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This chapter is from the book

Description of the Cases

This is precisely the rationale behind the design of this book: to help the reader understand how successful project managers tailor practices, such as planning, control, collaboration, and communication to the unique context of their projects. Thus, eight very successful projects, four from the U.S. and four from Israel, were selected for this book. The uniqueness of the projects was assured by their geographic location and by the wide range of their industry and product settings (space, weapons development, construction, and transportation).19

The eight projects selected are divided into four groups, with two projects in each group, one from the U.S. and one from Israel. The key aspect defining each group is its uniquely different nature:

  • New Product Development
  • Repeated and Risky Tasks
  • Organizational Change
  • Complex Projects (large projects composed of many diverse components, widely dispersed geographically)20

Upon reading each of the eight projects in this book, it will become clear that there is no “one best way” for leading and managing a project. Rather, the project manager must tailor the project practices to the project’s unique context. Yet, when considering the different types of projects, it will also become evident that in projects sharing common characteristics and coping with similar challenges, the project managers use many practices in a like manner.21

Following is a brief description of the eight projects and their key challenges:

New Product Development

Developing a Missile: The Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile program was established to replace the cancelled Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missile program, which had exceeded its budget estimates by record levels. The contractor, Lockheed Martin, was told by the U.S. Air Force: “We don’t have the time, we don’t have the funds, and we don’t have the answers. We want a missile in half the time for half the price. You will have the freedom to put together your approach that meets our three key performance parameters. The objective is a dramatic reduction in acquisition time and funds. You either understand that or you are out of the game.” Thus, it became clear very quickly that the only way to produce an affordable missile was to stop doing “business as usual.”

Building a Museum: Yad Vashem, the official Israeli memorial complex for the victims of the Holocaust, was embarking on the addition of a new history museum. Following an international competition, with the participation of ten of the best architects in the world, Moshe Safdie from Canada was selected. During the early phases of the project, the project manager found that the design required the development of a revolutionary and very challenging product that had never before been implemented. Indeed, the building appeared to call for sculpturing more than construction, and at times it seemed that its execution was just not feasible.

Repeated and Risky Tasks

Flying Solar-Powered Airplanes: The Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology program, established by NASA, was charged with the task of converting Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) into research platforms. The know-how required to overcome the extraordinary difficulty in controlling the risks involved was enough to put most companies off. AeroVironment, one company that was brave enough to embark on the adventure with NASA, did indeed find that it faced a daunting technological challenge: to operate an aircraft that was both light enough to fly and large enough to be powered by the sun and carry meaningful payloads. If this was to be done, it would be through careful attention to the design of the aircraft and its systems—and by doing business in an entirely new way.

Transferring Harbor Cranes: The Israeli Ports Authority issued a bid for transferring four huge harbor cranes from the port of Haifa to another port in Israel. The traditional method is to dismantle the cranes, each weighing up to 400 tons and reaching as high as 40 meters, into about 70 pieces each. They are then transported over land on huge trucks, recomposed through a very meticulous process, and tested and licensed by the manufacturer. One company decided to employ a pioneering method never before attempted anywhere in the world: transferring the cranes by sea, thereby skipping altogether the lengthy and costly process of dismantling and recomposing the cranes.

Organizational Change

Downsizing: The Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile program of the U.S. Air Force was rife with problems, not the least of which was the mandated drawdown plan that had not been met. When the new project manager arrived, she discovered that not everyone at the base was keen on change. Still, despite strong pressure to maintain the status quo, she was motivated by a desire to do the right thing. She soon found herself in the center of a maelstrom, as the reforms she had in mind entailed a partnership with her industry counterpart (Raytheon), which was on a dramatically different management path.

Evacuation: The former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, was for years the greatest activist behind the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. So the announcement of his decision to abandon the Strip, uproot the settlements, and evacuate all the inhabitants was met with shock by many and threatened to tear apart the Israeli population. The implementation of his decision led to the largest series of demonstrations in Israel’s history. Due to the enormity of the mission, Sharon called on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), rather than the police, and 12 battalions were specially organized to carry out this unique mission. The charge was accepted quite reluctantly, as described in the story of a Lieutenant Colonel and his team who headed one of the battalions.

Complex Projects

Building a Spacecraft and Scientific Instruments: Under a novel co-leadership arrangement between NASA and Caltech, three large organizations with marked geographical and cultural differences were faced with the development of a complex product within a fixed timetable. The project had barely started when it already appeared to be quickly outspending its resources, and it was soon in jeopardy of being cancelled.

Building a Dairy Plant: When Tnuva, Israel’s largest food manufacturer, launched the biggest dairy plant in the Middle East, the vision called for a “dream dairy” that would be equipped with the most advanced technology in the world. However, two years following the launch, the company learned that its greatest rival was about to embark on a new dairy line that would threaten Tnuva’s domination in the field. Tnuva’s management decided to make a radical change, downgrading many features of their original design and adopting an emergency schedule. However, not everyone involved in the project, in particular the German firm designing the equipment, was so willing to abruptly abandon their state-of-the-art design.

You are now ready to embark on an enjoyable voyage of learning from eight remarkable stories. Through these vivid stories, you are going to live through the experiences of the best project managers. Inevitably, you are going to reflect on their challenging problems, creative solutions, and effective practices, and at times, you might find yourself “dialoging” with yourself and with these successful project managers. Their decisions and actions, their successes and failures, and their learning and unlearning will undoubtedly affect you. They will empower you, inspire you, and gradually facilitate a change of mind and a change of practice. Most of all, they will help you become both a better project manger and a better project leader. Bon Voyage!

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