Herb had been with the company for more than eight years and had
worked on various R&D and product enhancement projects for external
clients. He had a Ph.D. in engineering and had developed a reputation as a
subject matter expert. Because of his specialized skills, he worked by
himself most of the time and interfaced with the various project teams
only during project team meetings. All of that was about to change.
Herb’s company had just won a two-year contract from one of its best
customers. The first year of the contract would be R&D and the second
year would be manufacturing. The company made the decision that the
best person qualified to be the project manager was Herb because of his
knowledge of R&D and manufacturing. Unfortunately, Herb had never
taken any courses in project management, and because of his limited
involvement with previous project teams, there were risks in assigning
him as the project manager. But management believed he could do the
The Team Is Formed
Herb’s team consisted of fourteen people, most of whom would be full
time for at least the first year of the project. The four people that Herb
would be interfacing with on a daily basis were Alice, Bob, Betty, and
Alice was a seasoned veteran who worked with Herb in R&D. Alice
had been with the company longer than Herb and would coordinate the
efforts of the R&D personnel.
Bob also had been with the company longer that Herb and had spent his
career in engineering. Bob would coordinate the engineering efforts
and drafting.
Betty was relatively new to the company. She would be responsible for
all reports, records management, and procurements.
Frank, a five-year employee with the company, was a manufacturing
engineer. Unlike Alice, Bob, and Betty, Frank would be part time on
the project until it was time to prepare the manufacturing plans.
For the first two months of the program, work seemed to be progressing as
planned. Everyone understood their role on the project and there were no
critical issues.
Friday the 13th
Herb held weekly teams meetings every Friday from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.
Unfortunately the next team meeting would fall on Friday the 13th, and
that bothered Herb because he was somewhat superstitious. He was
considering canceling the team meeting just for that week but decided
against it.
At 9:00 a.m., on Friday the 13th, Herb met with his project sponsor as he
always did in the past. Two days before, Herb casually talked to his
sponsor in the hallway and the sponsor told Herb that on Friday the
sponsor would like to discuss the cash flow projections for the next six
months and have a discussion on ways to reduce some of the
expenditures. The sponsor had seen some expenditures that bothered him.
As soon as Herb entered the sponsor’s office, the sponsor said:
It looks like you have no report with you. I specifically recall asking
you for a report on the cash flow projections.
Herb was somewhat displeased over this. Herb specifically recalled that
this was to be a discussion only and no report was requested. But Herb
knew that “rank has its privileges” and questioning the sponsor’s
communication skills would be wrong. Obviously, this was not a good
start to Friday the 13th.
At 10:00 a.m., Alice came into Herb’s office and he could see from the
expression on her face that she was somewhat distraught. Alice then
Herb, last Monday I told you that the company was considering me
for promotion and the announcements would be made this morning.
Well, I did not get promoted. How come you never wrote a letter of
recommendation for me?
Herb remembered the conversation vividly. Alice did say that she was
being considered for promotion but never asked him to write a letter of
recommendation. Did Alice expect Herb to read between the lines and try
to figure out what she really meant?
Herb expressed his sincere apologies for what happened. Unfortunately,
this did not make Alice feel any better as she stormed out of Herb’s office.
Obviously, Herb’s day was getting worse and it was Friday the 13th.
No sooner had Alice exited the doorway to Herb’s office when Bob
entered. Herb could tell that Bob had a problem. Bob then stated:
In one of our team meetings last month, you stated that you had
personally contacted some of my engineering technicians and told
them to perform this week’s tests at 70°F, 90°F and 110°F. You and I
know that the specifications called for testing at 60°F, 80°F and
100°F. That’s the way it was always done and you were asking them
to perform the tests at different intervals than the specifications called
Well, it seems that the engineering technicians forgot the conversation
you had with them and did the tests according to the specification
criteria. I assumed that you had followed up your conversation with
them with a memo, but that was not the case. It seems that they forgot.
When dealing with my engineering technicians, the standard rule is,
“if it’s not in writing, then it hasn’t been said.” From now on, I would
recommend that you let me provide the direction to my engineering
technicians. My responsibility is engineering and all requests of my
engineering personnel should go through me.
Yes, Friday the 13th had become a very bad day for Herb. What else
could go wrong, Herb thought? It was now 11:30 a.m. and almost time for
lunch. Herb was considering locking his office door so that nobody could
find him and then disconnecting his phone. But in walked Betty and
Frank, and once again he could tell by the expressions on their faces that they had a problem. Frank spoke first:
I just received confirmation from procurement that they purchased
certain materials which we will need when we begin manufacturing.
We are a year away from beginning manufacturing and, if the final
design changes in the slightest, we will be stuck with costly raw
materials that cannot be used. Also, my manufacturing budget did not
have the cash flow for early procurement. I should be involved in all
procurement decisions involving manufacturing. I might have been
able to get it cheaper that Betty did. So, how was this decision made
without me?
Before Herb could say anything, Betty spoke up:
Last month, Herb, you asked me to look into the cost of procuring
these materials. I found a great price at one of the vendors and made
the decision to purchase them. I thought that this was what you
wanted me to do. This is how we did it in the last company I worked
Herb then remarked:
I just wanted you to determine what the cost would be, not to make
the final procurement decision, which is not your responsibility.
Friday the 13th was becoming possibly the worst day in Herb’s life. Herb
decided not to take any further chances. As soon as Betty and Frank left,
Herb immediately sent out e-mails to all of the team members canceling
the team meeting scheduled for 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. that afternoon.

1. How important are communication skills in project management?
2. Was Herb the right person to be assigned as the project manager?
3. There were communications issues with Alice, Bob, Betty, and Frank.
For each communication issue, where was the breakdown in
communications: encoding, decoding, feedback, and so on?

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