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A Case of Implementation

This completes a commentary posted June 25, 2011 at JimMillikenProject.blogspot.com.

Getting to Know You
      It’s been an interesting 90 days. You could say that the first occupant of a brand-new job has the rare opportunity to define everything. Or you could say that a lot of people have unlovable problems they’ve been stalling off in the hope that some way to dump them would show up.
      You have found both of those realities to be present at Accurate Materials. You also have come to appreciate the political situation of a relatively junior newcomer who is seen by senior managers as the all-purpose answer to numerous semi-understood questions.
      And there are people who have been around a long time, and are fully accustomed to ways of doing business that do not include collaboration with a guy who may have his eye on their resources.
      Most of the managers and employes at Accurate Materials have cut you at least a little slack, but you basically have been just meeting people and learning the ropes. As a relationship-building practice, you have given some people a hand in getting things done – but you’ve been an assistant, not an instructor, in those activities.
      Dan, the general manager, asked you early on to run some classes in basic project management. You felt that would get things off on the wrong foot, and you begged off. He has mentioned it a couple of times since.
      Dan really wants to get the new product-development business going, and seems to believe the current management staff could pull it off with the right coaching.
      Simon, the majority owner and managing partner, loves to discuss grand ideas. He rarely gets into practical aspects, though, and doesn’t seem to be actually pushing anything. His background is in sales, and he spends most of his time on the road developing business and schmoozing customers.
      The various managers you’ve worked and talked with haven’t said an awful lot, but you have detected a certain wariness on their part toward you. It’s as if they want to avoid adding new work, or maybe they are worried about wild goose chases. Without grousing or getting into any detail, they have given the impression that there’s a history of poor follow-through in the organization.
      They all work hard and are good people. None of them have said anything to you about this new-business idea, but occasionally someone seems to be trying to get an idea of just what your presence means. They haven’t been unfriendly or uncooperative, but their sharing has been limited to giving you modest pieces of predetermined activities to carry out.

The Moment Ripens
      Time is running out on this honeymoon period. You need to do something soon – something definitive, that will establish your clout with the top of the company as well as with your fellow managers.
      You’ve had a growing feeling over recent weeks that it’s time to establish yourself and your position here, in a way that will enhance your power to influence expectations. Conversations with Dan are starting to show some edge, and you need to avoid having him write your job description from his current state of knowledge.
      Then there’s the big product-development project on the horizon. If top management pushes ahead with poor preparation, there’s no way it will succeed. Besides inadequate planning, it would be a certainty that key managers would kill it by foot-dragging and sabotage.
      In your judgment, this organization is hopelessly unprepared to handle any project of that magnitude. It needs to build experience by successfully completing a project that will be significant, but not as demanding.
      Until you got into the middle of this, you never really understood how political the project manager position could be. But you also now see very clearly that political power for the project manager can’t come through playing politics. It can come only from selling people on the project management process and winning them by the results.
You have decided to find a meaningful pilot project, and use it to carefully introduce project management practices. It has to be big enough to challenge people, but familiar enough to lend itself to the learning process. And it must succeed.
      So you intend to turn out a universally acclaimed result in a difficult situation. You’ll need full and durable backing from above, and enthusiastic participation from your peers. That way, people will learn to trust and respect you as they are becoming comfortable with project management.

It Just Grew
      You started by examining the company and its situation.
      Accurate Materials started when Simon’s father had an idea: As a manager with a building supply company, he saw that its larger clients often had trouble getting quick and proper service when they needed large quantities of bulk materials for construction and manufacturing.
      When such companies needed something, it often had to be ordered from distant suppliers and brought by rail or truck long distances over periods of weeks and sometimes months.
      Simon’s dad figured he could carry big inventories of staples for relatively quick delivery of specific quantities over a pretty sizable territory. He’d be providing convenience that would be a distinct advantage over the oldline competition.
      Simon Sr. lined up his initial customers, obtained financing for a fleet of trucks and built relationships with suppliers. The business succeeded, and over time added lines of specialized power equipment for rental as well as sale.
      In the several decades since the start, the business has continued to grow steadily. It gradually acquired additional storage and working space in industrial buildings adjacent to the large warehouse it started with.
Now, put most simply, Accurate Materials has outgrown its current facilities. Like many successful organizations, it has expanded incrementally, without any particular strategic or logistical plan.
      The facilities have become increasingly cramped, inefficient and inappropriate for a modern company, and one of the general plans for the future is to replace all or most of the existing six structures.
      There is no land available for further expansion on the current site. The project will require either razing and replacing buildings, erecting one or more new ones elsewhere, or coming up with some kind of suitable combination.

Comes the Project
      You have quietly looked into this situation, and it may contain the opportunity you’re looking for, to create a demonstration project.
      The above information is pretty much all there is. Like many other matters at Accurate Materials, this non-immediate issue has gradually become more pressing and more complex while everybody has concentrated instead on the continuous business of the moment.
      One other point that you consider a major matter, but has not turned up in your study of the company’s thinking, is that of business process. No one has even thought of what people do every day, or how they do it.
      Everything that goes on in the regular business of Accurate Materials is heavily influenced by the need to account for the scattered location of its functions, its remotely-located people and its limited capacity for collaboration and information retrieval and sharing.
      Additionally, IT functions have been added at various times for various purposes, and the collective effectiveness of information management is not good – for internal efficiency, teamwork or customer satisfaction, among other things.
      As a result of all that, the current business processes are very inefficient, but they are well-known and consistently followed by all. Upgrading them will be as necessary as providing improved facilities, and it will be an opportunity to streamline and update them.
      That doesn’t mean people will like the change, though.

THE ASSIGNMENT

     Put yourself in the place of the central character in the story, or consider yourself a consultant advising him.

     What What should he do now? Why? How?

     Enter your thoughts as a comment on the post at http://jimmillikenproject.blogspot.com/2011/06/case-of-implementation.html After a few are in, we'll pursue the discussion.

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