Print Share Home / Publications & News / ISM Conference Proceedings

Project Management Success - "I Guarantee It"


Donald R. Brownell
Donald R. Brownell, Manager Global Part, Case Corporation, Racine, WI 53403, 414/636-6413,
Mark S. Miller
Mark S. Miller, Purchasing Manager, Case Corporation, Racine, WI 53403, 414/636-6565,

85th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 2000 

Abstract. Successful project management at all levels is key to effective supply chain and cost management. Cross-functional teams are the norm. Successful team and project management requires broad-based skills. This session will discuss the eight lessons learned from the successful implementation of a multi-million dollar global after sales parts system at a Fortune 200 company.

Business Challenge. With the internet breaking down traditional business strategies and continued global competition, corporate survival depends on rapid and flawless execution of the corporate strategy. Strategic plans translate directly in to numerous specific projects to meet the corporate goals. These then cascade down the organization and grow exponentially into thousands of individual projects.

The tool used to manage this multitude of projects is the cross-functional team. These teams are commissioned for extended periods of time as in a new product development project and for quick resolution of why suppliers are not getting paid on time. The difficulty is cross-functional teams run counter to the business structure and sometimes business culture. Business structure is based on a functional organization. Cross-functional issues tend to move up the organization ladder. The issues end up on the desk of department heads or senior level managers. Indeed, a role of the business unit leader is the final arbitrator of functional disagreements.

Yet, at the identification of a business re-engineering opportunity or the implementation of a strategic plan, it is a cross-functional team that is tossed the hot project. This is where the fun begins. How do you take functional thinking employees and mold them into an effective project team that will find the optimal business solution?

Project Management Challenge. Most business people grow up in a functional role. There are a few exceptions such as the high potential employees who are rotated into various roles on their anticipated climb to corporate success. But most employees feel more comfortable in a given function and tend to spend their career in a relative narrow set of roles. This naturally leads to a narrow vision of business issues and challenges when viewed from the CEO's bridge. Yet, the CEO is professing and enabling cross-functional teams to implement strategic initiatives. So how can business effectively manage the challenge of major projects with cross-functional teams that at inception look more dysfunctional than cross-functional?

Project Management Tip.

1. The Vision. As a famous architect said make no small plans for they have no magic to stir men's souls. Don't think that just because you have a small project that will only take a few weeks that you can skip this or any other part of the process. If you are the leader, you own providing the vision. If you are a team member, you own adoption of the vision or feedback to the team on changes that will allow you to buy into a revised vision.

Why is this important? First it provides inspiration to energizing the team and enables a clear focus from the start. Second it provides a touchstone when people get lost in the details. In the dark days when all the team members are doing double duty and curse the day they were assigned to the project, you need to give everyone a drink from the vision bottle. They must know in their hearts that this is bigger than any individual and is critical to the overall success of the company.

A couple of things we did on the Global Parts project was to give everyone on the team a shirt with a newly designed logo and verbiage which symbolized the project. We adopted a theme song which happened to be "I Won't Back Down" by Tom Petty. We also arrange a cook out for all the team members. This created separation between people on the team and those doing their routine jobs. It made teams members feel part of the larger effort that the project represented.

So tip #1 - Create a vision and some tangible sign of that vision for all team members.

2. What You Can Control. Project management training courses will tell you there are three control variables in any project. They are time, cost and quality. The teachers will also say that you can manage two of the three variables but not all three. Now this will not sit well with the project sponsors, as the expectation is total control over all three. However, recognize that if you don't make a conscience decision on what will be managed, the decision will be forced upon you by default. There is no avoiding the choice.

For the Global Parts project, we showed the senior staff that completing 100% of the assigned task in the timeline that was given would lead to failure. With input from all the functional areas impacted by the project, we developed a plan which achieved the most critical parts of the system functionality on-time with manual work arounds for the functionality that would be done post implementation. The functionality split turned out to be 70% pre-implementation and 30% post implementation.

Tip # 2 - Remember there are no unrealistic goals there are only unrealistic timetables.

3. Team Members. As in any team sport, having the right talent at each of the key positions is critical to success. Even with good scouting and a review of past accomplishments, some of the top draft choices in professional sports never live up to their potential. Given that somewhat poor record, how will a project team ensure success? The project leader should always insist upon drafting the project team. Be sure to have a balance between experience and energy on the team. The most experienced person is of little use to the team if they have no energy or desire to work cross-functionality. Likewise a team of all high-energy new hires will go into the ditch before the project manager has time to yell, stop.

Tip #3 - You need seasoned veterans and free agents to have a balanced team.

4. Rewards and Awards. Depending on the duration of the project and the critical skills required consideration should be given to a retention bonus for those who stay with the project until completion. For example, serious damage occurs if the chief engineer leaves the company during the critical implementation phase. On the lower end of the rewards cost scale is the public recognition of the team's efforts. This can be as simple as having people stand up in an all employee meeting and receive a round of applause from their co-workers. As we all strive for recognition this will recharge the teams batteries. Also, arranging business trips that take team members to areas of the company they have not seen promotes professional growth and rewards project participation.

Due to the global nature of our project, we had opportunities to send numerous team members to Australia, Brazil, France and Germany. For many this was an experience of a lifetime not only from a professional prospective but also at a personal level. We encouraged weekend travel to save on airfares and allow free time to expand their culture knowledge.

