Reflections on project management

Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical

Ed. note: The following is an address by Mr. Shillito to the Defense Systems Management School, June 1974. We feel that Mr. Shillito's personal reflections will be of interest to you.

I am told that Casey Stengel once tried to show an inept left fielder just how left field should be played. The first hit went over Casey's head. The second rolled between his legs. The third went whizzing by. Baseball lore has it that the chagrined Casey stomped back to the dugout and bellowed to his left fielder: “You've got left field so fouled up, nobody can play it!”

In the early 1950's I found myself in the Air Force at Wright Field in the interesting position of being titled Phasing Group Chairman. Interestingly, this was in the embryo stages of that which has now become titled Project Management. At that time I had the responsibility for all Air Force fighter fire control systems. It seems as though I had to work with and through, and sometimes around, everyone in order to get the job done. For a period of time I seemed to have a constant give-and-take battle with our legal department and one attorney, in particular, who was more interested in the practice of law than efficiently acquiring fire control systems. I still had the responsibility, however.

I recall on one occasion playing on a softball team at Wright Field and actually playing left field. In this instance, after several line drives through the shortstop, who on this particular day was somewhat inept — and by the way, this shortstop, who was a close friend, was also my problem attorney from our Legal Department — I found myself particularly busy on the left side of the diamond. I can remember making the comment to him at that time, “It seems like all day long, and even while playing baseball, everything has to go through Legal.” Quite often, that's the way persons in project management offices feel.

These stories may seem apocryphal but the principle is clear. You don't fault the job to be done. You get the job done in spite of the obstacles. If you can't get the job done in spite of the obstacles, simply get a better fielder. You train him. You motivate him. You tell him what his responsibilities are. You tell him about the obstacles. You evaluate his performance and, if it doesn't measure up, you look for a better player. That is what project management is all about.

In 1970 I had the occasion to meet Vince Lombardi and spend a little time with him. This wasn't too long before he passed away. He was a fundamentalist when it came to putting the right people in the right slots — people who knew what to do and were highly motivated to do it. I recall his statement, “The front office is the worst place to get a run-or-pass decision when it is fourth down and goal to do.” In essence, the job must get done on the firing line.

Very simply, all this ties into the problem with management, both in the Department of Defense and industry, today. Our historical organizational alignments that probably go back to the time of the earliest forms of military warfare have evolved into a situation where organizational conformity allows to many people to attempt to call the signals for the man who has the job to do.

National security is no political ball game. It is a critically serious business. People's lives and freedoms depend upon it. This is true in both industry and Defense.

Defense may be the toughest business in the world to manage, when recognizing the technologies involved and the objectives that must be accomplished. Over the years, as Department of Defense Management grew, as technology became more complicated and weaponry more expensive, top management sought out the systems, the programs, and the techniques to make the organization manageable and, hopefully, to get the necessary defense for the fewest dollars. Too often, the answer was more centralized control; more centralized review; more intermediate echelons of course, to process the paper; and, inevitably, more controls to control the controls.

When I left the Department of Defense, our paper mill system had evolved into over 1,000 directives and instructions at the level of the Office of the Secretary of Defense alone. This was actually a slight decrease over the number when we entered Defense. Many of these are quite volumnious and they are really only the tip of the iceberg. This doesn't include the regulations, manuals, self-perpetuating memoranda, and other detailed guidance issued by headquarters staffs in our Military Departments.

I recall an occasion on which I looked at one normal contract that went to a company's field service and support organization. I found that 463 specifications, instructions, or policies were in the contract or referenced by those in the contract.

Somewhere in this bureaucratic explosion, top management lost sight of the fact that ten sentences on two tablets sufficed to mold the conscience of Western civilization, without revisions, implementing instructions, constructive changes, ECP's, CCN's, or supplemental agreements.

I remember the Mr. Adam best-selling satire of the mid-1940's on bureaucratic overmanagement.* Mr. Adam, as you may recall, was the only male left in the world who retained the power to reproduce. He became a national resource. The Government built a bureaucracy around him. The organization had a director, assistant directors, associate directors, planning staffs, programming staffs, budget officers, contract negotiators, legal advisors, etc. At the very lowest level of this vast pyramid, at an obscure site in the dungeons of the bureaucracy, was an office labled “Operations.” Its sole occupant was Mr. Adam, the program manager.

This background has led you gentlemen to where you are today — program management, “adhocracy” versus bureaucracy, working around and through the system, managing by objectives, etc.

