Project Management Institute


when will they ever learn?

Concerns of Project Managers

The Olde Curmudgeon

Executives never cease to amaze me. They seem to think they are wizards who, with a flick of the wand, can bestow knowledge and skill on anyone by simply giving them a title. Some think that giving them a computer package is all it takes. Don't you believe it.

Let's be realistic. People who get titles often do get things done. People who are given a computer program sometimes use it. Wouldn't it be great if there were a way of measurin' what they accomplish versus what they could have accomplished if they knew what they were doing?

Probably the worst mistake executives make is making their best salesperson the new VP-Marketing. Close after comes making their best engineer VP-Engineering, their best computer programmer the new Director-Management Information Systems, or putting their best accountant in charge of a significant project to be sure that costs are controlled.

I've seen all of these and they generally lead to abysmal performances. The best salesperson probably makes the sale faster than the other salespeople. But most really good salespeople are really focused on selling what they have today. They may not be skilled at all the other aspects of being a VP-Marketing, especially getting other salespeople to perform.

The best engineer may be better able to design a widget that looks better, works better, is cheaper to produce, and uses the latest technology. But that engineer may be a flop at getting others to do the same thing. I once had an engineering supervisor who knew the technology of his job real well. But within a week after becoming supervisor the bullpen was abuzz with comments about where he could go. That made him even more determined that the work was going to get done whether we liked it or not. He decided to talk to me (the young college kid) about what was going on. I simply explained to him that he better change his attitude or, if the work was going to get done, he might well have to do it all himself. Don't ask me why (seems like my collar has been on backwards most of my life) but that changed his attitude and things changed in the bullpen.

One of the most “perspicacious” moves by an executive that this old codger has observed was the day the most anti-computer accountant around was made manager of the Corporate Information Processing Center. Apparently, executives thought the cost of computing was too high. Well, the new manager lowered the cost real fast. The first thing he did was reduce the size of the group that was developing and maintaining the computer operating systems—you know, the brains of the machine. That really led to problems and slowed down the operation. But it saved money in the short run. There are ample ways to describe his knowledge of computers, most of which are not appropriate in polite company.

Now before all the accountants of the world descend on my aging body, I've seen a couple of accountants who made pretty good project managers. But by and large, giving a person a title does not make them proficient at the job.

The latest episode was just recently. Someone was telling how her organization had just been selected to receive a $1,500,000 grant to develop a new methodology. Clearly, this was a project. The speaker even indicated that she was the project manager. Afterward, I asked if she knew of PMI? Nope! Was she aware of PERT/CPM? Nope! Do you know anything about a WBS? A what? Work breakdown structure. Nope! Have you ever managed a significant project before? Nope, but I am the project manager.

Good luck!

When are they ever going to learn? Executives, that is. Knowledge of the relevant technology is recognized as necessary to do a job. Why isn't knowledge of project management recognized as just as necessary to manage a project? A shortage of either can lead to a half-__ job.

This was made especially poignant the day I heard the speaker mentioned above. I had just read an article identifying five very large projects (much more than $1,500,000) that had gone down the tubes. That afternoon, after listening to the speaker, I talked to a former VP-MIS who was the project manager of the third try to computerize a major worldwide firm. He was successful, but two others before him had failed. There are stories like these in the news every week.

When are executives going to learn that Modern Project Management (MPM) has the potential to save them many times its cost if they will just pay attention? You can't expect projects to be managed effectively if managing is a secondary responsibility. Buying a project management scheduling software package will not make a person a competent project manager either. It requires training in the knowledge and skills of MPM as well as in the proper use of the software package.

Executives have learned that you don't implement Total Quality Management (TQM) without providing training to everyone involved. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned from the TQM movement. Consider just three gurus of TQM: Deming, Juran and Crosby. Each in their own style told executives to “change the way you think about quality.” Deming refused to help Ford Motor Company implement TQM until he was convinced that Ford CEO Peterson had actually accepted the precepts of TQM. Maybe PMI and the PM profession needs a few cantankerous old gurus to carry the same message to executives. Any volunteers? ❑

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.

PMNETwork • June 1994



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