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Gemini Systems: Managing

From The Middle In A High-Tech Company Timm L. Kainen, University of Massachusetts Lowell, USA

ABSTRACT

This business case study is designed for MBA courses in Organizational Behavior, Organization

Change and Negotiations. The case follows a young middle manager who has very little formal

authority as she attempts to implement a new project staffing system for engineers in a high-tech

matrix organization. As the company rapidly grows, she experiences significant resistance to

change from section leaders, program managers and engineers who have become accustomed to

competitive behavior in an environment rich with opportunities. However, as the company

experiences retrenchment during the economic downturn of 2009, the change resistance

continues, but within an environment where there is a paucity of projects. The case shows how

Sophie grows as a middle manager and learns the necessary skills to be successful at managing

change and “influencing without authority”.

Keywords: Middle-managers, Influence without authority, Managing scientists and engineers, Negotiating change,

Matrix organizations

CASE A

n an August afternoon, Sophie sat at her desk pondering her next move. Her first three years at Gemini

Systems had been very challenging, but also full of opportunities that she had wholeheartedly

embraced. She had made her share of mistakes as a “free agent” middle manager with no direct reports,

but she had established herself as someone who could get things done. As a Project Control Analyst, she had

successfully and consistently improved many parts of the system used to manage the staffing requirements of the

multiple projects in her division. Her tireless efforts had saved large cost over-runs for her division and earned her a

reputation as one who did not shrink from tough assignments or back down from disagreements.

In fact, her outstanding performance had earned her three battlefield promotions as she successfully

navigated her way through an endless series of conflicts with a wide variety of technical specialists, project leads,

bosses and other project control analysts. The roots of these conflicts over project funding and staffing were

embedded in the company‟s matrix structure and were the tacitly shared value system that made up its corporate

culture. She accepted this work environment as her management reality and knew full well that it would not be

restructured to accommodate the new ideas she was planning to implement. She would have to push the

collaboration envelope if she wanted the usual protagonists to work within the parameters of her new and more

integrated system for tracking and managing the overall staffing requirements of the collective projects.

BACKGROUND

Gemini Systems began as a small independent software development company working on U.S.

government defense contracts. In 2004, it was acquired by Scorpio Inc., a large defense contractor that was

expanding its software systems capabilities. Gemini had been an attractive acquisition primarily because of its

talented engineers. As such, the Gemini team of engineers and their support staff were allowed to operate as an

autonomous group within Scorpio Inc. The only difference was that the Gemini CEO would report to top

management at Scorpio.

O

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Scorpio quickly began to funnel more projects to Gemini and it rapidly grew to 400 employees who were

spread throughout three different locations within the United States. This larger talent pool also allowed Gemini to

take on larger and more complex projects. However, success came with a price. The old system for staffing, funding

and monitoring projects became increasingly difficult to maintain. Since these processes were built for the original

smaller organization, they were becoming outdated in the newly expanded company. Additionally, while Gemini

still operated independently, Scorpio‟s more bureaucratic reporting procedures were beginning to make new

demands on how the Gemini group reported its financial numbers as well as other project data. Gemini realized it

would need to adapt and change its current operation if it was going to be able to operate successfully and compete

in this new world of million dollar projects.

Division A, the largest of the three divisions within Gemini, was having the most difficulty in making

adjustments. This group had a history of being the most successful division within the Gemini group. It had rapidly

doubled in size to about 120 people within the last few years. As such, it felt more entitled to handle projects in its

own way.

As shown in Exhibit 1, Division A was comprised of Directorate 1, Directorate 2, and Directorate 3. Each

directorate represented a certain technological expertise and worked to solve customers‟ problems in that field. The

engineers in each division would be assigned to the division that was their best fit based on their individual technical

skills and knowledge. Furthermore, each of the three directorates was further broken into two individual sections

which further segmented the engineers according to their technological expertise. Each section would have a section

leader and then a number of engineers that reported to them. The company organization chart was a matrix structure

where the engineers were assigned to projects within their own directorate, as well as the other directorates as

projects had certain technological needs arise. As such, they had two bosses – their functional section leader and the

manager of the project to which they were assigned.

