change in the way companies manage critical projects. Future success demands breaking the chain of traditional management “think” and practice. If project managers are to play a key role toward regaining a competitive advantage, they must challenge the divisive ways of the past and the present. The principles of MUSUBI offer a new philosophical approach to achieve this end. They offer an alternative … of balance or overcommitment … of harmonious unification or one-at-a-time solutions … of oneness or parochialism. The choice is yours to make.
Editor's Note: This article is drawn from the author's book, Competitive Product Development (Business One Irwin/Quality Press, 1993).