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Case: Clark Faucet Company

The vice presidents for marketing and engineering reluctantly agreed to try and patch up their differences, but did not appear confident that any changes would take place. Strange as it may seem, nobody could identify the initial cause of the conflicts or how the trouble actually began.

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By 1999, Clark Faucet Company had grown into the third largest supplier of faucets for both commercial and home use. Competition was fierce. Consumers would evaluate faucets on artistic design and quality. Each faucet had to be available in at least twenty-five different colors. Commercial buyers seemed more interested in the cost than the average consumer, who viewed the faucet as an object of art, irrespective of price. Clark Faucet Company did not spend a great deal of money advertising on the radio or on television. Some money was allocated for ads in professional journals. Most of Clark’s advertising and marketing funds were allocated to the two semiannual home and garden trade shows and the annual builders trade show. One large builder could purchase more than 5,000 components for the furnishing of one newly constructed hotel or one apartment complex. Missing an opportunity to display the new products at these trade shows could easily result in a six to twelve-month window of lost revenue.

Clark Faucet had a noncooperative culture. Marketing and engineering would never talk to one another. Engineering wanted the freedom to design new products, whereas marketing wanted final approval to make sure that what was designed could be sold. The conflict between marketing and engineering became so fierce that early attempts to implement project management failed. Nobody wanted to be the project manager. Functional team members refused to attend team meetings and spent most of their time working on their own “pet” projects rather than the required work. Their line managers also showed little interest in supporting project management. Project management became so disliked that the procurement manager refused to assign any of his employees to project teams. Instead, he mandated that all project work come through him. He eventually built up a large brick wall around his employees. He claimed that this would protect them from the continuous conflicts between engineering and marketing.

The executive council mandated that another attempt to implement good project management practices must occur quickly. Project management would be needed not only for new product development but also for specialty products and enhancements. The vice presidents for marketing and engineering reluctantly agreed to try and patch up their differences, but did not appear confident that any changes would take place. Strange as it may seem, nobody could identify the initial cause of the conflicts or how the trouble actually began. Senior management hired an external consultant to identify the problems, provide recommendations and alternatives, and act as a mediator. The consultant’s process would have to begin with interviews.

The following comments were made during engineering interviews:

  • “We are loaded down with work. If marketing would stay out of engineering, we could get our job done.”
  • “Marketing doesn’t understand that there’s more work for us to do other than just new product development.”
  • “Marketing personnel should spend their time at the country club and in bar rooms. This will allow us in engineering to finish our work uninterrupted!”
  • “Marketing expects everyone in engineering to stop what they are doing in order to put out marketing fires. I believe that most of the time the problem is that marketing doesn’t know what they want up front. This leads to change after change. Why can’t we get a good definition at the beginning of each project?”


  • “Our livelihood rests on income generated from trade shows. Since new product development is four to six months in duration, we have to beat up on engineering to make sure that our marketing schedules are met. Why can’t engineering understand the importance of these trade shows?”
  • “Because of the time required to develop new products (4 to 6 months), we sometimes have to rush into projects without having a good definition of what is required. When a customer at a trade show gives us an idea for a new product, we rush to get the project underway for introduction at the next trade show. We then go back to the customer and ask for more clarification and/or specifications. Sometimes we must work with the customer for months to get the information we need. I know that this is a problem for engineering, but it cannot be helped.”

The consultant wrestled with the comments but was still somewhat perplexed. “Why doesn’t engineering understand marketing’s problems?” pondered the consultant. In a follow-up interview with an engineering manager, the following comment was made: “We are currently working on 375 different projects in engineering, and that includes those which marketing requested. Why can’t marketing understand our problems?”

What is the critical issue?

The Clark Faucet Company’s predominant challenge is the profound conflict and absence of collaboration between the marketing and engineering departments. This discord has given rise to a multitude of issues. First, there’s a clear inefficiency in project management. Even though the need for effective project management is evident, the existing internal disputes have deterred its successful implementation. Consequently, there’s a tangible hesitation to take on the project manager role or even engage in team conversations. Second, this departmental rift leads to delays and complications in product development. Due to the pressures associated with trade show deadlines, marketing often prematurely initiates projects and later revisits them for more detailed clarifications. This approach inevitably results in mid-course changes that the engineering department finds frustrating. Third, the antagonism between these two pillars of the organization has cultivated a detrimental work culture marked by resistance and poor morale. It not only hinders productivity but also potentially threatens the company’s overarching success. Lastly, the engineering department is spread thin, juggling a multitude of projects, possibly because of poor project definition, misaligned priorities, or inefficient resource allocation — issues that the rift with marketing only intensifies. The core issue is the lack of mutual understanding and empathy between the two departments, and addressing this disconnect is pivotal for the company’s success.

What can be done about it?

To address the deep-rooted conflict and lack of cooperation between the marketing and engineering departments at Clark Faucet Company, several proactive measures can be considered. Firstly, implementing a robust communication strategy is paramount. Regular inter-departmental meetings can be scheduled to foster understanding and collaboration between the two teams. This will not only create a platform for addressing grievances but also facilitate the exchange of ideas and feedback early in the project lifecycle. Secondly, a cross-functional liaison or a dedicated project manager could be appointed to bridge the communication gap. This individual would ensure that project requirements, timelines, and changes are communicated effectively between the two departments. Thirdly, it might be beneficial to invest in joint training sessions or team-building exercises. Such activities can enhance mutual understanding, build trust, and foster a culture of cooperation. Additionally, streamlining and prioritizing the project pipeline, possibly through a centralized project management office, can help in efficiently allocating resources and ensuring that both departments are aligned in their objectives and constraints. Also, utilizing iterative development methodologies can allow for flexibility in product development while keeping both teams in sync. Lastly, it would be wise to involve senior management in mediating and emphasizing the importance of unity, as their endorsement and support can be instrumental in driving cultural change.

