July 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 3 
Integrated Defense Systems

Room at the top

IDS drives to inspire and develop top-flight program managers

Above: Six U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster IIIs participated in a training airdrop formation last year. The C-17 program is one of the many at Integrated Defense Systems that will benefit from the Program Management and Independent Review function.

U.S. Air Force Photo By Staff Sgt. Suzanne Jenkins

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is working to build the skills of its program managers and provide learning opportunities for the next generation of these key leaders through a new Program Management and Independent Review function.

Howard Chambers, named last September as vice president of IDS Program Management and Independent Review, recently spent a few minutes with Boeing Frontiers to discuss the organization's creation, challenges and benefits.

Q: Why is a separate functional area for program management needed?

A: Program managers can make or break our company. When a program is not well administered there are missed deadlines, overruns and technical problems that can prove very costly. Creating a separate organization to lead program management says we understand its significance to our current and future success and are committed to giving it a greater degree of service and support. We certainly have good managers leading our programs, but they must be the best we can make them.

Q: How are you doing that?

A: We started by giving managers the right tools—those techniques and processes that allow us to manage programs so we are successful and our customers are pleased with the results. IDS has worked with other organizations within Boeing to create a comprehensive set of Program Management Best Practices that are applicable to both simple and complicated programs. They also serve as guidelines in key areas such as supplier integration, risk management and proposal development. The best practices are the benchmarks we use for evaluating performance, setting goals and demonstrating a manager's improvement from year to year.

Room at the topWe are now making sure all 475 program managers in IDS are using these Program Management Best Practices. For example, each month we hold a five-day workshop for 35 to 40 program managers at the Boeing Leadership Center in St. Louis, where we cover the best practices and all aspects of program management. We divide managers into teams for a rigorous business simulation of things people experience in program management. Some of the teams are successful and some are not, and that is important because the whole class learns when mistakes are made.

Q: What other assistance do you offer?

A: A good portion of our time is spent providing advice and counsel because everybody should have someone they can call and say, "I need help." This can be as basic as answering a question over the phone or as thorough as sending in an internal team of experts to complete an independent review and help create an improvement plan.

We offer on-site education for program management staff through half-day and all-day training on a number of best-practice subjects, and there's an advanced course at the Leadership Center for managers involved in major programs called Leading a Successful Business.

We also are building a detailed database that profiles each program manager and contains up-to-date information on the managers' skills and experience. We will use this information not only to identify training needs but to help move managers from one program to another and create pools of qualified candidates for new programs.

Program managers: what they do and who they are
  • They have profit and loss responsibility for a product or service within a business unit.
  • They spend the majority of time negotiating, problem solving, team building and communicating with customers, suppliers and employees.
  • There are more than 470 program managers in IDS; most are located in California (191), Missouri (77), Washington (37) and Texas (28).
  • Two-thirds come from engineering disciplines. Career paths usually include stints as team or project leaders.
Q: Who is on your program management team?

A: There is the 25-member IDS Program Management Council that meets monthly and includes a representative from every business unit and function. The Boeing Program Management Process Council provides input as well. I have a dozen associates who conduct workshops for program managers and training for business units, hold formal assessments and independent reviews, and offer career development and administrative support. Plus, we have 10 employees who have rotated in for 12 to 18 months from other functional areas, giving us valuable expertise while broadening their abilities.

Q: What's next on your priority list?

A: We are focused on succession planning and increasing development activities for newer program managers and program manager candidates. We want to assist managers in improving their competence so they are capable of performing at a much higher level when they have the chance to take over a large program. We also will create growth opportunities for people who want to become program managers so they have the skills and experience to compete when an opening comes up.

Q: What is your advice for someone who wants to be a program manager?

A: Try to rotate into another discipline early in your career. A program manager deals with people, technical, supplier and customer issues. Taking a risk and gaining experience in another area gives you a foundation to be able to understand what has to be done, and it helps in decision making.

Candidates also must develop good customer relationships; the better you understand customers' needs, the better you will be able to manage the program. The more you know about scheduling—which is very complicated when done properly—really helps too. You need to understand how system engineering works and the value of good configuration management. The better the foundation you have in finance, the better you'll feel as a program manager.

The preparation is worth it, because I think the greatest job is being a program manager. You have a customer, a product to deliver and a set amount of time and resources to make it happen. When you can balance all of it and get people to work together in a fashion that everything comes out successfully, it is an absolute pleasure.

For more information, visit:
http://web-sbc-11.slb.cal.boeing.com/pmpc/program_management only on the internal Boeing Web.


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