From the Viper Pit

Making a Dream a Reality


Project Management in Action

Showcase Project


At the 1989 North American International Auto Show, a Chrysler Corporation styling dream was showcased that stirred the public as no car had done for many years. “Viper Mania” was unleashed and the force of its impact on enthusiasts of fine high-performance automobiles was so great that Chrysler was compelled to make the dream a reality and put this concept car in its production plans.

Pushed to quickly get this product into the hands of a salivating market of enthusiasts, Chrysler was driven to establish a high performing, dedicated team of managers, engineers, designers, mechanics, draftspersons, and suppliers who had high-performance octane in their blood.


Roy H. Sjoberg has been the executive engineer for the Viper program since 1989. prior to that Roy held positions as chief engineer for Minivan Engineering, Materials Engineering and Composite Vehicle Programs at Chrysler.


Prior to Chrysler, Roy was at General Motors as staff engineer, CPC Division, and has held various design and development positions within the Corvette, Monza and Cavalier vehicle programs.

He has a BS in mechanical engineering, an MBA from the University of Michigan and attended a comprehensive executive training program at MIT's Sloan School of Management.

Roy Sjoberg brought to Chrysler the experience he gained in the application of project management during his tenure at General Motors. He wasted no time in implementing project management from the outset of the Viper program. He drew upon experts in the use of scheduling techniques from the Corporate Timing Office who were well-versed in how to develop a project plan and adapt available computer software.

Fortunately for the Viper team and Chrysler, the Viper team leader is an executive who understands this process-defining tool and the value it adds to planning and managing a complex, budget- and time-constrained program such as the Viper.

To the Great Lakes PMI Chapter, Roy stated:

“Edicting doesn't do it. You have to create the leaders and that's your toughest job. You have to feel like the IRS once in a while—they don't want to see you, you're just going to pursue them for dates, and they have to go back and dig up the dates, You're demanding feedback and updates. Then you're going to come see them every other week, or however often.

“Most engineers don't like scorekeeping. So you have to get them to understand that you're not a scorekeeper. You're the batboy, and you're giving them some selections of tools for use. But they have to believe it. Every time I go to see Ron (Rogalski) and ask, ‘How are we doing in a certain area?’, I know he's got that timing flat out. But the non-believers, man, they don't even pay attention to their phone mail. Guess where we trip up periodically? My approach has been, ‘Don't edict, convince. ’ Work with them and have them come to an understanding.

“The other key is for the supplier to really believe in program management. If the supplier is doing it, then the engineer is going to have to know what's going on.

“So, you see, it's a development process, with continual improvement.”

From Roy Sjoberg's presentation to the Great Lakes PMI Chapter

Given a tight lead time of only 36 months and the critical processes and dilemmas of creating a niche product, the chore for the executive leader was critical. Clearly, the Viper project had to be managed without bureaucracy. Management needed to be tightly woven with the team to ensure that all team members knew what was required and when tasks had to be completed. Major program failures could not be tolerated.

Team Viper also needed to develop new relationships and interdependencies with suppliers. In return, suppliers would have to respond quickly, moving rapidly on development of new technology and production capabilities that perhaps had never been tried before in their facilities.

If employees were all independent entrepreneurs, there would not be a compelling need for project management. However, most projects and large organizations are complex, as are communications between employees. Clearly, a disciplined approach was required to define and manage the new and complex interactions that were to be part of the Viper program.

Management's desire was to create a different mode of operation for the engineering of a car. This included setting goals for results and timing that appeared at the time to be difficult at best. With this, a deliberate timing challenge was created.

There was no road map for the Viper program, nor was there a process defined that the team could use as a guide. The Viper team recognized that it needed to have a plan and quickly learned that individuals had to work together as a team to accomplish the goals set forth in the plan.

From the get go, the intensity of this program can be better understood by citing the extraordinary effort to define requirements for the project. Roy Sjoberg, Viper program executive, spent hours with the timing specialist, working on the living room floor at night and on weekends to lay out the project plan. The process map evolved during the first six months of the product program and ultimately contained more than 800 activities. The timing specialist, who was an expert on manipulating the project management software*, zoned major areas of the car such as the untrimmed body and chassis, and specific engineers were assigned component timing control responsibility for their zone.


This article was adapted from presentations by Viper Program Executive Roy Sjoberg, to the Great Lakes PMI Chapter, and by Manager Viper Engine James Royer, to the Racine, Wisconsin, Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

This article is dedicated to all of the members of Team Viper and the associated corporate “volunteers” who “Made it Happen!” Congratulations for a project well done.


The Viper was born in the fall of 1988, from discussions among Chrysler President Bob Lutz, Engineering VP Francois Castaing, and Design VP Tom Gale. Their discussions centered on what a present-day Ford Cobra would be like. From that conversation came the concept of a 90s Cobra—the Dodge Viper RT/10.

The first prototype was designed and built in nine months (from March of 1989, when the program started, until December of 1989). The prototype had an approximation of the body, doors and deck lid screwed on, and the hood was pinned in place. The chassis was handbuilt from structural tubing, with brakes and other components selected from a Team Viper benchmarking process.

