New Age Managers For Projects

Dealing With a "World Turned Upside Down"



NEW AGE MANAGERS FOR PROJECTS Dealing with a “World Turned Upside Down”


John R. Thatcher is a Vice President of Flour Daniel Corporation a major design/build firm managing projects worldwide. He has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Rochester, Rochester New York. He has worked for Fluor Daniel for 16 years and has held a Vice President title since 1982. Having been involved in project management for over 21 years, he is presently functional leader of Project Management and is also a Certified Client Instructor for Kepner-Tregoe APEX II.

He has written two technical papers-“The Rational Project Manager” and ‘Scoping Out Biotech Projects. ” He is a member of the Project Management Institute, American Institute of Chemical Engineers and American Chemical Society. He is married with two grown children and lives on Lake Hartwell with his wife, Judy.

In the late 1980s, there was talk of a new age, of radical new environments for businesses and services. In 1987 Tom Peters in his book, Thriving on Chaos, was saying that it's a “world turned upside down” and offered prescriptions for dealing with these “chaotic” times-times of rapid change, uncertainty and the need for rapid innovation. He said that we need a new theory of management or, at least, some new generally accepted principles. He offered some prescriptions which included items such as:

  • Flexibility and responsiveness to customer's needs
  • More starts on new things in every company function, by every person


  • Free wheeling, fast reacting organizations

    —flexibility through empowered people

    —high involvement, minimal hierarchy

  • Answers to questions such as:

    —How do you get people to like change?

    —How do you lead/guide/control what looks like anarchy by normal standards?

  • New methods of measurement and control that are not “traditional.”

My reaction to all of this has been to question general management about who needs to make these shifts to adapt to the new age, the new environment.

I agree! Change is required. Outlooks in companies need to change, but they can turn to a form of management that has some familiarity in all of this “chaos.” General managers could turn more toward the use of project management. After all, what are project managers but “Change Managers”? Project management developed from a need to deal with specific planned undertakings where visions, objectives, and missions existed and had to be achieved through change, innovation and creative solutions.

What group is better equipped to assist general management in the multitude of these needed changes and innovations than project managers; project managers who know how to accept a mission, a vision, an objective, and to organize, execute —lead a team—measuring specifically for progress toward these objectives until they are finally achieved.

The role of the new age manager is to guide, energize, and excite people!

It is general management that needs to understand that, by the creation of many “projects” within their companies and by changing the company's mind set toward project management, they can achieve multiple innovations—they can “do it all at once.” All they have to do is to provide the atmosphere and the visions. Make people in the organization understand that they will all learn how to serve on project teams at some point, probably on several projects simultaneously. They will even be asked to lead some projects.

General management must provide training for all in project management techniques and practices. They must make the members of their organization understand that projects are going to be a part of the day-to-day activities. They will draw on people's talents and knowledge bases wherever they are, inside or outside the company.

Peters says that managers need to “love change.” “Every variable is up for grabs and we are meeting the challenges with inflexible factories, inflexible systems, inflexible front-line people…and most of all, inflexible managers who still yearn for a bygone era… ” Today, loving change, turmoil, even chaos is a prerequisite for survival, let alone success.

Where do you find such people? The answer is project managers! They like change. They organize change. They accept change as a challenge! Start using them in creating new projects and new teams to accomplish whatever it is that is the vision of the future. Most projects will succeed. A few will fail. But, most importantly, positive change will occur. Good project managers enjoy change! They thrive on it! Project managers are team leaders; team builders who deal with change and innovation. That's what project management is all about.

Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, in the March issue of Fortune says that “to create what we call ‘boundaryless’ companies, we no longer have the time to climb over barriers between functions like engineering and marketing, or between people—hourly, salaried, management, and the like. Geographic barriers must evaporate‥ We've got to simplify and delegate more—simply trust more. We need to drive self-confidence deep into the organization. We have to…convince our managers that their role is not to control people and stay on top of things, but rather to guide, energize, and excite.” Again, I think of project managers chosen as team leaders for change, carrying visions and missions from general mangers to the project teams-diverse teams-with energy and excitement.

