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Volume 5 | September 2022


Human-Centered. Solutions Driven.

What Project Management Approach Fits Your Organization? 

By Mike Vitek, Director Systems Engineering

Over thirty years of experience in a variety of diverse industries have clarified for me the most efficient ways to navigate a new client engagement.

I have worked on hundreds of client engagements, usually focused around two (2) unique scenarios:

  • Solving a business problem (“Can we pack up our entire manufacturing operation and move it in a weekend?)
  • Supporting scarce resources (“I cannot hire any more engineers. How do I make the engineers that I have more effective?”)


Where to Start? – Two Simple Questions

When engaging with a new organization, the best approach starts by asking two questions (well, sometimes more than 2….):

  • Who reports to whom?
    • Hierarchical (“Direction comes from the top….”)
    • Political (“Yep, there are favorites….”)
  • What are the different leadership styles for everyone involved?
    • Direct (“I just tell it like it is….”)
    • Supportive (“Tell me how I can help you get this done….”)
    • Controlling (“I reviewed the project budget, and I have a few questions……”)

The responses to these questions will help establish the type of Project Management style to use for the engagement. Understanding the answers to these questions will also improve the chances of success.

What’s Next? – Options

  1. Option 1: Directive (Strong) Project Management Approach. Given the strategic nature of a program (or maybe because it has become a political quagmire), a company may ask for an external team to guide the overall project.

The CEO of a local nonprofit asked the Sandalwood Systems Engineering Team to plan and manage the move of his automotive parts sorting and light assembly operations.  Sandalwood directly reported to the CEO and worked as a peer with his functional managers and leadership team. Sandalwood established an independent Project Management Office (PMO), staffed with certified Project Managers, Logistics Planners, Industrial Engineers, and Purchasing specialists. The PMO devised and executed a plan to pack and move over 100 employees, 532 manufacturing assets and 1000+ SKU’s (Stock Keeping Units). The PMO created a Move Plan, including a Plan for Every Part (PFEP), Every Asset (PFEA), and Employee (PFEE), as well as a new facility layout and throughput simulation.  The move was completed over a four (4) day weekend, with the PMO disbanding soon after equipment commissioning and customer sign-off.

  1. Option 2: Supportive (Weak) Project Management Approach. Given the dearth of technical resources, companies are often faced with a dilemma: How to best utilize their scarcest resources: Engineers? NOTE: As an engineer, I might be a bit biased….

The Chief Engineer at an Automotive Tier One Supplier asked Sandalwood’s Systems Engineering Team to create a PMO supporting the planning, development, and execution of all future product programs.  To begin, Sandalwood established common processes for

  • Issue/Problem Management
  • Risk Assessment & Abatement
  • Engineering Change Management
  • Cost Controlling

Sandalwood’s Project Facilitators worked with the client’s Functional Managers to establish Program and Project Timing, as well as instituting new systems in support of the engineering efforts.  The Sandalwood PMO team members reported directly to the Functional Managers, supporting the needs of the engineers on a day-to-day basis.


The Moral(s) of the Story: Culture is key

  1. Seek first to understand an organization’s structure, reporting alignment, and leadership styles before implementing a PMO or selecting a Project Management option.
  2. Selecting either a Directive (Strong) or Supportive (Weak) Project Management approach can be appropriate, but success will heavily depend on the learning from Moral #1!
  3. PMO’s are not just for projects! They can be used to institutionalize standard procedures, such as Issue/Problem, Change, and Risk Management. PMO’s can also be source of unbiased project management, structure, and tools.
  4. Consider using a PMO to support your scarcest (and most valuable) resources: Engineers!