How do we continuously develop excellent project managers (PM)?

In a product development organization, the skills and abilities of the project manager will not only protect the QCD of the product, but also affect the corporate organization’s structure and ultimately its profitability, but excellent project managers are difficult to train. We want to know how we can continuously produce excellent project managers.


After 30 years of successful product development projects in manufacturing companies in Japan and the U.S., we know that many companies have misconceptions and wrong ideas about project manager development.

Project manager (PM) development should be

  1. Develop the PM position strategically by clearly separating it from the technical specialists
  2. Organize and train PM candidates in pairs with professional PMs to serve as role models
  3. Structuring back-to-back, systematic training, on-the-job training, and incentive

This will help to create a system that continuously produces excellent PM.


Misconceptions in Project Manager Training

Many people know that Toyota’s chief engineers (lead managers) are top-notch project managers.

However, Toyota’s chief engineer is not just a leader of development projects, but a superman who is responsible for the entire value chain of planning, design, manufacturing, purchasing, sales, and service, and is even responsible for the profitability of the vehicle models he is in charge of.

The usual practice in many companies is to have a business manager and then place several people in charge of each part of the value chain to keep the business going, and they do not collect the responsibility for the entire value chain for each product in one place.

It must be said that it is quite a hurdle for ordinary companies to train Toyota’s chief engineers and introduce the chief engineer system. (“What is Toyota-style Lean Product Development?”

In many companies, the normal idea is to have a project manager who is responsible for QCD within the limited scope of product development, right?

However, even within the limited scope of product development, it is not an easy task to fulfill this responsibility alone. There is also no doubt that the project manager has a very significant impact on the QCD of product development

However, the increasing competition, growing diversity in the market, and the increasing complexity of product systems due to the evolution of information technology have made the job of the project manager more complex and difficult.

I believe that it should be a key issue for companies to continuously produce excellent project managers in such a situation, but the reality is that they are not making much progress because they are busy with day-to-day development.

Based on my experience of seeing the reality of project management and training numerous project managers at several companies in Japan and the U.S., I would like to talk about misconceptions in project manager training.


Project managers should be distinguished from technical expert

Many companies try to weed out project managers from the best development engineers.

As an engineer, it is beneficial for a project manager to have experienced some part of product development, but deepening one’s technical expertise and becoming a project management professional are two very different things.

After working as an expert in a certain technical area for about 10 or 15 years, they appoint someone to be a project manager and tell them to study the PMBOK (a guide that systematizes project management knowledge and know-how), etc., and then have them study project management from there.

The career path in Japanese companies is based on the concept of moving talented people up within the organization, so that an engineer is assigned to an organization in charge of a certain specialized technology, gains experience there, becomes a team leader of the specialized organization, gains further experience, becomes a section chief of the specialized functional organization, and then a general manager of the technical department. It is probably more common for a career path to go from team leader of a specialized organization to project manager, and from there to a managerial position in a technical organization or to a business promotion organization.

This is often discussed as a difference between Japan and the West, where career paths are based on lifetime employment in the Japanese style, and the Western style of hiring the necessary professionals when needed.

In American companies, people who want to advance their careers to management will obtain an MBA after earning a degree in their field of expertise before starting their careers.

In other words, from the beginning, they start their careers as professionals in management with both a specialized field and business administration.

The same is true for project management. People who want to become project managers learn project management as knowledge during their school years, and then become professional project managers through practical experience at a company.

The reality in many Japanese companies is that after more than 10 years in the workforce, you may be suited to be a project manager, so you should start studying now and do it well.

Of course, knowledge alone does not make a good project manager, but it is a bit late in the game to train project managers without understanding professionalism.

Both Toyota’s chief engineers and IBM’s senior managers screen, train, and select the right people to pursue that path immediately after they join the company.

I think it is necessary to make a clear distinction between nurturing professional product developers and nurturing project managers, to correctly assess their aptitude, and to provide them with the knowledge and on-the-job training to become project managers at an early stage.


Make people think about the essence of the company’s unique way of doing things instead of teaching them how to do it

It is important to carry on the company’s culture and DNA.