In the early 1950's, I didn't realize that I was involved in the early stages of program management. Fortunately, the Air Force recognized a job had to be done and, even though I was only a GS-13, I had direct access and constant contact with a three-star general. My total staff was about 15 people. If anything got off the track in engineering, contracting, supply, or maintenance, he was on my back. In very short order it was surprising how you found it possible to work with, around, and through the system in meeting the objectives that were very clearly defined.

When General Scott invited me to be with you, he confirmed the invitation by letter and he saw fit to quote from Peter Drucker's new book, “Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices”** Peter Drucker has been a friend of mine for a long time. In fact, when I was president of the Logistics Management Institute he was a member of my board of Directors. I have great admiration for his understanding of the management problem. He has also turned out or educated some of the country's greatest management experts. He probably is also the granddaddy of managing by objectives. In his book, Peter Drucker says:

“It [i.e., project management] alone of all known principles of organization prepares and tests people for top management responsibility at an early stage. This by iteslf makes it the principle to be used in preference to any other.”

“No other known prinicple of organization, whether in business or in any other institution, satisfies the need to prepare and test men for tomorrow's leadership positions …”

As you take on your new responsibilities when you leave Belvoir, you are going to be faced with many problems. At the same time, you have been exposed to all the tools necessary to get the job done. You will find, interestingly, that your ability to get the job done may frequently evolve into more of an art than a science, as you find it necessary to work with and obtain help from organizations and people that are not directly under your control. At the same time you are moving into an arena that has, without doubt, the greatest spectrum of interdependent functional exposures as is possible in government or industry. It can also be a lot of fun.

In my own company our project managers have become the key individuals as regards major areas for accomplishment. The rest of us understand that, while we may not work for them directly, we support them and we stand ready to support them at every opportunity. Admittedly, trade-offs have to be made now and then among priorities they may not agree with, but they, the program managers, must maintain a singleness of purpose that cannot be altered. You and the organization you will be a part of will be responsible for insuring that your singleness of purpose is always in the forefront. As you take on your new responsibilities, I urge that you first establish your objectives or understand the objectives of your organization. Most of us who manage by objectives would define these as:

  • Stating the results to be achieved.
  • Stating the conditions to be reached.
  • Stating the position to be attained.

A valid objective has these qualities:

  • It deals with results rather than actions.
  • It is specific and its achievement can be measured. (Goals indicate when achievement is expected.)
  • It is realistically achievable but requires more than the normal effort or activity; it has “stretch.”
  • It is consistent with the overall objective, purpose, and philosophy.
  • Its achievement is charged to a person who has the necessary authority and resources to carry out the planned steps required for achievement.
  • It carries the commitment of those responsible for producing results.
  • It, and the plan that supports it, should be directed toward the required accomplishment, eliminating or neutralizing problems, using strengths to favorable advantage and/or overcoming weaknesses.

Long-range objectives should be set prior to the development of short-term objectives. In this way the short-term objectives will be better directed. In division and department plans, long-range objectives extend to the planning horizon and short-term objectives cover a much shorter period, possibly a year or so.

I urge that, as you take on your responsibilities, you obtain clear unequivocal objectives that will allow you to make the operational decisions. They should be broad and brief and they don't have to have every “t” crossed or every “i” dotted.

You should know how you are going to work with the diverse Defense organizations and staffs that are remote from the actual operations and whose reviews and commentaries you may feel sometimes contribute more to causing problems than assisting in solutions.

Surround yourself with people who are objectives-oriented people who have, when possible, records of performance rather than records of longevity.

Understand what is expected of you and let those working for you know clearly what is expected of them, i.e., their responsibilities.

Clearly understand your relationship with your contractors. I believe strongly in program management industry engagement and a sound, fair business relationship between these two entities that cannot and should not always see eye to eye. Your success is dependent upon a contractor's ability to do the best possible job for you. Don't kid him or play games with him. Don't hamper him with unnecessary costly requirements, but at the same time insure that you receive from him the best possible product within your dollar constraints. After all, you are becoming an agent of the taxpayer and you must insure that the taxpayer receives the best possible return for his investment. You should also keep in mind that generally a good contractor is a profitable contractor.

And, finally, be sure you have the authority necessary to get the job done.

* A novel by Pat Frank (Lippincott, 1946).

** Harper & Row, 1974.

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.

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