There were all-nighters spent welding parts together in the vehicle development manager's garage. The first vehicle was used for chassis prove out, suspension geometry definition and for management demonstration.

The second prototype was built from January to April 1990. It used an iron truck V-10 for the engine, because the first aluminum engine was not yet completed. The V-10 engine allowed Engineering to stress the frame and chassis with the rated 450 ft. lb. of torque and the expected 400 HP.

Former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca drove the V-10 vehicle in May 1990 and was so pleased by the experience that he gave the program the go-ahead one month earlier than was planned.


Doing things in a different fashion also called for a clear course of direction—a Viper mission statement. The Viper team mission was “to build a simple, straightforward, high-performance driver's car on time, on cost target, and at a defect-free level.”

The mission statement helped to define a set of product requirements to guide the design of the car. First, and perhaps most important, was to create a “back to basics” car like the Cobra. Another clear requirement was that the car's performance be based on good old American torque-turbos and multi-valve engines were inappropriate. A high-output, increased-displacement version of the 350 V-8 was considered, but the 1989 North American International Auto Show crowds defined the Viper as being a V-10 car.

In addition, the design, development, and production of this car were to ensure the Chrysler image and that it was made in North America. Another requirement was to maintain the appeal of the visual cues of the concept vehicle.

The Viper Program project network was readily available for analysis and plan revision. It was on the wall of the conference room next to the Viper Pit

The Viper Program project network was readily available for analysis and plan revision. It was on the wall of the conference room next to the Viper Pit.

Another challenge was to limit the level of technology unless functionality required it, keeping the design and manufacturing as simple as possible. Only “essential technology” would be used, i.e., technology to meet the needs of a particular performance requirement.

Aesthetics can have a major impact on the program, including essential technology, and likewise on the project plan. When a major product change was made, vision and purpose became very important. They reminded the team of what it was trying to achieve. The project plans had to be adjusted to be consistent with the vision and purpose.

Management had to deal with a fundamental question, “Why build the Viper?” The key reasons to build the Viper were to:

  • Give Dodge, The Performance Division of Chrysler, a boost to its image.
  • Develop low-investment techniques for building a niche car.
  • Provide a platform for low-risk incorporation of new manufacturing methods and component technologies.
  • Discover new processes for designing, developing and manufacturing a niche vehicle, which could potentially be used in other programs.
  • Develop a Chrysler supplier base that could respond to future niche vehicle requirements.
  • Explore the possibilities of reducing program lead times, defining critical paths, and minimizing interface issues with each other when executing the program.
The Gantt chart for the Viper Emission Certification Program, which involved test operations in Arizona and Colorado, as well as Detroit

The Gantt chart for the Viper Emission Certification Program, which involved test operations in Arizona and Colorado, as well as Detroit.


This was not to be program management in the usual sense, but a hands-on working relationship, where engineers were the empowered acting program managers for their area.

The Viper was to be an American sports car. This vision helped the selection process for team members. People were selected who could bring this vision to life for Chrysler—people who were entrepreneurs in spirit and loved sport cars. There could be no co-opting or enticing with money, promotion or overtime pay. People were selected who showed the ability to make decisions on their own and who had little compunction for working around the corporate systems.

The team was made up of employees who volunteered for the project, supplemented by several “recruits. '' Team members could expect work intensity like they had never before experienced. Long days and weekends would become the norm.

Physically, what came to be known as the “Viper Pit” was patterned after the famous Kelly Johnson skunk works at Lockheed Aircraft, which turned out the SR-71 Blackbird surveillance aircraft. Office area, shop area and equipment were located at Chrysler's Jeep/Truck Engineering facility.

Aside from a couple of computer aided design (CAD) drafting areas that needed reduced lighting, team members all sat in one large room—no one, including managers and the executive program manager, had offices. There were some problems with privacy and background noise, but the ease and speed of communication more than made up for the problems. There were to be no physical barriers between team members (except for some separation between smokers and non-smokers!). Having one big room, no offices and good communications were important factors, but the real key to getting an effective team was the people.

The team was to be the smallest possible to keep communication links short and to maximize flexibility. The beautiful thing about Team Viper was the experience relative to program management.

The toughest part of program management is getting directly in contact with the people you want to talk to rather than getting their phone mail, secretary or a busy signal. Because Team Viper was all together in one room, people could be brought together at the center, which came to be known as the “Viper Bell.” When there was a need to assemble, the bell was rung and the team gathered. So there are some real advantages to having open and instant communication. There are also some disadvantages, but the end product was exciting, as was the process of creating it.

The staffing level for the program was lower than any new car program ever started at Chrysler-this was to be a “lean production” process. Individual engineers had responsibilities normally carried by entire departments in other vehicle design areas.

Initially, six engineers determined if small-volume production was feasible. Managment accepted their report that it . could be done for a modest development and tooling cost, and that the car could be sold for approximately $50,000. People were added to the team to get a detailed study of performance potential and more accurate cost and timing data.