Exhibit 1: Division “A” Organization Chart

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 1

Division A

Directorate 1 Directorate 2 Directorate 3

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 2

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 1

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 2

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 1

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 2

Sophie, PCA Kristin, PCA Lauren, PCA

PCA’s

Admin Assistants

BUSOps

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 1

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 1

Division ADivision A

Directorate 1Directorate 1 Directorate 2Directorate 2 Directorate 3Directorate 3

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 2

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 2

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 1

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 1

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 2

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 2

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 1

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 1

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 2

SW Engineer 1

SW Engineer 2

Test Engineer 1

Test Engineer 2

Algorithms Engineer 1

Algorithms Engineer 2

Section 2

Sophie, PCA Kristin, PCA Lauren, PCA

PCA’s

Admin Assistants

BUSOps

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THE BUSINESS OPERATIONS GROUP

Sophie was part of the Business Operations Group which was a staff support unit for the technical

directors, section leaders and project managers (PM‟s) in the three Directorates. The BOG assigned technical

specialists and engineers to the various projects and monitored project costs, and performance efficiencies against

pre-established parameters. By providing financial information to both PM‟s and the section leads within the matrix

organization, they were a critical part of the control system for both the Gemini group and Scorpio Inc. Within each

of the three directorates, one person from the business operation group specifically worked on that directorate‟s

projects. This person was called a project control analyst (PCA). Within Division A, there were three PCA‟s:

Sophie who was responsible for Directorate 1, Kristin who was responsible for Directorate 2, and Lauren who was

responsible for Directorate 3.

Each PCA used an excel tool called the “staffing planner”. It contained a tab for each project where the

staffing plan could be mapped out and expenses tracked. This was useful to not only report data back to the

customer, but also to make sure that any given project was not over or under spending. At the front of each work

book, there was a rollup sheet which linked to the multiple excel pages and illustrated the allocations for each staff

member per month so that the PCA could see the project to which each member was allocated and whether the

project was over or under staffed. Since Division A was a matrix organization, it was not unusual for various

engineers to be assigned to multiple projects in multiple directorates. This forced the PCA to have an additional tab

on the excel worksheet entitled „other directorate‟ where these concurrent assignments could be logged. This extra

tab was needed to confirm that all of the available financial and human resources were being used to maximize

profit and assigned to the appropriate projects to maximize efficiency.

At the end of every month, each PCA would have a meeting with their individual directorate, which

included the directorate manager and the section leads, in order to update the staffing plans for their projects and

allocate staff members based on the different project needs. The PCA would then look at the rollup page to make

sure there were no staffing conflicts for the month ahead. Changes to the staffing plans would often affect other

PCA‟s projects within the division. In order to ensure that all changes were accurately captured, the PCA‟s had to

constantly communicate with each other. This way the PCA‟s could verify that the changes were acceptable and

reported to the PM in charge of the project. This process began during the last two weeks of the month and had to

be completed before the month was up in order for the staff members to know what they would be working on in a

timely manner. The process was not particularly well organized because each PCA worked individually until it was

time to combine and rectify all of the information at the month:

End of the Month Sequence

1. Last week of the month, work with PM‟s to update projects to spend out correctly and request any additional staff that they needed

2. Meet with directorates to go over staffing conflicts that arose from the new staffing requests 3. Send any updates that were made to a separate workbook to the PCA responsible 4. If meetings already happened and a PCA sends additional changes, then meet with their directorate to

discuss again and resolve if necessary

Communication was essential because while the section leads were responsible for staffing the engineers in

their section, the PM‟s were responsible for staffing their own projects. It was the PM‟s job to have all staffing

requests in before the staffing meeting. It was during the meeting that the section leads would make the call as to

which staffing requests from the PM‟s were to be accepted. After the meeting, any changes that were made or

requests that were rejected needed to be communicated back to the PM‟s so they could go back to the drawing board

if necessary. If a PM absolutely needed a certain engineer and could not get him or her, it was taken up to their

section lead to work it out with the appropriate parties. If the section leads could not work it out, it was then the

directorate manager‟s say as to where the engineer would be staffed. If the conflict could not be resolved at that

level, then it was the Division A manager who would step in and make the final call depending on the priorities of

the division. The hope was that the conflict would not have to escalate to the division manager, but lately with the

lack of communication, this was happening more frequently.

