Project managers and Pencils

Today I was attending a project management course at Airbus. After some introductions, the teacher came to the always controversial (within such a technological company) comment that “the project leader needs to have experience in project management not in the technical issues related to the project”… she then cited aircraft as an example: “nobody within Airbus may know every technical detail of an aircraft which counts with hundreds of thousands parts, yet there is someone managing its development…”

That example seems very clear. Tonight, while listening to a TED Talk on the exchange of ideas, by Matt Ridley, I got the thread to a way better example: that is the essay “I, Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read” by Leonard E. Read, which can be found at the Library of Economics and Liberty.

I believe this a much better example because of exactly the same reasons Mr. Pencil gives:

“[…] I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.

[…] Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.”

Then, the pencil goes explaining where all its components are coming from…

“[…] My family tree begins with what in fact is a tree, a cedar of straight grain that grows in Northern California and Oregon. Now contemplate all the saws and trucks and rope and the countless other gear used in harvesting and carting the cedar logs to the railroad siding. Think of all the persons and the numberless skills that went into their fabrication: the mining of ore, the making of steel and its refinement into saws, axes, motors…”

If it’s clear that nobody knows how to make simple pencil, clearer will be for any other case of a more complex product.

There is indeed a Mr. President of the pencil company, there may even be a Pencil Programme Manager, but as Pencil says: “There is a fact still more astounding: the absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being.”

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Filed under Aerospace & Defence, Economy

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