The Viper was a relatively fast, niche vehicle program. The team moved into its facility on April 1, 1989, and the first production car came off the line at New Mack Vehicle Assembly Plant less than three years later, on December 12, 1991.

The process that was to evolve over the three-year period could be described in four phases: Concept, Prototype, Pilot, and Production. True, the concept phase had a “walking” start, since there was a concept car, but every square inch on that automobile had to be changed. The tire could not move at all because it interfered with the headlamp. And the car was fabricated from sheet metal because the concept car builders preferred to work with metal.

The concept car had a few basic ergonomic problems, not to mention it was only a “show” car-not driveable. One of the ergonomic issues was that the driver could not move his foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal. However, this concept car certainly established the vision and image.

Other than colors, the basic image was maintained, and that was a key ingredient to the program. The team was able to maintain the aesthetics while complying with legal requirements.

One area that presented a challenge was the bumper systems. The concept car did not quite comply with the 5 MPH Canadian bumper impact standard and a few other setback requirements. The implications on the program management of making the bumper system comply were substantial. Timing was greatly affected and the revisions required significant collaboration with the supplier, Davidson, who was responsible for both front and rear fascia modules. The availability of a well-developed project plan enabled efficient resolution of the design requirements.

Other areas of concern on the bumper system that required agreement with the supplier included module testing, module inspection and determination of warranty responsibility. Original program assumptions about who was responsible were not valid. Each of these necessitated changes to the program to reach mutually agreeable requirements.


The Viper team and supplier body were to fully utilize concurrent engineering. There could be no waiting around for a “series” handoff. This management philosophy required in-depth understanding of how to lay out the project plan to show proper relationships between activities. It also required continuous improvement of the project as the program progressed.

CAD was applied to a greater extent for engine and suspension than had been on other programs. In conjunction with CAD, procurement was often started directly from layouts. Fabrication of tooling for body parts was started before drawings were finalized.


One of the disadvantages of building tools from the layout is that it requires a supplier base to “interpret” design requirements and leads to Tier 2 and 3 misunderstandings. Detail drawings must be completed to avoid these concerns. Another disadvantage is loss of change status control during the development phase when redefinition is accomplished by sketches. This requires special controls by the buyer to ensure a change is rapidly executed while maintaining control of the cost and timing business issues.

Using target pricing techniques, suppliers were selected based on quotes made from sketch or layout information, rather than detail drawings, and brought into the design process as early as possible. On some of the major body parts, suppliers were selected based on the capability demonstrated on other engineering projects, and they were brought into the program to assist in the completion of the concept layouts.

From a product design and development viewpoint, the Viper ran in a mode of continuous change, with engineers being responsible for coordinating their changes with affected interfaces. The thrust was to get into test/development activity quickly by a process of continuously updating parts (which reduced the amount of testing performed with obsolete parts) and to get to production representative configurations as early as possible.

To do this, the engineers had to talk to each other regularly and the project plan facilitated some of those discussions. The lack of coordination could cause lost time, particularly if one engineer's parts did not fit with another's.

The project-specific timing charts integrated facilities and product. There was only one timing chart, which was monitored for the program, and many of the suppliers had charts that dovetailed with this control plan. The supplier planning ranged from stick diagrams to having a very thorough plan developed in project management software. The more sophisticated plans identified the issues: Had Failure Mode and Effect Analyses established where the problems were? These were essential to the Viper program. A “glitchless” program had not (and still has not) been experienced. Problems crop up, often in unexpected ways, such as a supplier bankruptcy, a major durability failure, or a component process failure. The question was whether there was a master controlling plan that could be used to identify the affected critical paths and scenarios reviewed to determine how to minimize the timing disruptions.

The real positive program attribute for Team Viper was not that it had fewer problems, but that it was flexible and able to quickly respond to problems, developing a resolution plan in a very brief period of time. The only ways to do that are to have a road map, know each major activity's status, know where the problems are, and then go fix them as a team.

New sets of problems emerged as program lead time was reduced in conjunction with the goal to develop low-investment techniques. The program road map looks totally different with that kind of mission. Evolving new processes must be more precisely defined. The team could not just go back to the minivan program of 1984 and pull out what it takes to do an instrument panel, because the joint goals drove new suppliers, new tools, and new techniques. These required a very well defined project management process between engineering, the supplier body, manufacturing and everyone in the assembly process.


Assembly of the 674 parts resulted in an assembly line only 660 feet long and with only 24 workstations.

Recall that no road map existed for Viper: it was being created concurrently. While much was learned on managing innovation, more remains to be learned, because there are usually new surprises and pitfalls. Even though some may have been anticipated, each day brought new challenges, sometimes unexpected. Knowing where a particular activity or event stood was crucial to understanding who had to be involved, how the team would react, and the timing for resolution of problems. That is to say, the interfaces had to be well defined, understood and managed.

The PM approach allowed the program manager to minimize the chaos that could have occurred by simultaneously piling up all of the requirements, i.e., trying to control technology, reducing program lead time, lower investments, new suppliers, etc. Keep in mind that many of the suppliers were also learning concurrently. The Viper program was to be a learning process for employees, the corporation, management, and suppliers.