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Whatever projects Gemini worked on, it did so as an outside contractor. As such, it billed customers by the

labor hours for all employees working on any given project within a prescribed timeframe. Having all the financial

information and staffing allocations rolled up at the end of the month for each division was critical. Upper

management and the CEO needed an accurate accounting of all division activity to get a complete picture of how

each division was tracking against its goals. In addition to measuring overall efficiency, this data allowed

management to assess needs for additional hiring and determine if they had enough funded backlog to cover the cost

of maintaining the current staff. It also allowed for the estimation of how much additional work they may be able to

take on as new business.

SOPHIE’S BACKGROUND

Sophie started at Gemini as an administrative assistant shortly after graduating from college. Her father, a

chief engineer at Scorpio, had learned of the job opening. During her first year, Sophie put in long hours, learned

how the systems operated and took on extra responsibilities where ever she could find them. Toward the end of that

year, she learned of an opening within her division for a PCA. There were two PCA‟s within the division, one for

each directorate, and now one of them was leaving the company and would need to be replaced. Sophie, knowing

she had the skills for the job, went to her boss, Sam, and told him of her interest in the position, citing the fact that

she had already learned how the systems operated during the last year. She also argued that promoting her would set

a good precedent and establish a career path for other motivated administrative assistants within the company. This

last point was important since Gemini had traditionally been concerned with only the engineers‟ career paths. Sophie

argued that establishing a career path for employees in the Business Operations Group that lead to a PM role would

give them incentive to work harder and be a source of home-grown talent for the company. Sam agreed that she had

the capability to do the job and he could see the potential long-term benefits to the company. He decided to

recommend her for the promotion which would begin at the start of the following fiscal year.

When it came time for Sophie‟s promotion, it turned out that Division A was re-organizing from two

divisions into three. In addition to Sophie‟s promotion, Kristin, a five-year veteran administrative assistant in the

division, would also be getting promoted. Even though Sophie had actively pursued the job opening, Kristin was

upset about the promotion because she had seniority within the company. Sam, the assistant division manager and

head of the business operations group, did not want to hurt Kristin‟s feelings, so he decided to establish two jobs.

The establishment of two positions, as opposed to one, would also fit the new organization structure with one PCA

for each of the three new directorates.

As the youngest and newest member of the business operations group, Sophie was eager to prove her worth

to the company and start working her way up the corporate ladder. She had started at Gemini a couple of years after

the acquisition, but before Scorpio‟s corporate bureaucracy had overtaken the Gemini way of doing things. As the

two companies grew, she began to see even more potential career growth opportunities.

THE NEW STAFFING PROCESS

Along with the new division structure, a new process for tracking projects and recording staffing

allocations was also under development. A new software package for managing and planning the staffing of

projects was in the development process and Sophie was put in charge of its testing. Sophie was chosen to head the

roll-out of the new software to her division. Even though she was the newest PC, she had the best grasp of how the

excel spreadsheets and databases worked. Sophie successfully implemented the new workbook and process into

Directorate 1. She followed up by training the other two divisional PCA‟s (Lauren and Kristin) to use the new

staffing system. Throughout the year, Sophie proved herself as a PCA and gained the trust of the director, section

leads and PM‟s by providing on time and accurate data. She also showed her ability to dig down and analyze what

was going on with projects and what they would need to spend out properly.

Sophie‟s long-term goal when joining Gemini was to eventually become a PM for the company and to do

so by going back to school for her MBA. Keeping her aspirations of PM in mind while at her PCA position, Sophie

approached other PM‟s within the group who were overwhelmed with work and offered to help offload some of

their work. At the end of the year when Sophie went in for her annual review with Sam, she had taken on a number

of additional duties and tasks that a PCA normally did not do. She was hoping this extra activity would help prove

her worth to the company and further develop her career path, which it did.