Steven Wheelwright, Harvard Business School Management professor and a manufacturing expert, says in the same issue of Fortune that the teams will be “led by a manager who is a business champion instead of one who favors his own area of expertise…(the manager) has to champion the product, which means breaking down the walls between functions and getting people to compromise.” Project Managers are trained to do just this. They are team builders and regularly work with diverse groups of generalists, experts, people of various status and people from a variety of cultures.

So why shouldn't general managers consider using more project management? Here's what project managers are trained and equipped to do:

  • To understand scope—accept a vision, a mission and define objectives and expectations and produce measurements that define job completion (Scope Management).
  • To develop specifications for the project based on the scope and then maintain a program of conformance to specifications (Quality Management).
  • To develop a time table for accomplishing the project objectives (Time Management).
  • To identify the costs associated with the project and control them effectively (Cost Management).
  • understand the risks associated with success and to deal effectively with their minimization (Risk Management).
  • To organize and manage the project team as an effective leader (Human Resources and Communications Management).

General managers can select the project, the leader and the participants. They can give the team the vision, the mission, the objectives. They can give the team the authority and responsibility to go for it! They can eliminate the road blocks and cut through the red tape! And if they succeed with these steps they may find it wise to “get out of the way. ”

You must give vision and help! You must let the manager do his own thing! If you do not, the company cannot run fast enough!

This is how general managers can accomplish the awesome tasks which confront them. Dip down into the organization. Find those leaders who will achieve the objectives through team work. Give them the training to be project managers. Create the corporate culture for project management. Project managers will surprise the general managers; they will be back for another project, another change, another challenge. After all, they are “change managers” and they thrive on change! Even Tom Peters admits in the Spring 1990 issue of Inside Guide, a periodical for Canadian Airlines, that general managers, and their requisite “functional skill is precious. But traditional, impersonal functional walls cripple. Only an orientation toward creating and quickly executing projects that cross functional barriers will allow you to match the frightening pace of change. ”

All this is great and will work, but it will require something more from both general managers and project managers. Why else would it be called a new age?

The general managers must be new age leaders—they must lead a firm, as Peters says, as a “hot bed of tests of the unconventional. It must become an experimenting (and learning), adaptive, change seeking organization…(they must) willingly lend people to project teams full-time‥ for lengthy assignments‥ arrived at by dealing proactively with change. General managers must realize that ” more competition requires more cooperation. More competitors and competitor's products require more flexibility, responsiveness and higher quality. This in turn means more supporting partnerships; partnerships between:


(a) companies and their (often sole source) suppliers,

(b) companies and other companies that can bring in critical new skills needed in a market area (especially overseas),

(c) performers of various functions, to speed action taking where it counts, at the front line,

(d) management and the work force, and

(e) the company and its distributors, representatives, and franchises.


If we are to compete effectively, we must learn to cooperate with all these sets of partners. Project managers can support these needs, but must be new age team leaders and they, in turn, must be led by new age general manager leaders.

Now that we're in the 1990s, a new management style is emerging. We are shifting from the strictly “manager” style to a “leader” style. What does this mean?

Max DePree, chairman of Herman Miller, the office furniture company, says that “the manager's new role in the 1990s will be, not to supervise or to motivate, but to liberate and enable.”

Dale McConkey, a professor of management at the School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Madison, describes a “manager” as “a person who is primarily concerned with efficiency, whether things are being done right. Managers concentrate on having the right systems and making sure the systems are working. They may influence policy but usually don't make it, except at the highest levels of management. They will ‘rock the boat’ only if all of the facts are overwhelming in favor of it,” On the other hand he describes a “leader” as “a person whose main concern is effectiveness, whether the right things and directions have been established to encourage people to live up to their full potential. Leaders are innovative, creative, and very receptive to change. There is little question that they are in charge. They believe in minimal policies and don't become overly enamored with them…They will eagerly ‘rock the boat’ if it results in desirable change.”

Jean-Marie DesCarpentries, president of CMB Packing, Europe's largest container company, also says, “you don't order from the top, you lead them. You give them vision and help…You must let the manager do his own thing. If you do not, the company cannot run fast enough.”

