Rational Project Manager: A Thinking Team's Guide to Getting Work Done


The Rational Project Manager

"Change for business today is not a spectator sport. Translating strategic vision into bottom-line results requires discipline, execution, and participation—a theme that resonates throughout The Rational Project Manager. Longman and Mullins present a commonsense approach to executing against opportunities that is grounded in logic and resourcefulness."
—George W. Buckley Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Brunswick Corporation

"The Rational Project...

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The Rational Project Manager

"Change for business today is not a spectator sport. Translating strategic vision into bottom-line results requires discipline, execution, and participation—a theme that resonates throughout The Rational Project Manager. Longman and Mullins present a commonsense approach to executing against opportunities that is grounded in logic and resourcefulness."
—George W. Buckley Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Brunswick Corporation

"The Rational Project Manager provides much-needed insights and tools for leaders at all levels. The bane of any leader's worklife is those initiatives that lack focus, engender poor decision making, and are misaligned with organizational culture and goals. Given the ambiguity, complexity, and change that are the new baseline assumptions in the workplace, The Rational Project Manager's simple, flexible approach fills an important gap overlooked by most books on the subject."
—Steve Schloss Vice President, Human Resources Time Inc.

"The Rational Project Manager does a terrific job of dealing with both the art and discipline of project management. It focuses on the critical thinking that is essential to project success and also provides a wide array of tools and techniques for driving up performance."
—John Case President and Chief Executive Officer Electrolux Home Care Products North America

"Significant projects frequently are planned and executed by cross-functional teams of people who don't normally work together. For a project to be completed successfully, the team and each team member must quickly develop both goal and role clarity. Kepner-Tregoe's rational process tools, including the project management tools well described in this book, have been critical to improving my organization's ability to execute projects and have become a core part of our culture."
—Ray Baxter President and Chief Executive Officer Interbake Foods LLC

"Half the trouble in modern life comes from ambitious projects gone awry. Some were not thought-through before they were embarked on. Others started with good intentions but fell apart when their leaders could not adapt to changing circumstances or keep their team moving toward the proper goal. The sensible principles laid out in this clear and useful book would go a long way toward making both public and private organizations more effective. Personally, I'd start by passing out copies throughout the U.S. government."
—James Fallows National Correspondent The Atlantic Monthly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471721468
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 4/8/2005
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.17 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

ANDREW LONGMAN is a partner and Vice President of Marketing at Kepner-Tregoe, a consultancy specializing in strategic and operational decision making and critical thinking, with headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey.

JIM MULLINS is a Senior Consultant and Worldwide Product Manager for eThink®, Kepner-Tregoe's enterprise-wide software product for tracking and improving organizational problem solving and decision making.

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Read an Excerpt

The Rational Project Manager

By A. Longman

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-471-72146-8

Chapter One

The missing pieces of the project management puzzle

Picture the members of a project team exchanging comments during the lunch break of a recent management course. They are fuming over their latest debacle: a project to select and tee up a location to produce hi-tech vehicle components for a major partner. After eight months of scouting the available workforce, persuading home-office employees to relocate, estimating labor costs, submitting proposals to the local zoning board, and detailed planning for the construction and start-up of the new site, the project was abruptly terminated. Here's why: A senior manager at the partner organization suddenly decided, for reasons unknown to the project team, that the location just wouldn't do.


Why wasn't the senior manager involved in the selection process from the beginning? What other work didn't get done while the organization devoted significant resources to the project? And what was the true cost of the eight months of wasted work?

The costs of such failed projects are tremendous, and they fall into two categories. The first-direct costs such as wasted materials, overtime, additional manpower, and the continual revision of plans-are relatively easy to calculate. Take the case of "The Big Dig," a Boston, Massachusetts, public works project aimed at improving thedriving conditions in one of America's most congested major cities by dramatically overhauling its roadways and tunnels. The project has been going on for 17 years and involves politicians, contractors, designers, engineers, and residents. In a 2003 article, the Boston Globe documented $2 billion in overrun costs by the company responsible for the project.