However, in times of rapid change, if you are stuck in your company’s original way of doing things, you will not be able to compete.

Also, organizations that have been working inwardly for too long will be left behind by the outside world.

We live in an era in which it is no longer possible to satisfy customers with products on their own, and in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to even survive by simply clinging to existing businesses.

Thinking about open innovation and collaboration, project managers must naturally evolve in order to proactively incorporate what they cannot do in-house and develop new products and businesses beyond the company’s boundaries.

Instead of teaching the company’s traditional way of doing things, the old and new project personnel should think together about why they are doing things the way they are and why they thought the current way was superior.

The important thing is not to take over the procedures and processes of project management, but to create the essential methods for project success.

Therefore, we want to move away from telling people “how to do things” to teaching them to “think and do things.

I believe that the ability to think logically and pursue questions about why and how is a necessary quality for a project manager.

I am not saying that it is useless to encourage them to study the PMBOK published by the Project Management Institute (PMI)and to obtain PMP certification, but what is necessary for project management is to take the right actions, which absolutely requires not only knowledge but also a good sense and the ability to think.

I think we need a system that nurtures knowledge, the ability to act, and the ability to think (I paraphrase sense) in a balanced manner.

Qualities required of a project manager


We would like to look at what qualities are required of a project manager or project leader in product and technology development from a variety of perspectives.

We will look at what kind of knowledge one needs to know in order to lead a project to success, what kind of project management in a successful company looks like, and what it looks like in terms of action and mindset.


Required Body of Knowledge

The revision of the PMBOK to the 7th edition has been delayed for the 4th quarter of 2020, and the 7th edition is said to be a significant change from the 6th edition, shifting from an emphasis on processes to an emphasis on principles and principles.

Although I have not yet seen the contents, I feel that the aim is to capture the essence of project management in a more practical manner, rather than the conventional style of acquiring a firm knowledge of the project management model.

I assume that this means that the emphasis will be on value delivery, and that the value of each company will be determined from strategic planning, and that the execution and operation of projects will be carried out to deliver value.

The 10 knowledge mentioned in the 6th edition

  • Quality Control
  • Schedule management
  • Cost management
  • Scope management
  • Personnel Management
  • Communication Management
  • Risk Management
  • Procurement Management
  • Stakeholder Management
  • Integration Management

The PMBOK seems to be evolving into a guide for those who have this basic knowledge and are ready to put it into practice.

I think this shows that project management is more important than anything else to practice and achieve success.

In addition, the idea that what a company should provide is “value” is exactly in line with Philip Kotler’s Marketing 3.0 concept.

I would say that marketing and strategy are also necessary knowledge to become a project manager.

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Toyota’s Chief Engineer System

Toyota’s chief engineer system is a model for project managers.

Toyota’s chief engineer is said to be responsible for designing and executing the value stream of a product, that is, the entire flow of the product from planning, development, production, and parts procurement to delivery to the customer, and the business structure.

In addition, the chief engineer is responsible for the system design of the product and leads its development.

In order to create a product that sells, he or she sometimes represents the customer, exercises technical leadership, and is even responsible for revenue.

Instead of being such a superman and taking on great responsibility, he is exempt from internal personnel management and has no subordinates in the organization.

It may be that this organization is made possible by creating a perfect relationship between the chief engineer and the functional organization managers.

Compared to Toyota’s ideal form, project managers in many companies other than Toyota do not put customer satisfaction first, nor are they responsible for system design, but concentrate on project management and the task of reporting the status of the project to management and managing the QCD that the top management wishes to achieve.

In other words, they are given the responsibility of achieving the QCD of the product as determined by top management and the organization, but not the responsibility for revenue or customer satisfaction.

I will not discuss the pros and cons of this in depth here, but in any case, the responsibility of the project manager is very important for a manufacturing company and plays a central role in the management of the company.

You can learn more about Toyota’s chief engineers from the book “Toyota Chief Engineer’s Job” written by Naoto Kitagawa, who used to be a chief engineer at Toyota.

It is also introduced in another article “The Way of Life with Project Manager Skills

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Qualities Suitable for Project Managers

In my experience, very few new graduates want to become project managers when they are hired.

