The rise and fall of project management… the emperor's new clothes … the last day of PMPeii


Project Management—The Way I Seez It!

Marvin Datz

I received many calls and comments about my inaugural column in the February issue. One well-wisher was Marvin Datz from Houston, Texas, who enclosed an article he wrote for the September 1993 Houston PMI Chapter newsletter. I liked it so much I decided to devote my second column to his sage words of advice.

Will B. Struggles

Before I could marshal my defenses, Will B. Struggles turned on the charm and persuaded me to republish excerpts from an article of mine that ran in the September 1993 PMI Houston Chapter Newsletter. In its original form it had a theme so powerful that it would irritate, aggravate and enrage most every PM Network reader. The no-holds-barred critique of management players in the engineering and construction industry proved so powerful that it required three titles … and it still does! Will B. convinced me to tone it down a bit for PM Network, but 90 percent of it is still intact.

My introduction to project management occurred in the early ‘60s when I was accidentally introduced to CPM (many managers still don't know what that means or how to use it). The dictionary defines CPM as “Cycles Per Minutes,” and of course everybody knows PERT is a shampoo. To this day I believe that CPM is the most significant management project control technique of the century. It offers the manager the best way to forecast and manage the future. If used correctly it will greatly enhance the manager's opportunity to execute a successful project. Similarly, a manager's better understanding and application of Cost, Estimating and Material Management would also enhance a project's success. Unfortunately, many corporate officers and project managers are woefully un-derskilled in the application of these systems.

I would like to emphasize that my views are based on my experiences and those of some of my contemporaries from the ‘60s to the present. These views have not resulted from a scientific study or an extensive questionnaire. They just represent me. My bottom-line conclusion is that many repressed and suppressed management failures have come to light in the media in recent years forecasting the potential demise of effective project management. Of course, ineffective project management will survive because so many publications use the “rose-colored-glasses approach,” and rarely, if ever, focus the spotlight on and offer solutions for serious project management problems. Although some folks have the rare talent of being able to solve these problems, they rarely come forward to do so for fear of being labeled “unprofessional” or worse. (I'm pleased to see Will B. is one of those rare exceptions.) By permitting these problems to exist and metastasize, they do project management a disservice.

One might say Adam was the first project manager. When he told Eve what to do, she told him where to go. Even today, project managers have lots of responsibility, very little authority, and are still being told where to go. When a project went sour in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, corporate management acted managerial and downsized project personnel. That method worked well until the ‘90s, when they downsized themselves out of scapegoats! This recent trend involves exposure in Fortune, Business Week and the Wall Street Journal, which is soon followed by corporate officer retirements and CEO replacements. W. Edwards Dem-ing said four decades ago that “management is the problem.” It still is!

It is my view that some corporate officers are the biggest obstacle to effective project management inasmuch as they:

  • Have little or no expertise in project management and project controls. As a result they are forced to retreat to the defensive positions of “Don't rock the boat” or “Don't make waves.”
  • Often oppose a computerized project control system since it would limit their ability to manipulate others by the power of their office.
  • Try to appear more managerial by being unyielding, unsympathetic and resistant to change, even if it would benefit the company. The result is a negative effect on projects.

Here are some current examples of negative management:

  • A utility company, already in deep trouble, hired a new management team to bail them out. Interestingly enough, the new project team had a track record of a series of failed projects in other states. Do we replace bad management with more of the same?
  • A scientific project, heading toward cost and schedule overruns, was being managed by 80 academic entities. If one academic entity can't manage a construction project, can you image what 80 will do?
  • One large government agency can't seem to meet a schedule or a budget on any of its projects (this is a tough one to “guess who” since this seems to be true of all government agencies). They always come up with monumental schedule and budget overruns and Congress can't seem to stop feeding the “Black Hole.” In 1985, the agency tried to construct a total project CPM (with unlimited funding). In 1993, I learned they still had not been able to do so due to the resistance of several hundred agency fiefdoms and archaic civil service rules. I can still remember my embarrassment, in 1986, at having to teach a two-day entry-level CPM seminar to 12 project managers. If I were asked to nominate the worst managed organization, this would be my candidate.
  • The president of a manufacturing firm admitted, in the media, that his government contract was seven months behind schedule. When offered a solution, he ignored it (“resistance to change” in action) and was unable to offer his own. He may have been betting the government would excuse the delay and award him a bonus. Didn't happen!

I'm afraid the project manager is more to be pitied than scorned. He or she rules by persuasion and little else, and that power of persuasion is often limited by having little or no experience with CPM and other project control systems. A project manager doesn't have to know the detailed workings of CPM, only the concept, and how to effectively implement the scheduling information. Only God and I (and a few others) know how many bad schedules are produced by bad schedulers. On occasion I have been asked to evaluate CPM schedules prepared by others. I have been astonished at how many flawed schedules are produced and supposedly used by unsuspecting project managers. I am surprised that E&C companies do not have at least one scheduling expert do a random audit of all project schedules in order to maintain a quality product for the project manager and the client. On the other hand, some corporate response ought to be forthcoming when the project manager doesn't give a damn about the project schedule because it limits his or her freedom to manipulate others. If I were to compare project management effectiveness from the ‘60s to the ‘90s, the former would get my vote. The justification for my opinion would require another article. In any event, most project managers have survived by:

  • Being nice likable guys,
  • Taking advantage of the latest medications, and
  • Submitting to open heart surgery as often as required.

Scheduling engineers can be part of the problem inasmuch as I have encountered many counterfeits and phonies who know the buzzwords and a computer program, but they often do not understand the work content and relationships of the engineering, procurement, fabrication and construction elements they are trying to schedule. As a result, they usually are unable to produce a credible CPM logic network. Since logic networks are almost never checked, the project manager never knows the quality of the information that is being received. To make matters worse, some scheduling managers or controls managers are unable to properly interview and evaluate a candidate for employment as a scheduler. They usually look at the resume and ask “What program do you use?” They mistakenly equate knowing a software program with knowing CPM. I have been on interviews where my prospective boss never asked any questions that would define my knowledge of CPM. Surprisingly, some of them even hired me. No prospective employer has ever asked me to describe, in detail, how I would put together a CPM schedule. I guess they trusted me!

Clients can be viewed both as causes and victims of defective project management. They sometimes come to the project with the attitude that the game is being played on a level playing field and they can beat the contractor at his own game. Unfortunately, the client usually arrives under-armed and under-staffed. When the client arrives at the scene:

  • With a product design report that is ill-defined or under-defined,
  • Without previous knowledge of the capabilities of the contractor's management team,
  • Without their own competent management team, and
  • With the intent of having the contractor use the client's archaic, 1960 management system,

then they should be prepared for a wild roller-coaster ride involving cost control, schedule control, and quality control of the finished product. It would not be incorrect to say that many client's problems on projects parallel those of the E&C industry.

It is so easy to criticize that I feel compelled to offer realistic, dramatic solutions for all the problems, but my pen is out of ink. I'll save them for a future article.

That's project management, the way I seez it. ■

Marvin Datz has over 30 years experience in project control and developing standard CPM networks. After 20+ years with Brown & Root, he is now an independent consultant. Marvin is an active member of the Houston chapter.

PM Network • June 1996



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