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During their evaluation meeting, she and Sam formulated a new career growth path for her. It went from

PCA to Deputy PM (DPM), and eventually on to PM. They agreed to allow Sophie to be the DPM on one or two

smaller projects. As DPM, Sophie would now do all the internal PM-type roles of keeping the project on task,

ensuring that milestones and deliverables were met. The only difference between her position as Deputy PM and the

PM on the project is that the main PM would still continue to be the customer point of contact. Gemini‟s staffing

pay scale and titles were different from those at Scorpio, so there was no title within the organizational matrix which

fit this new position for Sophie; so instead, she was given a promotion from PCA II to PCA III.

THE NEW STAFFING PROCESS DEVELOPS NEW ISSUES

Sophie had been a PCA within Division A for about a year when the issues with the staffing process started

to become an apparent problem for the company. The staffing allocation process was initially handling the needs of

the division, but as Division A grew in size and more contracts were awarded, it became increasingly difficult for

the PCA‟s to communicate with one another. At the end of each month, the PM‟s and the Section Leads would

communicate staffing updates to each of the three PCA‟s. Often times, these updates would affect more then one

directorate, so it was the PCA‟s job to communicate with the other PCA who was being affected.

This often did not happen and the staffing updates were not getting captured accurately. As a result, the

projects started to suffer. PM‟s were losing employees that were critical to their projects because needs were not

getting recognized by the Section Leaders whose main concern was to have all of the engineers in their group staffed

at 100%. The right employees were not working on the right projects because PM‟s did not realize that they needed

to request the PCA‟s to assign them. Projects started to be over or under spent and the division overhead was taking

a huge hit due to the miscommunication.

After all staffing inputs had been recorded in the staffing planners, the PCA‟s would then meet with the

section leaders to de-conflict any of their staff who were over or under 100% allocated. Instead of having one

meeting with the section leads, there had to be multiple meetings because the section leaders did not have a grasp on

all of the projects in Directorate A‟s needs. The PCA‟s were not able to help either because they also were not

aware of the status of projects in other divisions, so this resulted in the section leads having to scramble to find

coverage and then meet again once they had an answer. Also, this lack of knowledge caused the section leads to just

add staff to projects to make sure they were covered with no regard for whether or not the project budget could

support them. The meetings were often chaotic with the section leads arguing their projects‟ needs without listening

to what the other projects needed. Instead of compromising for the better of the division, they did not care if other

projects suffered.

The process was so manual that every time a change was made to a staffing allocation, the project page

itself had to be re-created, the rollup page updated, and then (if the project was in another directorate) that tab had to

be updated and the other PCA notified. One misstep and a request for a staff member could fall through the cracks

or an update could go un-captured by one of the PCA‟s. By the end of the month, there would still be a number of

conflicts unresolved and the engineers that were impacted would still not know what projects they should be

working on. It became increasingly difficult for the PCA‟s to get the PM‟s and section leads to make staffing

decisions in a timely fashion. This started to have a negative impact on the whole division.

It was not clear whether the section leads and PM‟s understood the importance of the staffing allocation

exercise, or that they did not want to understand. They kept neglecting their homework and did not seem to

understand the needs of the projects. This problem started to become painfully present to Greg, the Division A

manager, who saw the division‟s overhead budget numbers diminishing much too quickly and projects starting to

fall behind schedule. If Division A was going to continue to grow and expand in order to assist Gemini in reaching

its overall goal of 20% growth, then better management of the projects within this division was essential. If the

current level of project management performance remained unchanged, it would be impossible for Gemini to

compete for multimillion dollar contracts against large powerhouse companies, such as Raytheon and Northrop

Grumman. Looking to solve the management and staffing allocation problems that were impeding the divisions‟

growth, Greg looked to the business operations group manager to set a new precedent in how better management of

the staffing allocations could be achieved.

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TAKING OVER DIVISIONAL STAFFING ALLOCATION

Around the time of her promotion to PCA II, Sophie started to take on the responsibility of combining the

three staffing workbooks and updating the staffing line in order to calculate projected future internal sales

throughout the year based upon staffing allocations. This projected future data would then be matched against the

funding to give upper management a better picture of how the company was doing financially. The analysis allowed

upper management to see how much funding was allocated to cover the existing staff, the time period, and whether

there were any discrepancies between the projected numbers and the actual monthly numbers. Sophie was getting

settled with her new assignments when she started to notice a problem with engineers who were not allocated on her

projects, yet they were charging hours to her projects. When she brought this to the attention of the PM‟s, she found

out they were actually tasking them, but the updates to the staffing planner never made it to Sophie‟s desk. She also

began to notice that some engineers who were assigned to her projects were not actually charging those projects, but

charging hours to the division‟s overhead account…or to a completely different project. Again, when this was

brought up to the PM‟s, it came as a surprise to them.