Having established why the Viper program was being done, the team had to establish what the basic requirements were, and that is when empowerment of people became important. With a strong sense of vision, proper understanding, defining and communicating requirements and empowerment, people should not have to be constantly monitored.

The Viper was a “back to basics” car like the Cobra. The team even bought a Cobra replica and performed some restoration work on it. There were occasions in meetings when people would deviate from basics by going into a complex field. As engineering progressed, they had to constantly re-challenge themselves to stick to the basics. Again, the process was vision first, followed by a simplistic mission, back to basics, people empowerment, and reduced monitoring and feedback.

The Viper truly was program management by objectives. The approach was to keep objectives simple and to go to the actual objectives that were the most important to Viper customers . . . performance objectives. First was the time to go from zero to 100 MPH to zero. The team benchmarked against the Cobra and other vehicles such as the Ferrari F40, which runs that in about 15.7 seconds. So, they set out to establish an American “production car” speed record for zero to 100 to zero in less than 14.8 seconds. This effort required considerable collaboration between the Kelsey Hayes brakes and the engine, transmission, and drive train.


In the ‘60s, a specially prepared 427 Cobra had established a zero-100-zero time of about 14.5 seconds. Late in 1992, a series of tests were run with a production Viper, with the United States Automobile Club doing the driving. Viper set a formal world record for zero-100-zero of 14.79 seconds … that's zero-100-zero in under 14.8 seconds-over one second faster than a Ferrari F40.

Another key objective for Viper, the ability to go from zero to 60 MPH in 4.5 seconds and a quarter mile in under 13 seconds, created some interesting objectives with the tire supplier, Michelin. The rev-up, with 450 ft. lbs. of torque, to achieve 4.5 seconds can result in a lot of blue smoke from burned rubber and even slow times.

The Viper also had to meet very tough handling requirements. The car was subjected to 1 G (the force of gravity) lateral acceleration tests (that is, going around a 300-foot diameter circle) on Chrysler's handling pad. While most excellent vehicles perform in the .92 to .94 G range, Viper's best test achieved 1.03 G with normal production tires. The team vision for the tires was that “they had to be so ‘sticky’ that under acceleration they would take out chunks of road asphalt.” This graphic statement imparted a vision to the tire manufacturer and to Dana, the drive train manufacturer, enabling them to execute vehicle requirements without Team Viper's constant monitoring.


Most of the new manufacturing technology in the Viper is found in the body components. The Viper was the first continuous reinforced composite body car in the United States to use the Resin Transfer Molding (RTM) process.

An exploded view of the Viper's components reveals the unique body design

An exploded view of the Viper's components reveals the unique body design.

RTM body panels are continuous fibre, primarily glass reinforcement, with acrylic resin injected at required pressures. That is why it is called RTM. In the RTM process, a glass preform is inserted in the mold, the mold is closed, and resin is injected. The part cures in the mold in about 15 to 20 minutes. The annual volume for RTM is typically up to 10,000 parts per year. RTM was selected because of the relatively low annual volume of the Viper, and to reduce time and investment on the tooling. Initial RTM tools were made from epoxy rather than the P-20 steel used for tooling conventional Sheet Molded Compound (SMC) body panels.

RTM has been used in over-the-road trucks and high-tech aerospace, but had not been used in Class A (exposed) surfaces in volume automobiles. That was a real program management challenge, because while supply companies are very acclimated to the aerospace industry, they were not very well acclimated to automotive requirements. This was one of several instances where the team had to assist a new supplier in the development of automotive components while the supplier (Dow/U. T.) provided tooling and process knowledge back to the team.

Many of the body panels consist of two panels—an inner and an outer— bonded together with metal reinforcements for attachments such as latches, hinges, and supports for the hood, doors, and deck lid.

Six different composite materials are used in the Viper for body panels: Reaction Injected Molded (RIM) urethane for the front and rear fascias; high temperature epoxy RTM for the door surround structure; a graphite reinforced epoxy for the top of the tunnel structure; SRIM (Structural Reaction Injection Molded) for bumper beams; an ICI acrylic resin with Certainteed continuous glass reinforcement for exterior body panels; and a polyester cold-form for shields and body panel close outs.

The body panels are painted at an outside source and delivered to the assembly plant ready to go on the car.


Suppliers were brought into the program early on. Many were asked to advise on the design of components to optimize cost, timing, and quality. Some supplier engineers moved into the Viper area physically to work directly with Chrysler designers. As a result, both Chrysler and supplier personnel had a single focus and did what was necessary to get the job done—regardless of the hours or effort required.

Six-Speed Transmission

Another major program element was the all-new six-speed transmission, which had to be developed in the context of low investment, shorter lead time, and the need to match up to the huge power plant torque. One does not go out to the inventory shelf and find a transmission that will take 450 ft. lbs. of torque. The first supplier tried hard, but no agreement could be reached on both timing and cost. There is obviously a major implication for a project when someone comes in and says, “your piece cost just doubled.” As a result, the team had to go out and find a new supplier; fortunately they found Borg Warner. Borg Warner did use project management—it applied the Lotus 1-2-3 PM template.