Reuben Mark, Colgate Palmolive's CEO, says that “business is moving away from the authoritarian approach and toward a shared decision-making approach.”

The fundamental shifts in managerial style in this new age really boil down to a change in the traditional functions as follows:

Vs. New Age

Managers add value by making deals rather than presiding over their individual empires!

Gellman says, “directing implies pushing people to do things. Leading involves acting in a manner in which people willingly follow. The leader provides the proper conditions; the people manage themselves.”

Both the general manager and project manager need to take this new age approach. But there are some key conditions necessary for self-management to work effectively. The general manager needs to reach a clear understanding with the project manager about the intended results. The needs to align the mission, vision, vision statements, key success factors, etc., to put it in new age, quality terms. They used to be called objectives or goals. This is what the general manager should provide primarily to make the mission clear and acceptable to the entire organization, or organizations.

The project manager will, in turn, need to do the same with the project team. The team will be even more effectively aligned if the general manager participates in the project manager's initial kick off meeting.

With clear cut understandings of the results required, the general manager should let the project manager do the planning for the assigned project. In turn, the project manager should do the same with the team members. This will promote a sense of ownership. Self-management requires also that the general manager and project manager agree on the resources required to accomplish the mission—financial and people.

No longer will the general manager or the project manager fully comprehend all the technologies involved in the project “technical” issues. “Technologies” in this sense could mean “technical” in the traditional sense, eg. information systems, chemical processes, etc., but could also mean “technologies” of employee benefits, insurance, legal matters, etc.

All of these change issues today are complex and rather technical. Managers in this new age cannot possibly know enough about all technical aspects. McConkey says, “the dramatic increase in the rate of change and complexity render past experience less valuable; a few people can't cope with it by themselves. A total team effort is required. ”

Harvey Gellman, chairman of Toronto-based Gellman, Hayward& Partners, Ltd., and a computer systems consultant, says that “the ability of (general and project) managers to get things done now depends more on the number of networks in which they're involved than on their position in a hierarchy. Access to information and the ability to get informal backing were often confined to official contact points between departments. Today these official barriers are disappearing, while informal networks are growing in importance. In the emerging organization, managers add value by making deals rather than by presiding over their individual empires. As managers and professionals spend more time working across boundaries with peers and partners over whom they have no direct control, negotiating skills become essential assets. The development of strategic alliances emphasizes the political side of a (general or project manager) leader's work. Executives must be able to juggle a set of constituencies rather than control a set of subordinates. They have to bargain, negotiate, and sell instead of making unilateral decisions and issuing commands‥ .The new (general and project) managerial roles involve communication and collaboration across functions, across divisions and across companies.”

Fluor Daniel uses project management as a way of conducting our business and, of late, as a way of improving our internal operations and to keep pace with rapid changes affecting our company. It has been my observation that when general managers communicate effectively the desired results, get agreement on them, and appoint project managers who are good team leaders, good things happen! We're able to conduct our business effectively in a decentralized, networked organizational atmosphere and to a very real extent keep up with a “world turned upside down.”

General managers could do well by involving project managers in all areas and functions in their organizations as project managers for change. Give them the project management training, instill team leadership qualities in them, and enjoy the excitement of this new age.

May 1990



Related Content

  • PM Network

    Autopilot Perils member content open

    From robots performing repetitive manufacturing tasks to computer programs that analyze data and generate solutions, automation is suddenly everywhere—and driving a new demand for projects. Nearly…

  • PM Network

    Embrace the Bots member content open

    By Mustafa, Abid The robots are coming—now. This big tech disruption is set to invade various aspects of corporate life, delivering efficiencies and better customer experiences at the expense of some jobs. In…

  • PM Network

    Change Is In The Ground member content open

    By Parsi, Novid Metric depiction of how the mining industry is leveraging new technologies to ensure ROI on exploration projects.

  • PM Network

    The Missing Links member content open

    By Parsi, Novid The world moves fast--but LinkedIn wasn't keeping pace. The largest professional social networking site hadn't overhauled its desktop user interface once since launching in 2002. While other social…