If the project is six months or more in duration, the project manager should provide performance goals and reviews for each team member. This should then be incorporated with the day to day manager's performance review process. This allows the project manager to generate positive rewards for team participation. It gives the team member credit in the eyes of their day to day manager for time spent working on the project. Finally, it identifies development needs for those who are not successful in a cross-functional environment.

Tip #4 - Plan recognition events and new business experiences for the teams.

5. Communications. In any organization rumors are the lifeblood of daily conversation and the spice that everyone wants to make the ordinary seem special. Nothing can create team distractions or emergency meetings with the senior management as false rumors of project problems. The team leadership must take time and develop an ongoing communication plan. The audience for this communication plan is both senior management and all the project stakeholders. This is not a one-time event but a monthly process. Remember that people miss the message 2 out of 3 times so repeated exposure to the project is required.

Understanding who is the target audience for the communication plan is critical. The best way is to have a formal organization chart that shows the senior management sponsors, stakeholders, project manager(s) and team members. Stakeholders consist of any department head that will be materially impacted by the project's success.

Communication plans are three fold in nature. First, they serve as a map to keep project sponsors, stakeholders and all impact employees informed of the project status. Each of these groups has a unique set of communication needs. Make a list of these needs before you start and use this as a checklist during the presentation development. Second, communication meetings are an opportunity to recognize team members. This helps energize team members to take on additional challenges. Finally, it sends a message to all the managers who are contributing project resources that these resources are gainfully employed and focused on success.

Tip #5 - No news is bad news to a project's success.

6. Meetings. Unfortunately, meetings are the corner stone of project management and provide the setting were critical decisions are made. However, they can be the biggest bloodsuckers in the business world. Countless training classes have been held on running effective meetings. Some simple rules need to be reinforced with all team members before the project starts.

First, always have a pre-published meeting agenda. This can be simple statements of meet topics and who is responsible for leading the discussion. Setting a time limit for each topic would be an enhancement to a simple agenda but not always necessary.

Second, watch out for setting up "regularly" scheduled meetings. At some point in the project these are necessary, but they should all have sunset laws.

Third, the action plan coming out of the meeting is the gold that comes from sorting through all the discussions. If you are the leader, make sure that there is a clear understanding of the meeting action plans, assignment of those plans and timing on each plan. This should be done real time with flip charts and confirmation published to all meeting participants

Tip #6 - Meetings can't live with them can't live without them.

7. Emotions. Positive emotions play an important role in a healthy team. You will not generate a "can do" attitude a sterile emotionless environment. You need the emotional charge that will make the vision something the team members internalize. You need the passionate argument and thoughtful debates that are part of the team meetings. These are positive energies that should be encouraged.

What is out of bounds are negative emotions such as anger and disrespect. Team leaders must be skilled at recognizing the root cause and dealing negative emotions. For example, anger is the result of hurt, fear or frustration. Getting the team member to articulate the hurt, fear or frustration is key to releasing the anger. Common causes center on:

  • The over worked employees.
  • The boss that will not support the project.
  • The team or project manager that does not recognition of their contributions.

Key words that should alert you to negative emotions are:

  • You don't understand...
  • If you had read my response you would have...
  • I told you before ...
  • You're not listening...

The leader must immediately drain the negative emotions. Get the team focused on understanding the issues. Take a time out to establish clarity on issues and problems. Do not allow the team members to talk about what happened on past projects. This is the kiss of death. Focus the team on what needs to happen from this point forward to bring success. Get everyone to say they agree with the going forward plan. If they can't say yes, ask them what changes would be required that would allow them to say yes.

Tip #7 Be hard on the problem, not on the people.

8. Risk Management. Be aware, what you don't know about problems and issues needs to be discussed more than what you do know. Make sure the team knows that achieving success is all about good planning and risk management.

For the Global Parts project we set a cut off of 1 August 1999 to have all new software programs completed. This would allow 3 months for testing and validation, which would be critical to a successful launch. In January 1999 we had sufficient data to generate our first forecast on could we achieve the 1 August cut off. The forecast showed we would miss the August cut off time by one (1) week. This was very manageable given the 53 information systems people working on the project. However, by February 1999 our forecast showed we would miss the cut off by two (2) weeks. By March we were a full four (4) weeks pass the cut off and falling fast. The sad part was we were now three months closer to the completion date and yet our ability to forecast risk was getting worse not better. Clearly we underestimate the risk.

What went wrong? Well, our risk management discussions did not include scenario planning to address any miscalculation of time estimates and programming efficiencies. We looked at the time estimates and believed they represented reality. We did not ask:

  • What assumptions did the each of the 12-team leaders make in their forecast?
  • How good was the prior forecast made by the team leader for this or another project?
  • What would happen if we had a major delay with a critical path item?
  • What could that delay look like?

Simply asking team members "what don't you know" about you plans is an effective way to start the risk management process. With this information you can use a scenario planning technique to have the entire team identify potential risk. Finally, planning the work arounds can be a valuable tool in mitigation.

Tip # 8 -- Always ask the team - What don't you know and what are your assumptions?

Summary. Project management with cross-functional teams is here to stay. Success or failure of strategic initiatives is dependent on successful project management. The above eight tips will get the project started in the right direction, keep it on track and lead to a successful implementation, I guarantee it.

Back to Top