Can excellence in project management still be achieved and, if so, how? What steps would you recommend?

Excellence in project management at Clark Faucet Company can indeed be achieved, but it requires deliberate, strategic actions to bridge the existing gaps and foster collaboration. To attain this excellence, several steps can be recommended:

  1. Strengthen leadership commitment: Senior management needs to be visibly and actively committed to the importance of project management. Their consistent backing can motivate teams to adapt to and prioritize changes.
  2. Establish a centralized Project Management Office (PMO): A PMO can act as the central hub for all projects, ensuring standardized processes, methodologies, and tools are employed across the organization. This central body can help prioritize projects, allocate resources efficiently, and provide oversight.
  3. Enhance communication: Implementing structured communication channels and regular check-ins between departments will reduce misunderstandings and encourage a shared vision. Tools like collaborative software can assist in keeping everyone updated.
  4. Training and skill development: Investing in training sessions on effective project management techniques and tools will empower employees. Cross-departmental training can also be initiated to promote empathy and understanding of each department’s challenges and roles.
  5. Employ agile methodologies: Considering the dynamic nature of their projects, an agile or iterative approach to product development may be beneficial. This allows for regular feedback, adaptability, and better collaboration between marketing and engineering.
  6. Foster a collaborative culture: Organizing team-building exercises and workshops can help break departmental silos. Encouraging a culture where knowledge sharing, mutual respect, and teamwork are rewarded will be key.
  7. Clear definition and scope: For each project, ensure that there’s a clear and agreed-upon scope from the outset. This will reduce changes mid-course and ensure everyone is aligned from the beginning.
  8. Feedback loop: Implement a post-project review system. Analyzing the successes and challenges of completed projects can provide insights for continuous improvement.
  9. Engage external consultants: Periodic engagement with external consultants can provide a fresh perspective, helping identify areas of improvement and offering solutions that might be overlooked internally.
  10. Empower Project Managers: Equip project managers with the authority and resources they need to manage projects efficiently. Their role as mediators between departments is crucial, and they should be supported in this.

What obstacles exist in getting marketing and engineering to agree to a singular methodology for project management?

The journey to get marketing and engineering departments to agree on a singular methodology for project management at Clark Faucet Company is burdened with obstacles, given the historically noncooperative culture. Here are some of the main challenges:

  1. Differing priorities and objectives: The two departments have distinct goals and perspectives. While marketing is driven by customer feedback, trade show deadlines, and market trends, engineering operates with a focus on technical feasibility, product quality, and design intricacies.
  2. Historical conflicts: Past misunderstandings and disagreements can cast a shadow on present interactions. This baggage makes it difficult for the two teams to trust each other and collaborate effectively.
  3. Resistance to change: Employees ingrained in a particular way of doing things might resist new methodologies, fearing additional workload, loss of autonomy, or simply the unfamiliarity of new processes.
  4. Communication barriers: Given the existing noncooperative culture, the two departments might lack the channels or even the willingness to communicate effectively, leading to misinterpretations and missed opportunities for alignment.
  5. Different skill sets and languages: The technical jargon used by engineering might be foreign to marketing and vice versa. This difference in language and expertise can hinder the smooth adoption of a unified methodology.
  6. Resource constraints: The engineering department, already overwhelmed with a multitude of projects, might view additional project management processes as burdensome, further stretching their capacity.
  7. Lack of mutual understanding: Each department may not fully grasp the challenges and pressures faced by the other, leading to a lack of empathy and resistance to a joint methodology.
  8. Fear of loss of control: A unified project management approach might be perceived as giving up control or influence over projects, with each department apprehensive about potentially losing its say in critical decisions.
  9. Lack of leadership alignment: If senior leaders from both departments are not on the same page or if they fail to demonstrate a united front, their teams might find it challenging to align on a singular methodology.

To successfully navigate these obstacles and implement a unified project management methodology, it’s crucial to foster open dialogue, prioritize training and change management, and ensure robust leadership commitment to the integration process.

Should a singular methodology for project management have a process for the prioritization of projects or should some committee external to the methodology accomplish this?

Integrating a project prioritization process within a singular project management methodology presents certain advantages, such as ensuring consistency, streamlining processes, and ensuring alignment with the methodology’s overarching goals. However, there’s a compelling argument for entrusting an external committee with this responsibility. Such a committee, with its diverse members from various departments, can offer a more holistic viewpoint on project prioritization, avoid potential biases inherent in a singular department or group, adapt to rapidly changing business environments, and leverage specialized expertise in areas like strategic planning or finance.

Given these perspectives, a hybrid approach might be the most effective. While the core project management methodology could set out basic guidelines and principles for project prioritization, the actual decision-making could be the purview of an external committee. This committee would operate within the methodology’s framework but would have the autonomy and flexibility to make nuanced decisions that align with the broader strategic objectives of the organization. In this model, the methodology sets the stage, and the committee fine-tunes the performance, ensuring both standardization and adaptability.

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

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