Boston is not alone. In a watershed study of 7,000 IT projects initiated by U.S. corporations and government agencies in 1998, the Standish Group found that 88 percent are behind schedule, over budget, or both. The direct cost of these project failures is over $145 billion each year!

The second category, which goes beyond the direct costs, includes indirect costs, such as missed opportunities, sullied reputations, and the loss of competitive advantage and employee and customer goodwill. Consider the much ballyhooed Constitution Center in downtown Philadelphia. The tourist attraction opened its doors on the weekend of July 4, 2003, with a ceremony that included political and civic dignitaries. In the middle of the proceedings, a large steel plank collapsed onto the stage, sending Mayor John Street to the hospital and nearly hitting a supreme court justice. Philadelphia became front-page news, but for the wrong reasons. Although it's impossible to calculate the number of tourists who have stayed away as a result of the mishap, the loss for the city of Philadelphia has been very real.

Failed projects engender fear. Organizations that miss the mark time and again lose their willingness to take risks and commit to new endeavors, no matter how attractive the project or how obviously it is needed. This "projectitis" can lead to lost opportunities and risk aversion, the costs of which can never be calculated (but are surely significant).

Then there's morale. Employee satisfaction is closely tied to feelings of accomplishment. Dragging a project out indefinitely or killing it in midstream is a real demotivator. Members of the project team begin to leave or transfer, decimating the organization's talent base and likely increasing the organization's toxicity level, as former team members spread the word far and wide. And the first to exit are often the organization's high performers-the ones who gave their all, contributed a high degree of expertise and skills, took risks, and were frustrated once too often.

So the costs for failed projects are significant. But what about organizations that execute consistently? Successful organizations use projects to create value ... and turn that value into customer satisfaction and bottom-line results. To succeed in an increasingly complex business environment, they must consistently complete work on time, within budget, and, most importantly, achieve their project goals. As the major platform for value creation in today's organizations, projects are too important to be left to chance. Each must be managed, from start to finish, using a consistent, sound, agreed-upon process.


Project management, in today's business environment, usually entails the use of multiple calendars, complex schedules, financial data, PERT and Gantt charts, and various reporting systems. A review of the project management literature reveals the existence of a wide variety of techniques and approaches to planning and executing a project. Competing software packages abound, although 75 percent of the organizations that use project management software say that Microsoft Project(r) is their software package of choice.

The existence of all these tools and techniques has created a de facto working definition for the term project management: the use of a set of tools and techniques to manage a combination of money, time, people, and work. Given this definition, many organizations base their project management approach on the notion that, with money, time, and people, work will get done effectively. But this definition misses the mark. Many of today's popular project management tools and techniques were created years ago by military engineers seeking a tighter grip on the time and cost of accomplishing work, as well as how to best report their findings in a meaningful way. These can be hugely valuable tools, but project management is far more than just documenting work, costs, and adherence to schedules.

True, software and paper-based tools that track the expenditure of resources and time are often integral to the communication and documentation of important project data. And money and time are essential pieces in the project management puzzle. However, there are more important processes and ideas that lie at the heart of a complete definition of project management.

Project management comes down to getting people to do "stuff"-hopefully "valuable stuff"-and to do that stuff in an effective, timely manner. The stuff is a one-time series of interrelated tasks that must be completed within a budget, by a specific time, to achieve desired results or meet a specified need: moving corporate headquarters, upgrading a telecommunications infrastructure, implementing a corporate strategy, reengineering a business process, launching a new product, investigating and correcting a deviation. These are all examples of projects. They represent change that will be defined, planned, implemented, and, most importantly, managed.


Think about superior watches, luxury clothing, and elaborate lighters. Now think about selling these products to high-end consumers around the globe and maintaining, if not improving, a reputation for precision and class.

It's not your typical project management story. But, one year, preparing for the annual industry trade show in Geneva, Switzerland, became a top priority for a luxury producer of men's fashion and accessories. The company's leadership had decided that tradeshow sales should constitute the lion's share of overall sales in watches, lighters, and cufflinks. For the first few years, substantial company resources, from people to money, had been devoted to the preparation for and operation of the show. Sales had been solid during that time, but every year shipping delays, unavailable stock items, and other last-minute problems left those in charge with persistent concerns.