I think most people want to start from the first step as an engineer, such as wanting to develop this kind of product or do work related to this kind of technology.

Or maybe they don’t really understand the job of a project manager, or they don’t understand the status or importance of a project manager in that company.

In order to become somewhat familiar with technology, marketing, production, purchasing, sales, and everything else, like the chief engineer at Toyota, you have to have a certain amount of learning and experience.

Even project managers in many other companies, or leaders who protect the QCD of development, still have a lot to learn and experience is important.

In the case of Toyota, as well as in the case of many other companies outside of Toyota, it takes time and a reasonable investment to continue to produce excellent project managers.

It is desirable to select the right people at an early stage, that is, as soon as possible after they join the company, and to train them intensively.

In order to determine how to select the right person for the job at an early stage when their ability to do the job is not known, we can review the excellent project managers we have developed so far in a retrospective manner.

  • People who have a good ability to listen to what others have to say
    • A person who receives an explanation of something from someone and then asks the right questions
    • People who can point out inconsistencies or things that don’t add up
    • People who remember well casual things others have said
  • People who see potential in communication skills
    • Not just a good talker, but someone who can complete a story without wasting time
    • A person who can manage a banquet without a hitch
    • A person who can expand the topic from one story to a completely different one
  • People with a strong work ethic
    • Persistence in trying to finish without giving up
    • Able to resist negative opinions
    • People who are willing to work as a team to get the job done

I have listed them while thinking of the faces of the excellent people I have trained so far.

I’m writing this from a behavioral perspective, but in fact, these qualities are

  1. Logical Thinking
    Eliminating assumptions to determine the essence of the matter
  2. ability to generate ideas
    Able to conceive ideas from similarities with a broad perspective
  3. Marketing skills
    Ability to switch between your point of view and the other person’s point of view

I believe that this will lead to the development of the ability to

Please do not look for interesting ways of thinking or being a good speaker, but rather for the basic ability to fulfill management positions 1 through 3.

Project management is best suited for so-called T-type people, in other words, people who have a single technique or know-how that they excel at more than others, and who can also develop a broad perspective and abilities as a generalist.

Toyota’s chief engineer may be the ultimate generalist, so to speak.

The chief engineer at Toyota designs and manages the value chain of technology, management, marketing, production, purchasing, sales, and service.

Project managers at companies other than Kata and Toyota should be able to cover technology, marketing, production, and purchasing, or at least learn the rudiments of business administration if they so desire.

And if they are ready and willing to learn such a wide range of knowledge, it would be perfect.

Reference article:

How to Develop Strong Development Leaders as Deciphered from Toyota’s Chief Engineer System


How to continuously generate project managers


Basic Policy

Show, tell, make them do, and praise them, or they will not move.

Do you know the famous words of Isoroku Yamamoto?

I believe the same is true for training project managers.

Let’s look at the quotes in turn.

  1. Let’s see them do it
  2. Say it and do it
  3. I’ll let you do it
  4. give praise to

Let’s see them do it

If you have excellent project managers in your company at this time, you can use them to create a system to train them.

However, if the current project managers are not good enough to serve as role models for younger staff members, then we need to take a look at the situation.

A good project manager can never be developed without good people.

There are two ways.

  1. Ask an executive-level person who once fulfilled the job of an excellent project manager to go out and do it.
  2. Hire outside consultants (we can also take care of this for you).

In both cases, the most effective way to develop a project manager is to set up a model project manager, let him or her run the actual project, and show him or her how to do it by having a younger person assist him or her.

Alternatively, either 1 or 2 could let the younger person take over project management with full support, but this may not be possible unless the younger person has some experience and is halfway through his or her development.

The first step is to show them your back and prepare that good back.

When training them as project managers, the following are some of the things you want them to remember by showing them your back.

  • An attitude of thinking logically and getting to the essence of the project
  • Always see the site with your own eyes and make your own decisions
  • How to work with repeated hypothesis → verification
  • How to make contact with customers and practice a customer-driven approach
  • Always think about how to read risks and hedge risks
  • Enjoy your work

There may be more. Please do not just think about these things you want to convey in your mind, but write them down carefully in a notebook and be aware of them as you implement them.