The really important issue about the transmission was that it only took a year and a half to develop. No one had ever developed a production transmission in 18 months. Borg Warner did, and in fact provided a very successful transmission. The key criterion for this vehicle was 500 drag cycles without failure. The tests were conducted at local drag strips by Dana, Borg Warner and Chrysler personnel.


In the chassis, two major challenges were candidates for project management. One was the tubular frame, which was sourced to FABCO, which had never made a frame before. Chrysler's traditional frame structure suppliers were not interested in the business. The team had to immediately identify and create a new source, which presented a real project management challenge. FABCO dedicated two people on site at the Viper Pit and developed a complete project chart using a PC-based software program. The development of the tubular frame shape was a challenge, because precise identification of where a tube is going to bend was not possible, despite finite element analysis and all the other calculations (due to spring-back and memory). The only way to know was to start bending and testing to find out how the tube behaved. Adjustments were made and testing was repeated until all of the problem areas were corrected and the frame process was judged to be manufacturable.

Putting a Fast Transmission on a Fast Track

Jim Swedeen, BorgWarner Automotive

As a result of a false start with another vendor, BorgWarner Automotive's Powertrain Assembly personnel were probably the last major vendor asked to become part of the Viper project. A meeting at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May of 1990 between Powertrain Assemblies senior managers and Team Viper personnel led to the delivery the following month of a hastily assembled prototype T56 six-speed manual transmission, already under development for another OEM.

Based on the evaluation of that transmission, a commitment was made within days, agreed to by both parties, for BorgWarner to provide production units in just 18 months for 1992 model year production vehicles.


According to Steve Whitaker, manager, product engineering, manual transmissions, the first step in getting the project moving was the selection of Muncie, Indiana-based lead product engineer Steve Holman, and a Viper T56 product team. Members of that team included representatives from product development engineering, manufacturing engineering, assembly engineering, quality assurance, material control, purchasing and industrial engineering. This group met every week together, and more frequently in smaller groups, to do what had never been done before, except perhaps under wartime conditions.

Working with Team Viper powertrain personnel Pete Gladysz, Dara Tomczak and John Donato, product design, development and validation were done simultaneously with product manufacturing and assembly implementation, according to Whitaker.

Whitaker said, “We used TimeLine® to guide the program through a timeline of critical events and actions. It helped identify critical path strategies and constraints and allowed us to plot different scenarios as timing and end dates changed and helped us to predict outcomes from those scenarios.”

Although software contributed to the success of the Viper T56 program, Whitaker credited the human element with making a greater contribution to immediate goals and long-term changes in attitudes. He said, “The two biggest lessons we learned were, first, both vendor and customer could function outside of existing systerns to accomplish ambitious goals in a shortened time frame. Existing systerns on both sides would have unnecessarily expanded the time required to make decisions.

“Second, by empowering working-level engineers to make decisions, it was possible to accomplish objectives in a much shorter period of time than had been considered ‘normal’ in the past.”

Summing up the program, Whitaker observed, “The Viper program was a perfect opportunity to both demonstrate how quickly a program could be accomplished and how well our new, world-class T56 six-speed manual transmission was suited to this exotic, exciting new vehicle.”

Instead of waiting until the whole car was designed and built as a prototype to evaluate the vehicle for impact safety, static crush tests were performed on the front end. This was done before a complete car was run into the barrier. The engineers learned that the finite element analysis was conservative and they were able to reduce both metal gage and tube size. Revised frames were tested in the initial barrier impact tests. This saved one and possibly two frame redesigns.

It might be alleged that almost everyone who drives a race car has bad kidneys and cannot wear dentures because of the car's stiff ride. The Viper surprises everyone with how well it rides. The secret is the excellent structure, which allows the suspension bushings and shocks to provide isolation rather than compensate for insufficient stiffness.

The second big project management challenge in the chassis area was to develop brakes with the capacity to go from 100 to zero in under 4.6 seconds. The concept car made an aesthetic statement with a deep dish wheel. However, the wheel style would not accommodate the required brake size, creating the possibility for a vehicle that would go from zero to 60 in 4.5 seconds . . . but would just keep going! Major changes were made to the wheel to package very large 13-inch disks with multi-piston caliper brakes for maximum stopping power. The key here was working with Viper team partners Kelsey Hayes and Michelin Tue.


The press-bend windshield in the vehicle was another challenge and was the first of its kind. The technology challenge was the ability to form a windshield rather than sag it in a heat process. There were other examples of a pressed glass but they had distortion. So the challenge was to develop a distortion-free front windshield utilizing press-bend technology. That was done with Guardian, who placed two people on site to utilize modern project management.


When the Viper first appeared on the scene at the 1989 Detroit Auto Show, it had an iron V-10 engine, which was assembled by brazing together pieces of two 5.9 liter V-8S. As a result of the enthusiasm shown for that car, the V-10 engine became an integral part of the vehicle concept. In the public's eye Vipers were V-10 powered. The team faced another formidable challenge, for rarely had a vehicle and its new engine been developed concurrently, because of the interrelationship challenges and timing implications.

