Project Management and History (2) – USA, 1862

Flash – Project Management and History (2) – USA, 1862


 Ok guys, in view of the length of this piece, maybe “Flash” isn’t really appropriate …  

Today, we take some lessons (especially in organization and human factors) from a very rare practical book published in 1862, i.e., during the American civil war: `Summary of the Art of War – written expressly for and dedicated to The U.S Volunteer Army´ by Emil Schalk, A.O.

 As Mr Schalk wrote, `It was written for the citizen soldier and officer.´

The book was obviously written under the influence of the strong XIX century’s American practicality; in fact, the author wanted `…simply to fill up the void that exists, by a popular work treating those military matters, of easy understanding even to the civilian who has never connected with military occupations

We should not forget that at that time society was quite different from now. Besides, comparatively few texts dealt with management and even practical military matters (and/or they weren’t easily available)

Organizing a volunteer army and bringing it to full efficiency was no simple feat.


Simultaneous action

 `These elements [composing an army] must be joined with an organization to permit of their simultaneous action.´

  • First lesson: an organization in itself (it does not matter how well conceived) is of no use unless all its elements are able to act simultaneously and harmonically to reach the goal.

This seems to be very simple but … how many organizations are able to do that, nowadays?

  • What about psychological factors? Are the personnel motivated and focused on the goal and the absolute necessity of a simultaneous action?

 `Their simultaneous action is possible only by submitting them to one will; therefore an army is commanded by one person, and must be commanded by one person only, and not by two or more.´

  • No mess is allowable: there must be one boss with the necessary authority. How often does this happen? How many projects fail due to missing authority?

 `The orders of the commander must be executed by the elements composing the army. The commander cannot give orders for each element separately; therefore our elements should be formed into a certain number of bodies, and their commanders only [originally in italic] should receive orders from the commander-in-chief.´

  • The commander is going to report to the commander-in-chief, obviously. In Prince2, we could say the Project Manager reports to the Executive (e.g., the program manager). In ancient times, one would have said that the general reported to the king, i.e., the man with final authority and money.
  • The same applies to `under-commanders´ of other bodies (regiments-teams), i.e., in our case team leaders, for instance. This means once a team is assigned to the project, it must do as the project manager says; “strange” behaviours on the team leaders’ part should not be tolerated.
  • “Orders should not be given separately” means everyone knows the situation, plans, and so on; it means problems can be found early, too, not to forget that no excuses (“I did not know”) may be found.
  • `One will´: will, not something else. Therefore, please do not forget team-working is wonderful but … in the end the project manager and other figures of authority must exercise their authority. Otherwise, how could the organization’s elements act simultaneously to reach the goal?

 `The number of those under-commanders one chief can attend is restricted. Experience proves that the number should be less than three or four, and not more than eight or ten.´

  • Have you ever read something like this? Many books and articles describe everything about teams, but … how many subordinates (leaders themselves) can a boss successfully attend?
  • 1862 or now, it is the same: men (and women) have not changed since then.

We have precious advice here: the manager of a project should attend no more than eight or ten managers, better if only three; on his/her part, each of those managers, should attend no more than … and so on.


Organization, planning and the “project manager”

 `The organization of an army is different in nearly every country, and it is hardly possible to find one that is faultless.´

  • Unfortunately, this has not changed much: all too often people try to re-invent warm water. Even if every organization has its necessities, is it really necessary to re-invent continuously what is largely available?

 `The more the organization of an army is complete, the more the command is facilitated; the order given at the head passes in a few moments through the whole army, and all the parts of this great mass work like one machine; but the command has only put all those forces to work; the work itself must be assigned beforehand.´

  • All the parts must work like one machine and … team-members should know in advance what is to be done and ready (and capable) to do it; no “I want it for yesterday” here!

 `Besides, the machine must be kept in the best possible order; in other words, an army must be provided with ammunition and provisions; if it marches, the roads must be pointed out to the chief of every division or army corps, the time of the different movements determined … orders for marching given, the place of each corps … assigned … in general and for each of the smaller parts in particular.´

  • Human factors: take constantly care of your organization, i.e., of your men/women.
  • Organization and planning: not only should everyone know their tasks, they should also get all the directions they may need to deal successfully with it. How often is this forgotten, nowadays?

 `It is quite evident that the commander-in-chief of an army cannot attend to all these details; therefore he has another general under him, who is called the chief of the general staff …

… there are others [duties of the general staff] which consists in a through study of the theatre of war … providing of the most complete and correct maps, the working out of the general plan of campaign, the special plans …´

  • Here we have what in modern terms could be called the Project Manager. The commander-in-chief is the equivalent of the Executive in Prince2 (the guy with final authority), the chief of the general staff is the equivalent of the Project Manager.

Or … we could put “Responsible of the PMO (Project Management Office)” in place of chief of the general staff.

  • The chief of staff / project manager is in charge of planning, but not only of that; never forget that planning is only one of the project manager’s tasks.


Morale and simultaneous action

 `Generally speaking, the strength of an army depends on its number, the right proportion of the three arms [infantry, cavalry and artillery], the confidence of the troops in their leader, and the general character of the men who compose the army.´

  • A big organization does not mean better results in itself: for instance, an IT firm with too many developers and not enough testers will not perform as well as a smaller and better organized firm.
  • The personnel must trust their leader, i.e., the project manager must be a leader, too. People must be sure he/she is going to lead to success the project even under difficult circumstances.

A professional is needed, for only a professional who knows his/her business is going to be trusted to such a degree. Above all, popularity in itself in never sufficient, history is proof of that; it is trust and esteem which are needed here.

  • Without good men/women, nothing can be achieved.

A good project manager can rectify the situation, but under such circumstances he/she needs more authority.

 `Now that we know the elements and how they are united, we must see how they are disposed, to execute the order of their commander for a simultaneous or successive action.

Men, we have seen, represent forces capable of doing a certain amount of work in a certain length of time. The work done, exhaustion will follow for another length of time, till the strength of the men is re-established by food and repose.´

  • Mr Shalk is open-minded: organizations must be capable of simultaneous action, and also of a more relaxed type of action, i.e., they must be flexible; we will see another reason why this is important.
  • Men (and women) can only deliver so much for so long: maybe they can work twenty hours per day once, but then they need recreation (food) and rest.

Acting differently would mean to doom the project and damage the firm’s most important asset – its people.

 `In an engagement, the exhaustion of our forces arises from several causes – the fatigue of the men …. Therefore we conclude that, if all our men commence work at the same time, and all act simultaneously, their action will be short and their exhaustion will be simultaneous; if, on the other hand, they act but in small parties, and one party after the other, their work will be done successively, their action will be long, and total exhaustion will only follow after a length of time.´

  • Note the use of the term `work´: American practicality making use of civilians’ experience.
  • Fatigue: never ever forget your technicians/engineers/hard hats/whoever are men and women. 
  • Simultaneous and intense action can’t be sustained for a lengthy time.

It follows that simultaneous action should not be the exclusive choice; during a project, there should be some moments in which at least some of the teams are assigned less demanding tasks.

Let’s suppose there are nine teams involved in the project. Those teams should be able to operate in a simultaneous and intense action for one week, for example; but … the week after at least three (this is just an example) teams should be assigned some less demanding tasks, e.g., a combined task of just them or even team-tailored tasks; next time, it would be other three teams which would be assigned less demanding tasks. Besides, in a project there are usually many tasks which require `successive´ and lengthy action.

What is really important is: in any case, do not press your people too much without real necessity: be ready to say no to the customer or to other organizations involved in your project.






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