Say it and do it

The “watch and learn” part is difficult to document or otherwise communicate, but there is a lot to be conveyed in a systematic way.

Communicating with words, which can be shaped to some extent, requires an educational program to convey the same content.

To become a project manager, the required education includes the following.

  1. How to use management tools such as schedule management
  2. Basic knowledge of project management (PMBOK))
  3. Product development methodologies (Lean, Agile, etc.)
  4. Strategic Planning
  5. Marketing Theory
  6. Logical thinking
  7. Latest project management methodologies (e.g., CCPM)

Some companies focus on education using the PMBOK and recommend PMP certification, but personally, I think it is important to acquire a wide range of knowledge, not just the PMBOK, and in a sense, the PMBOK is fine as long as you have a good overview.

By learning product development methods and project management methods used in the world, you can acquire practical skills by understanding the background, or principles and principles, behind the use of the methods rather than the procedures of the methods.

The development programs from 1 to 7 can be provided by us.

I’ll let you do it

As with any training, the most efficient training is on-the-job training, and a very efficient training is to have the person do work that will allow him to achieve his goals by giving about 120% of his ability.

The question is whether the instructor has the capacity to set a goal of 120%, take a risk, and leave it to the employee.

Two of the training procedures, “show them how to do it” and “let them do it,” depend on the ability of the leader.

Whether there is a good mentor, the key seed of project manager development for the organization, may determine the future of the company.

Until you can actually take a risk and let them try it, you will work with them as an assistant, but the way you spend your time as an assistant is also very important.

If you are too dependent on your mentor, it will be difficult to separate yourself from your parents.

It is important to delegate partial authority and responsibility while you are an assistant.

Know-how in this area is difficult to document and standardize, so I think it is necessary to have several excellent instructors available at an early stage.

Give praise to

Daily pep talks from leaders are important, but formal rewards are also important for development.

Be sure to consider the value of his/her work as a project manager and consider incentives that are commensurate with the goals he/she has set and the results he/she has achieved.

If your organization has a high need for project managers, you can aim to raise the quality level by increasing the number of people who want to do the job by increasing the incentives for project managers.

In Japanese companies, where relative evaluation is the norm, personnel evaluations tend to focus only on competition within the company, but I think it is important to raise the status of the project manager position by raising the incentive range for high goals, and by making the evaluations reflect a sense of competition between internal evaluations and the outside world.


Structuring Project Manager Training

In order to continuously produce excellent project managers (PMs), it is important to structure their development to form a positive loop.

  1. Raise the status of the PM position in the organization (increase the number of people who want to become PMs)
  2. Clearly separate PM positions from specialized technical personnel
  3. Screen and shortlist suitable candidates for PM positions at an early stage
  4. Create an organization for PM positions and provide basic training to candidates
  5. Establish a mentor (if not available, procure one from outside)
  6. On-the-job training in a model project by a mentor
  7. Take risks and give them a chance to stand on their own
  8. Reward success with high incentives

I believe that Toyota’s Chief Engineer system works well and continuously produces excellent chief engineers, which is a major reason why Toyota continues to win.

Ford, GM, and many other manufacturing companies outside the automotive industry try to imitate Toyota’s chief engineer system, but I am told that they can imitate the form but not the substance.

Project managers also exist in many companies, but I believe that the quality of these managers varies greatly.

The reason why the chief engineer system took root at Toyota is said to be that the founder (second president) Kiichiro Toyoda himself was a model of a chief engineer, and because of Kiichiro’s achievements, this form became part of Toyota’s DNA, followed by his excellent successors, including Taikichi Ohno.

At Teradyne Bensos, an American company that successfully developed Toyota’s lean development throughout its organization and improved its business performance, the development process was successfully reformed in five years, but the training of chief engineers is still halfway through the process after 10 years.

In order to continue to produce project managers who can make a significant contribution to the company’s business performance, I would like to see top management commit and promote the correct structuring of the project.


Reference article:

How to proceed with the Futureship Development Process Innovation and the required timeframe

How Lean Development Turns Ideas into Products

Way of Life with Project Manager Skills


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