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 job.
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 Frank.
● 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.
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
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 spoke:
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.