The Frame For The Dream

Robert Chanko, FABCO Fabricated Steel Products

When Chrysler approached Fabricated Steel Products (FABCO) back in October 1989 with the idea of having us supply the frame for the Viper, we leaped at the opportunity. FABCO President Jack Davidson felt this was a chance to display our talents on a high-profile vehicle and also help develop our short-leadtime capabilities.


When FABCO was finally selected to be the Viper frame supplier, a plan of attack had to be established. This was a high-visibility program for Chrysler and FABCO, dictating that this project be managed with extreme precision. Due to the abbreviated schedule we were facing, a computerized Gantt chart was immediately developed to establish direction.

Included in the challenges FABCO faced was expansion of one of our manufacturing facilities by more than 25,000 sq. ft. We also had to design/build multiple robotic welding cells and a robotic plasma cutting system. Tube-bending equipment from California had to be designed and purchased, along with a plethora of subassembly systems to marry together the more than 250 components which make up a complete frame assembly—all within an n-month time frame. Vendors had to be located to supply FABCO with over 175 of the subcomponents that were chosen to be purchased outside, and with volumes of only 5,000 units per year-low by automotive standards-many suppliers were reluctant to quote.

Wallace Birtch, the project engineer assigned to oversee the frame manufacture, used a variety of tools to complete the project on schedule. Birtch said, “The Gantt chart was an extremely useful tool for tracking the equipment builds and the building expansion. It gave me the ability to check the project status at a glance and its simplicity made it excellent for presentation purposes.”

A Structures Task Force was setup, bringing FABCO and Team Viper personnel (Craig Belmonte, et al.) together on a biweekly basis to discuss design and process problems that surfaced throughout the launch period. Weekly launch meetings, chaired by FABCO Marketing VP Paul Bryant, were instrumental in meeting sample submission dates. Managers from FABCO‘S purchasing, manufacturing quality, and production departments were told exactly what their groups were responsible for, and detailed updates, including any roadblocks, were required each week.

But the ultimate reason for the outstanding success of this project can be attributed to the open lines of communication and an atmosphere of trust between Team Viper and FABCO. “Decisions on open issues were made promptly by both sides and a handshake pulled as much weight as a purchase order in many cases. Due to the compressed schedule we were up against, it's the only way we ever could have succeeded,” said Birtch.

However, the team found out in a hurry that the iron engine was just too heavy, so they converted the design to aluminum, creating a completely new engine. The weight target of saving 100 pounds was achieved. The V-10 is 488 cubic inches, or 8 liters, and is all aluminum other than the valve covers, which are die cast magnesium. The magnesium presented yet another opportunity to develop supplier technology. The raw material suppliers indicated that magnesium was cost-competitive with aluminum, but the parts suppliers had other opinions. So, a joint project was put together with Dow and the part supplier to develop the economics of die cast magnesium.

Engine program timing. The timing objective was to develop the Viper V-10 aluminum engine in less than 36 months, with an actual start date for lines on paper occurring in late May 1989.

The development process required a lot of changes, so the team had to stay flexible. Team members knew they had a three-year time commitment and were moving fast. Improvisation was the by-word. They took advantage of all available technology. In addition to nearly 100 percent use of CAD for design, they became the first users of Chrysler's then-new stereolithography capability.

Stereolithography is a tremendous development tool. It was used to provide mockups, patterns for engine casting tooling, and even quarter-scale engine parts to evaluate concepts.

The engine utilized a project management time line. Within the supplier community, there were different databases and varying degrees of belief in project management. Team Viper assisted the suppliers in defining what was required and how they should go about accomplishing their activities. The key was bringing it all together in one project management network.

The critical path for the engine was the 50K emissions schedule. This was obviously critical because without a legal emissions engine the Viper could not be sold. That is the path that was closely monitored along with activities that had significant impact, such as hot and cold trip calibrations. Close monitoring was also required because of the interactive effects on the powertrain.

Engine performance factors. The engine is currently the biggest and most powerful passenger car engine built in North America. Because of its size, it was relatively easy to obtain the desired performance levels. Good driveability was also achieved through the broad, flat torque curve, exceeding 400 ft. lbs. from 1200 to more than 5200 RPM,

Dodge Viper Windshield—Example In Program Management

Roy Young, Guardian Industries

In September of 1989, Guardian Industries had the opportunity to propose a plan to develop the windshield for the Viper program. Chrysler was convinced that Guardian had the technology to press-bend the complex shape and maintain functional performance in the part. Guardian's unique program management system was then instituted to ensure that all elements of the windshield program—from concept through production-were completed in a timely, effective manner.


The basis of Guardian's program management technique was to assign a full-time program manager who was an extension of Chrysler's engineering group (led by Jack Atabak), and to utilize TimeLine® project management Software.