Sophie went to her boss, Sam, with her findings in the hope that they could come up with an improvement

to better capture the planned data more accurately. The timing of Sophie‟s diagnosis could not have been more

perfect. Earlier that week, the division manager had expressed, to Sophie‟s boss, his concerns about the overhead

margins and poor tracking on projects. The division manager felt as though Division A needed to develop a better

system of staffing and communicating between multiple PM‟s.

Sophie explained to Sam her process of going through the staffing allocation exercise with Directorate 1

each month and that at the end of each month, her directorate was the only one who was able to allocate all staff at

100%, on time. Sophie still struggled with getting accurate and timely data from Lauren and Kristin (the PCA‟s in

Directorates 1 and 2), which made the overall process less effective. Sam was impressed with how Sophie was able

to tackle the staffing issues within Directorate 1 and felt that if the other directorates could do it the same way, then

the issues could be resolved.

The problem was that Lauren and Kristin were not really getting the job done within their respective

Directorates and did not seem to have the ability to do so. Seeking a resolution, Sophie‟s boss asked her if she

would be interested in taking over control of staffing for the entire Division A. He wanted her to develop a process

similar to the one she had created for her own directorate and make it work effectively for the whole division.

Sophie knew this was a huge responsibility but also a great opportunity as it presented her with her first real shot at a

management position. Her new responsibilities included the implementation of her new project staffing design. Her

performance on this task could either enhance or hurt her career path at Gemini. After analyzing the pros and cons

of the position, Sophie felt very confident in her ability to perform this task and was eager to prove herself. This

new opportunity was a great starting point and Sophie hoped that it would open more doors along the way to

reaching her project management goal.

FIRST STEPS

The following month, Sophie was going to take over staffing allocation for the entire division. Looking for

guidance, Sophie decided to set up a meeting with Jacky, a senior member of the business operations group, who

was responsible for the way the workbooks were currently staffed. Sophie voiced her concerns with regard to the

current way of rolling up the staffing, which she believed was leaving room for errors because the allocations were

being done manually. Sophie felt that if she was going to be doing the staffing for the entire division, it did not

make sense for her to go into each workbook individually and update each and every change that was made on the

overall summary page. After discussing the current issues, Jacky mentioned that he could develop an access

database that, at the push of a button, could read each of the three staffing workbooks, pulling out all staff and their

allocations across Division A at one time. Combining all the manual steps on the workbook into one Access project

would definitely allow all changes to staffing allocation to be captured in the summary page, which would then

show any conflicts within the division.

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CASE B

Though Sophie was excited about the possibility of a new Access database and felt her meeting with Jacky

had gone well, she did hear some unexpected news. Lauren and Kristin felt that it was not the way they were doing

things, but the management‟s unwillingness to cooperate, that was causing the issues. While it was true that

management was not fully cooperating, Sophie didn‟t see the issue. She had had been able to get her own section

leads and PM‟s to cooperate and get all inputs on time, so why shouldn‟t the other directorates be able to do it? She

thought it was the other PCAs‟ technique that was causing the issue.

Sophie designed a process that she believed would solve the problem. Two weeks before the end of the

month, she would send out notices that all project staffing planners need to be updated by the end of the first of the

two weeks. At the same time, she would send out a summary of all staffing allocations in Division A across three

months so that people could see what they were working with. As updates came in, she would resend the conflicts

list so everyone would be aware of the changes that were being made and how the people in their section were being

affected. During the last week of the month, she would meet with each of the three directors and their section leads

to work through the conflict list. Any conflicts that were remaining would be action items for people to follow up

with and resolve by the end of the week.

