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Case: Haller Specialty Manufacturing

To get closer to the customer, Haller implemented project management. Unfortunately, the vice president for manufacturing would not support project management for fear of a loss of power and authority.

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For the past several years, Haller has been marginally successful as a specialty manufacturer of metal components. Sales would quote a price to the customer. Upon contract award, engineering would design the product. Manufacturing had the responsibility to produce the product as well as shipping the product to the customer. Manufacturing often changed the engineering design package to fit manufacturing capabilities. The vice president of manufacturing was perhaps the most powerful position in the company next to the president. Manufacturing was considered to be the main contributor to corporate profits. Strategic planning was dominated by manufacturing. To get closer to the customer, Haller implemented project management. Unfortunately, the vice president for manufacturing would not support project management for fear of a loss of power and authority.

If the vice president for manufacturing is a hindrance to excellence, how should this situation be handled?

To address the situation with the vice president for manufacturing, it’s important to start with an open dialogue. The president or another senior leader should initiate a one-on-one conversation with the vice president. The aim is to understand his concerns about the transition to project management and to ensure he feels heard. Simultaneously, it’s essential to discuss the overarching benefits of project management for the company. This includes the promise of improved customer satisfaction and increased corporate profitability, outcomes that benefit every department, including manufacturing.

Given the described imbalanced power of the manufacturing department, a reassessment of the company’s organizational structure may be in order. The goal is to achieve a balanced distribution of power and responsibility, potentially by strengthening other departments or by introducing cross-functional teams. Exploring ways to incentivize collaboration is another option. By designing performance metrics that reward both collaboration and the successful implementation of projects, the vice president and his team may be more inclined to support the new approach.

Furthermore, addressing potential knowledge gaps is crucial. Investing in training programs will not only educate the vice president and his team about project management benefits but also dispel myths and reduce resistance stemming from a lack of understanding. If internal discussions prove inadequate, external consultants or industry experts can provide valuable insights into the benefits of project management.

A practical approach could be to propose a trial period, allowing a select number of projects to be managed under the new system. This would showcase the effectiveness of project management without a full-scale immediate change. Alongside this, establishing a feedback mechanism would ensure that all departments, including manufacturing, have a voice in refining the new approach.

However, if, despite these efforts, the vice president’s resistance persists, it might be time to re-evaluate his role. Ensuring alignment between leadership and the company’s strategic direction is paramount. In the long run, fostering a company-wide culture valuing adaptability, innovation, and continuous improvement can significantly reduce such resistance to change. The ultimate objective is not to sideline the vice president for manufacturing but to ensure that he, along with his department, aligns with the company’s vision and collaborates effectively for the broader good of the company and its clients.

Would your answer to the above question be different if the resistance came from middle or lower-level management?

Yes, the approach would be different if the resistance came from middle or lower-level management.

When resistance originates from middle or lower-level management, the approaches and strategies for handling it differ from those for top-tier executives. While resistance from a vice president can sway multiple departments, middle or lower management resistance might not have as immediate a widespread impact. However, this doesn’t trivialize their concerns. In fact, it might hint at a broader sentiment among the workforce.

Navigating communication is another distinct aspect. While direct conversations are valuable, they might be layered, requiring the participation of immediate supervisors to assess the extent of opposition. A potential underlying factor for such resistance could be a perceived lack of understanding or apprehension about new responsibilities. Here, targeted training sessions or workshops can bridge the gap, clarifying the nuances of the changes and offering necessary tools and resources.

Furthermore, it’s very important to establish efficient feedback mechanisms. Managers at these levels often possess ground-level insights, perhaps not fully considered by the leadership above. Frequent feedback forums and even anonymous channels for suggestions can uncover priceless insights.

A particularly effective strategy could be identifying and leveraging “change champions” within these management tiers. These are individuals who grasp and advocate for the transition to project management. Their influence can resonate with their peers, serving as a link between senior leadership and the broader organization. Before a sweeping company-wide change, it might be sensible to test the waters with pilot programs in specific departments. Successes here can serve as persuasive testimonials to the broader organization.

It’s also crucial to be forthright about concerns, especially those tied to job security. Middle or lower-level managers might perceive organizational changes as precursors to job cuts. Directly addressing these worries, emphasizing that the goal is process enhancement rather than role reduction, can ease concerns.

Lastly, a gradual, systematic approach might be more appealing to these management levels, providing a cushioned timeframe to adjust, understand, and firsthand witness the benefits. In essence, while the core principles of addressing resistance—communication, education, and inclusion—remain consistent, the tactics shift to a more support-focused approach for middle and lower-level managers.

This case, and questions, is take from the book “Project Management Case Studies – Sixth Edition” – 2022, by Harold Kerzner.

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