Guardian assigned Ron Harrier as program manager. Every activity required to develop and produce windshields was detailed. Duration for each activity and its interdepend-encies were loaded into the TimeLine program producing a Gantt chart. This was provided on a disk to Team Viper and was incorporated into the master timing network for the Viper program. In order to ensure success, a bimonthly update meeting schedule was established and included key personnel from Guardian and the Viper team from areas such as manufacturing, quality, product engineering, Chrysler purchasing and Guardian sales. At each of these meetings, the Gantt chart and the open issues were reviewed to maintain the schedule and to determine if the established program milestone dates would be affected. The Gantt chart and the open issues list were living documents which were included in the minutes of the update meetings that the Guardian program manager distributed to key personnel at Guardian and Chrysler. The distribution list at Guardian included manufacturing, tooling personnel, and engineering technicians. These people were responsible for assigned tasks to ensure that tooling was completed on time, and that production equipment, when required, was available to process parts.

The program management technique was essential to the windshield development. The cooperative efforts and open communication between Team Viper and Team Guardian ensured that success. Guardian was very proud when told by the Viper team that “the windshield was the first production part tooled on the program.”


Another significant change was the kind of relationships and partnerships that were established with both the UAW and suppliers. The UAW local that represents the craftspeople at the New Mack Vehicle Assembly Plant supported a new approach to building cars. As a result, there were only five job classifications in the plant.

Before the first production vehicle was assembled, each draftsperson was given 600 hours of training. The first draftsper-son group joined the engineering development technicians to assemble prototype cars during the early stages of the program at the Jeep/Truck engineering center.

By necessity, Lean Manufacturing and Assembly became a catchphrase. The vehicle assembly process would be a team activity, involving a small number of craftspeople who would all be trained to perform all of the assembly tasks. Assembly of both the engine and the complete vehicle are craft-type operations. The initial vehicle assembly line length was only 660 feet long with 24 work stations, compared to the typical high-volume line, which is up to one mile long and has more than 200 work stations. Basic hand tools and simple assembly fixtures were selected unless something special was needed.

An example of a special process that was installed was the Chassis Rolls Unit that checks the rolling chassis prior to body assembly. The Chassis Rolls Unit allows the car to be started and operated as if on a road, while actually staying in place on the rolls.

The Viper is built as a “hot rolling chassis,” which means it is driven at speeds of 100 MPH on the chassis rolls to check functionality of the engine, transmission, drivetrain components, brakes, and cooling system. In the extremely unlikely event that repairs are required, it is a lot easier to do them before the body is installed on the chassis.

Modular components were shipped into the plant to reduce in-plant assembly labor. This also permitted suppliers to produce pre-checked subassemblies. There were 35 modules in the vehicle: engine; instrument panel; frame and toe box assembly; pedal assembly; air cleaner, with resonator and flex ducts to the throttle bodies; differential; exhaust system; spring/shock assembly; front and rear fascias; fuel tank, with the pump/regulator/gage module; and premounted tires and wheels. Most assembly plants have around 3,000 parts-Viper had 674. So it was truly modularized, and delivered just in time.


Chrysler's First Cut at Using PM for the Total Car Program

A process was defined in project management that may be applicable to any of the domestic automobile manufacturers, because all share the same or similar suppliers and the fundamental design and development processes use similar approaches and techniques. The key is to set your mind toward PM and then to dedicate the necessary time to put together the project map, realizing it is a continuous improvement process. The engineers and the manufacturing and process people must dedicate their time to assist insetting up the logic pattern and the precedent interfaces.

During the Viper program, meetings were held every other week with the responsible engineers. The next three weeks of activity were reviewed and corrective plans discussed. In the future, more than the next three weeks will be reviewed because of scheduled major events (such as a road trip occurring in the next three-month period). People may not otherwise look far enough ahead to anticipate problems. However, PM cannot be used as a large bat to beat up someone. It must be used to identify and improve the process and to take immediate corrective action when problems are encountered. Teamwork is absolutely essential, although there may be a tendency when the “incoming rounds start falling” for people to revert to their normal defensive procedures very quickly, even with a cross-functional team. Finger pointing never has stopped a bullet!

Open, constant communication is another essential. The truth has to be known early. Part of the rugged individualism in our American culture leads us to believe that we can take care of our problems. In fact, the team must involve everyone who may be affected. Dates come and dates go, and a $400,000 prototype vehicle cannot sit waiting because someone did not get parts in on time or was not told there was a problem. It is a real loss to investment, and when the project is on a tight timeline with a small team like Viper, it is a lost resource. It is essential to know where the team activities stand on a regular basis and to take the necessary steps to assure effective and timely execution of each step.


Learning That Can Be Transferred to the Platform Teams

Chrysler now has a complete vehicle project map that can be utilized by its other platforms should they get into a niche vehicle such as Viper. They will have the benefit of all of the product design and development and supplier interaction knowledge gained from Viper.

The team learned that when project management is used-on a tight program with tight timing and low investment—the necessary transfer of knowledge down to lower tier suppliers may not occur when it is supposed to. This could result in tooling problems for the suppliers. It must be kept in mind that suppliers are concurrently going through a cultural learning/change process.