Granted, preparing for the show was a complex project, especially when shipping, customs procedures, and trade regulations for both the display goods and those that would be sold on site were considered. In addition, measuring success against goals like "improved reputation" and "competitive advantage" was difficult. But management felt that the show should run more smoothly and attain even loftier goals with respect to sales and company image.

Wisely, before sinking additional resources into the project, management took a step back and looked closely at the problems they had encountered in past years. Their conclusion: The overall approach to planning for the show had always lacked direction and consistency. Individual managers had approached their pieces of the project with different tools and techniques. Depending on which function they represented, members of the planning group had differing ideas about what success should look like. Scarce resources and competing priorities had made it difficult for the planners to remain focused on goals. Even more worrisome, the investigation of past trade shows revealed that it wasn't just that things seemed out of sync at times: Sales had actually been lost due to the chaos.

Preparing for the show was a complex minuet that involved a number of departments-marketing, product development, logistics, hospitality, and sales-over an eight-month period of preparation. This led management to make two key changes in planning for the next show.

First, they swallowed hard and made one person responsible for the overall management of the project, which in previous years had been managed by an ad hoc committee. As a dedicated resource, the new project manager had time to approach the project more rationally. She was temporarily relieved of all other responsibilities, freeing her up to develop a set of project management practices that could be put to use immediately. For example, with input from leadership, she created a project statement, a set of objectives, and a project plan that included over 375 separate tasks. At this point, her team was poised to begin its work in a well-ordered, sequential fashion.

The second change involved project communication. The project objectives and plan served as the basis for all meetings and decisions. As a result, meetings were no longer a rehash of what everyone already knew. Instead, they were held to resolve predefined concerns with the project, make modifications to the plan, and list next steps.

By making these key changes, the company went back to the fundamentals and, more importantly, defined and planned the project before any work began. Morale rose, as project-team members appreciated the more buttoned-up approach. Few last-minute problems surfaced. And the new approach brought tangible results: Average meeting time was slashed from three hours to 45 minutes; six weeks were cut from the overall time required to prepare for the show; the $655,000 budget was met; and sales spiked by 50 percent.


Project management isn't a new phenomenon. Human beings were getting "stuff" done as far back as the beginnings of America. Think back to the days when Native Americans were hunting buffalo. Or even farther back, to the building of pyramids in ancient Egypt. Although it didn't carry an official term, a one-time series of interrelated tasks was at the core of the work accomplished by each of these groups.

Picture a group of Native Americans preparing for a buffalo hunt, which at first glance may not appear to fit the definition of a project. Using a method known as the piskin, large piles of rocks, tree stumps, and buffalo dung formed two converging walls, each over a mile in length. The open end was a grazing area; the closed end narrowed to a low hill, with spears around the fence. The piskin construction and hunt were monitored by a leader; there was a set goal (a dead buffalo); there were required resources for building the temporary walls; there was a set time (the tribe could only go so long without food); and there The Missing Pieces of the Project Management Puzzle 9 4 "PMI Fact File: Statistics Through June 2004," PMI Today, September 2004. was a carefully thought-out plan of work, with each person having an assigned role and responsibility (like the "caller," who wore a buffalo robe and lured the buffalo into the trap). A piskin usually resulted in a kill, and, in this regard, it was not just a project, but a successfully managed one.

The Egyptian pyramids are an even more visible example. To this day, the structures continue to draw scholars and tourists to study the engineering marvel and disciplined work that produced them. One of the most compelling aspects of the pyramids is the management required to complete them. Designs for the final structure, even when constructed on a grand scale, were extremely accurate. Enormous numbers of human resources volunteered-or were volunteered-to toil on the project. And feeding the mass of humanity was a project in and of itself. Workers received three meals a day, delivered on time. An angry and hungry workforce was a major detriment to project success.

