Project Management Institute

Project work revisited


by Greg Hutchins, Contributing Editor

Here's a look at Brand U employees and the Handy/Hutchins three-ring model.

IN THE AUGUST issue, I wrote about changes occurring in the workplace: churning, project work, and how it impact us. The comments I've received indicate that some people are enthusiastic about what's happening, others are resistant.

Only a couple of years ago, a company was very contrite when it selectively downsized. Now, downsizing is a normal part of business. Welcome to the world of churning. “That [churning] may sound cold, but get used to it. These days, many companies are firing and hiring at the same time, dumping outmoded or redundant employees, and adding new ones with very different skills. Allstate Corp. is doing it. Pricewaterhouse-Coopers LLP is doing it. So are BellSouth Corp., Adobe Systems Inc., and a mass of others,” Patrick Barta wrote in “In Current Expansion, As Business Booms, So, Too, Do Layoffs” [Wall Street Journal, 13 March 2000]. And companies are unapologetic about the churning effect.

Business Week's 21–28 August 2000 issue focused on the “21st Century Corporation.”

In “And Now, The Just-In-Time Employee,” about today's free-agent project worker, Michelle Conlin cited stunning churn numbers:

A typical 32-year-old worker already has held nine different jobs. By the time she reaches retirement age, she'll have had 20 different positions, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Currently, free agents comprise about 26 percent of today's workforce. In 10 years, more than 41 percent of the workforce will be working on a project-contract basis.

Why is this critical to every PMIer? “Bucking the trend [of hiring external contractors] are companies that offer careers—but as a series of projects, not as static jobs,” said Conlin in her Business Week article.

Welcome to the world of churning—get used to it!

So, each of us will evolve into either an internal core-project employee or a project contractor. Regardless, we'll all be Brand U workers.

What's going on? More than 10 years ago, Charles Handy developed a new work model, which he later elaborated on [“Corporate Center,” Executive Excellence, December 1998]. I have expanded on the model, which is pretty straightforward, as shown in Exhibit 1.

Why is this important? Well, many Brand U's work on special project teams either as employees or contractors. We need to know the rules of these project teams and what our roles are in these teams.

img Inner ring. The job of the corporate center, Handy notes, is to be in charge of the future—keeping an eye on the competition, on new markets, and on strategy. The center also is in charge of the organization's overall architecture and design of the center's responsibilities. This inner ring organizational core is composed of corporate insiders, managers, and professionals. They are the glue that holds the organization together and grows it. These insiders may be highly trained entrepreneurs, executives, professionals, marketing strategists, engineers, and accountants who maintain the core organizational processes and sustain the institutional memory. These full-time employees define the organization's vision, mission, principles, culture, and ethics. These people in the inner ring also determine the organization's core process competencies that distinguish it from the competition.

img Middle ring. Brand U portfolio or project workers inhabit the middle ring, according to this model. These people are Brand U contractors or temporary workers. I call these project people because they are mainly involved in discrete projects with a definite beginning and end. They offer marketable, transferable skills, knowledge, and abilities that add organizational value. These skills are portable, and can be sold to the highest bidder. A Brand U may become an itinerant professional selling his or her skills from employer to employer.

img Outer ring. This ring is composed largely of interchangeable or disposable workers. According to Handy, these workers are often less skilled service employees. Many are marginal workers who provide food and travel services and perform administrative chores [Beyond Certainty:The Changing Worlds of Organizations, Harvard Business School Press, 1996].

KEY QUESTION FOR YOU: What's your customer's business or employer's work model? It may follow the Handy/Hutchins model or be some variation. Ask your employer or customer:Are you or your process part of your organization's inner, middle, or outer rings? If your process is not part of the organizational core, then what's the chance it will be outsourced? If you're a middle manager, what does the organization want to do with your department or activities? If you're a middle-ring person, a Brand U, what's critical to your customer now, six months from now, and a year from now? ■

Exhibit 1.This is why work is projectized

Exhibit 1.This is why work is projectized.

Reader Service Number 059


Greg Hutchins, PE, is a principal with QPE, a program, process, and project management advisory firm in Portland, Ore. QPE's core competency is leading/coaching project teams to do the right things right on time.He is also the author of Working It and the Brand U concept.He can be reached at Comments on this column should be directed to

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.

PM Network October 2000



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