Another vital aspect of taking on project management is to have a project leader with PM experience who truly believes in its application; it is a requirement to make PM successful. The leader must demonstrate interest in the chart formation and detail within the chart. Roy Sjoberg often visited Program Timing (or wherever the chart was located at the time) to review the master plan. The project manager must frequently interact directly with the timing specialist responsible for developing and maintaining the computer-based project plans.

The testimonial of leaders who have used PM on real programs, particularly one as visible as the Viper, is an excellent recommendation tool to encourage other teams to use PM. Roy Sjoberg shared his experience on more then one occasion to encourage other Chrysler platforms to get involved.

The Viper team learned, and Chrysler is still learning, that it is not just the planning and development of the project plan that is important. Attention must also be paid to the detail of interrelationships and to the execution of those details and the stepping up to problems as early as possible in order to achieve a successful program. This includes finding suppliers who want to use the techniques of PM to manage their part of the product program.

Along with a strong leader who is a proponent, there has to be some degree of grassroots buy-in, because it will not happen by edict. Reduced lead time, more than anything else, should drive teams to program management, because defining and monitoring the critical path will be paramount to going from three years to two years. Three years may appear to be an achievement now, but it will not seem so great tomorrow because global competition is certainly not standing still. Project management is a valuable tool to manage the path to shorter lead time.


Another pitfall to watch out for is the tendency for the people to think that the project plan is done when the initial process is mapped. In reality, it must be a living document. The commitment must be there to improve it, from the start of the program through launch of the product. When this is successfully accomplished, the team will have captured very valuable knowledge of the process from which future improvements can be made.


An example of a payoff for using PM was the Viper Indianapolis 500 experience. This was truly management by task. The Dodge Stealth was originally selected, but it did not seem appropriate to have as the pace car for the seventy-fifth Indy race. The team was asked to provide the Indy Pace Car for 1991. The team only had three months’ notification before the big Memorial Day race, there was not a pace car built and the team did not know how the car would run on the Indianapolis speedway. A time line was developed to show how the team could get a Viper pace car on time. They were able to determine quickly who had the responsibility for the components and what activity had to be performed to get this car built and delivered to Indy on time. At the same time, they also had to understand the implications on the basic program test and development schedule of reallocating material. This was a moment of chaos management. Chaos may be driven by management, by public relations, or by external events, as in this particular case, where the plan had been to have the Stealth as the pace car. And so the team got last-minute direction and performed outstandingly.

The team ascertained pace car requirements by going to Indy early in April to work out such things as the TV transmitters and strobe-light electrical packaging (approximately 60 pounds added in the trunk). One of the lighter moments was having reknowned race car driver Carroll Shelby there. He had just completed his heart transplant surgery and amazing recovery. He took a lot of people for rides and scared the heck out of several of them because he drove with one arm on the door and the other arm on the wheel at 140 miles per hour! He put over 2,000 miles on the car and had a lot of fun.

In the initial plan, the Viper was to be used for just the start of the race. It performed so well during the time trials, that Carroll drove it whenever a pace car was needed through the entire race. The Indy Viper, which is now in the Indianapolis Raceway Museum, ran for over 1200 miles at speeds up to 140 mph with absolutely no problems. The Viper is one of two prototype cars that have been used as pace cars in the history of the Indy race. The other prototype was also a Chrysler product—the 1940 LeBaron Newport.

The Viper has been pulling away from the pack ever since Indy. Not in recent times has there been such astir caused by so mighty a vehicle developed by so few dedicated people in such a cooperative, cross-functional tear-dike approach. Project management knit the task, team members, and suppliers together to achieve a truly unique and history-making product. Project management was the tool of choice for a truly lean, fast product program.


James Royer is manager, Viper Engine, at Chrysler Corporation. Since graduating from MIT, John has worked on many types of engines, power plants and drive trains. His career spanned positions at Ford and Chevrolet, Williams International, and Eaton Corporation, before joining Chrysler Corporation in 1977. Assignments at Chrysler have included diesel engine development, power train operations, transmission quality, engine development, advanced engine development, and the Viper engine.

Mr. Royer is a graduate of MIT with a B.S. in mechanical engineering, with additional graduate studies at Wayne State University. He is a registered professional engineer in Michigan, and a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.


Charles M. Rightler has been a chief in Chrysler's Corporate Program Timing group since February 1986.

He is responsible for continuous improvement in leadtime reduction, including specific efforts directed at benchmarking competition and conducting outside corporate studies. His timing specialist, Ron Rogalski, who is an expert in the application of Project Management, is assigned to the Team Viper.

Mr. Rightler joined Chrysler Corporation in 1963 as a product development engineer Since that time he has held several managerial positions in Engineering and Product Planning. He has applied project management over the course of the last 12 years to several projects, including vehicle emission certification, vehicle design and total vehicle development plans.

He has a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Lawrence Technological University and an MBA from Wayne State University.


* Artemis Prestige was used. Thanks to Lucas Management Systems for helping bring this story to PMNETwork.

JUNE 1993



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