The Native Americans and the ancient Egyptians carried out their "stuff" in an organized, timely way. They accomplished their work using the most basic management practices. And they accomplished their goals, time and time again.


Today's organizations sport an arsenal of tools and high-powered software, and project management-as a term and a practice-has never generated as much insight and interest as it does right now. (A recent Google search turned up over two million hits for the term project management.) There is even an organization dedicated to gathering and disseminating an official body of project management knowledge: The Project Management Institute. Membership has grown over 22 percent in the past year alone, and the PMI claims nearly 84,302 certified, active project management professionals (PMPs).

Why all the commotion over the current project management environment? As we've pointed out, organizations exist to accomplish work-work that will deliver value and achieve the goals of the organization. Most of today's work gets done in projects and on project teams. (An estimated 10 trillion dollars a year is spent on projects around the globe.) Completing this work in the designated amount of time, within a budget, and with desired results has never been more important; it's the price of admission for today's lean, dynamic organization. Yet, the nature of work has become dramatically more challenging than when it consisted of killing buffalo and building pyramids. Today's projects are far more varied and complex, and they require a far more sophisticated system of project management.

Think about it: How do you manage a project when it will be planned by one function and implemented by another? When it's entirely new work, requiring new capabilities? When a customer wants a different result this time? When competition demands rapid innovation? No question, today's organizations must be more dynamic, dialectical-and, some may say, diabolical-when it comes to managing projects.


Fast forward to the modern project and consider the case of a large consumer products company that discovered how to produce a mature product with an exceptional new twist. Not only was the product itself "invented," but so was the equipment needed to produce the new feature. The work was extremely complex, and the launch deadline called for the project to be completed in half the usual time. What's more, the company knew that a fierce rival planned a similar product launch for the following year. The opportunity to capture coveted market share was now or never.

Under pressure to carve out a unique competitive advantage, today's companies must scamper for new ideas and services; embark on technological upgrades; attack quality issues with a vengeance; and redesign their strategy, business processes, policies, procedures, and responsibilities to support the economy's new demands. And, as never before, managers are being asked to complete these jobs in geographically scattered, highly networked organizations, with outsourced and/or shrinking resources-all while aiming at ever-loftier goals.

What's left is a matrixed structure of intertwined functional groups, departments, and people who are asked to navigate the complexity to accomplish the work, and to accomplish the work in the form of projects.


Excerpted from The Rational Project Manager by A. Longman Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1. The Missing Pieces of the Project Management Puzzle.

Project Management as the New Imperative.

Project Management Unplugged.

Project Management in Action.

The Stuff of Projects.

Today’s Projects: What Makes Them Different?

Today’s Game Is Speed.

Disembodied Goals.

The Ebb and Flow of Today’s Teams.

The Competition for Resources.

The Revolving Door.

The Penchant for Complexity.

Projects Aren’t Going Away.

The Missing Pieces of the Project Management Puzzle.

What’s Ahead.

2. Project Definition.

Why Are We Doing This Project?

State the Project.

Develop Objectives.

Develop the Work Breakdown Structure.

Identify Resource Requirements.

Additional Definition Topics.

3. Project Planning.

Assign Responsibility.

Sequence Deliverables.

Schedule Deliverables.

Schedule Resources.

Protect and Enhance the Plan.

Enhance the Plan.

Additional Planning Topics.

Planning Summary.

4. Project Implementation.

Are You Ready to Do the Work?

Start to Implement.

Monitor the Project.

Modify the Project.

Closeout and Evaluate.

Additional Implementation Topic.

Implementation Summary.

5. Managing People in Projects.

Influencing People.

The Performance System.

Involving People.

Communicating with People.

Meetings and Communication.


6. Project Decision Making and Problem Solving.

Situation Appraisal.

Decision Analysis.

Problem Analysis.

Decision-Making and Problem-Solving Summary.

7. Installing Project Management within an Organization.

Ensuring Systematic Use of Project Management.

Installing Project Management.

How Should You Install Project Management in Your Organization?

A Final Word on Project Management.


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