In the meetings where changes were made, Sophie would open the staffing spreadsheets for all to see and to

make sure any projects were not being negatively affected. By constantly communicating these changes to the PM‟s

and section leads and identifying any remaining issues, Sophie felt that she could start to coax on-time updates out

of the directorates. To gain a little more control, she also included top management on the email lists. Sophie was

confident going into the first month of staffing the division that with her process and the new access database, she

could tackle the problem efficiently.

INITIAL SUCCESS AND SOME RESISTANCE

The first month of staffing the division went fairly smoothly, with minimal problems and concerns.

Directorate 1 continued to function as it had prior to Sophie taking over divisional staffing. Directorate 2, which had

previously experienced staffing issues, went smoother then it ever had in the past. Dan, the manager of Directorate

1, and Brooke, the manager of Directorate 2, were extremely pleased and excited that all conflicts were resolved as a

result of just one meeting. If one of the divisions had a person who they needed to staff, Sophie knew the needs of

all the other projects in the division and could help get a staffing match for them. However, though two Directorates

were on board with the change, Directorate 3 was being difficult. Paul, the manager of Directorate 3, did not like

the newly implemented access database and was continuing to do his staffing in the same manner he had before

Sophie took over the new position. Paul expressed that he liked Lauren, his old PCA, and was accustomed to

everything being updated in real time, manually. Sophie discussed with Paul that although they preferred the old

staffing system, the new database and new way of doing things was the way it needed to be. Sophie stressed the

importance of Directorate 3 implementing her new process because if they did not have all their employees allocated

at 100% for the next three months. the division manager would not be happy with the outcome. Even though Paul

complained and resisted, Sophie was still able to get everyone in the division (including his directorate) staffed out

at 100% before the two-week deadline.

During this first month, Sophie got her updates and entered those into the three staffing planners without

giving much attention or thought to the other PCA‟s. However, Sophie soon discovered they were unhappy with

her. Lauren and Kristin did not appreciate Sophie going through the workbooks, changing the pages and updating

the staffing allocation without giving them a “heads-up” on the situation. Sophie realized she needed to get both

Lauren and Kristin more directly involved in the current system so they would not be upset or feel like she was

taking over their jobs. Once Sophie came to this realization, she started making a summary of all of her changes and

emailing them to Lauren and Kristin in an effort to let them know any changes she made to their staffing planners so

they were not left out of the loop. By including them in this crucial step, they had an understanding of the changes

being made, agreed with them, and now could send out the allocations to the staff members in their respective

groups.

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Throughout the first six months, the staffing allocation exercise continued to go smoothly. The process

was working and Sophie was able to meet the deadline and get all staffing completed on time by the end of the

month. The smoothed staffing line that Sophie updated each month, based on the staffing allocations, started to

become more accurate. The accuracy can be attributed to PM‟s and section leads getting their monthly allocations

in on time and the communication that started to take place after which helped the PM‟s to become more aware of

what project their personnel were working on.

However, even though Sophie had a handle on Directorate 1 and Directorate 2, Directorate 3 was still

giving her a very hard time. They were not providing Sophie with the division‟s staffing updates and not giving her

insight into their projects. Directorate 3 was still going to Lauren and having her update their plans. While both

Lauren and Kristin were told to direct the staffing allocation to Sophie so that she would be responsible for the

updates, Lauren was still doing the staffing updates. She did not want to give up the task and was encouraging her

Division 3 PM‟s and section leads to still come see her. Having the division report to Lauren instead of Sophie was

hurting Sophie‟s insight into the overall project status in Division A. Not knowing what was happening with the

staffing for Directorate 3 kept Sophie from having all the answers when the division manager came to ask her

questions about the status of projects. So even though the overall staffing process was going smoothly, Directorate

3 was still resisting the change.

A CURVE BALL

That November, Sophie had her annual review with Sam and she felt that it went extremely well. Greg was

very pleased with the progress that had been made and both Dan and Brooke had nothing but good things to say

about the new staffing allocation. The same could not be said for Paul as he voiced his displeasure with the new

system. Paul felt that Sophie could have taken more time to understand the current process that was in place and

could have been more open to other solutions for staffing other then the process she created. When Paul‟s opinions

became apparent, both Sophie and Sam agreed the current manner in which she was completing the staff allocation

was in fact productive. The problem was that Paul was acting like a dinosaur, not willing to change his ways.

During this meeting, Sophie, to her surprise, discovered that Division “A” was scheduled to be re-

organized into five directorates in January. The overall goal was for Sophie to continue to do the staffing allocations

until March and by that time, hopefully everything would be smoothed over. Sophie‟s main objective was to have

staffing coordinated among the five directorates and then transfer the current staffing allocations to either Kristin of

Lauren so that one of them could be the sole person responsible for Division A‟s staffing.

From January 2009 to May 2009, Sophie started managing the staffing across five directorates instead of

three. The last two weeks of the month when the staffing exercises were taking place, Sophie had little time to

concentrate on anything else because she was always updating staffing and then meeting with the five different

directorates to ensure all of the allocations were done correctly. Although the staffing was being completed on time,

Sophie found herself dreading the meetings needed to accomplish this task. It seemed like the section leads showed

up to the meetings not knowing what the conflicts were, not knowing where they could put these people, and not

having spoken to anyone beforehand! The meetings could take up to two hours and often consisted of nothing more

than arguments between section leads. There was no organization within the meetings and all of the section leads

were not working as a team to get all project needs met.

At these meetings, Sophie was forced to deal with section leaders who were technically knowledgeable but

only average when it came to collaboration skills. These section leads could not effectively negotiate with one

another. Winning was achieved through yelling, intimidation and politics. Since all of the section leads were

preoccupied with their personal needs, long-term solutions were overlooked and a number projects went unstaffed.

The result was that upper management, employees, and ultimately, some of the customers, became unhappy.

Initially, it looked like the toughest section leads were reaching their goals, but eventually their inability to negotiate

win-win solutions affected their relationships with colleagues.

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EXTERNAL FACTORS

During the years leading up to 2009, the company had been in a growth mode, so it seemed more willing to

tolerate the ever-present conflict and tension in Division A. However, in 2009, the economy had started to collapse

and all companies, even giants like Scorpio, were starting to see their business change. In previous years, the

problem had been to find enough technical talent to staff all the newly won projects. They had been hiring at a

record pace. Now the problem was that Scorpio would win contracts, but the government could not provide them

with the appropriate funding and the process was taking three, six, or even nine months to get the right amount of

funding. In January 2009, a new administration assumed control in Washington and certain Defense Department

budgets were being cut. This led to some of Scorpio‟s larger projects being dropped. Now, many of the engineers

were underutilized because the projects in Division A could no longer support them. As it became more difficult for

section leads to find projects to support their people, they began to search for potential projects in other directorates

and other divisions within the company.

This situation created even more conflict in the meetings. By the end of any given two-hour meeting, only

some of the staffing problems would get resolved. The rest of the week was spent following up on the remaining

conflicts and making sure the section leads remembered to follow up with other PM‟s on coverage issues.

Additionally, one of the five directorates was still giving Sophie a problem about getting her updates and using her

process. This was her old nemesis – Paul from Directorate 3 (and the PCA Lauren).

Sophie sat in her office in mid-May 2009 about to begin the staffing for the next month. She was dreading

the next two weeks and wondering what she could do to hold things together. As she pondered her next move, she

was counting on the negotiation skills she would learn in her final MBA course to help her gain the new level of

collaboration that would be required.

CASE C – EPILOGUE

The last week in May 2009, Sophie began a negotiations course, a course she needed for the completion of

her MBA. Sophie had signed up for this class because she thought it would help her attain her ultimate goal of

becoming a PM who was capable of not only the internal logistics, but also excelled at interfacing with the

customer. She felt that this class would increase her communication skills with customers and still solve any

conflicts or issues in a professional manner. So focused on finishing her MBA, it never occurred to Sophie that this

negotiations class would help her fix her staffing problems.

By the second week of negotiations class, Sophie experienced her „ah-ha‟ moment. Sophie now possessed

the negotiation skills that most other section leads and PM‟s at Gemini did not have. Using these skills during the

upcoming dreaded staffing meetings could help her facilitate, organize, and coach the other section leads. All along,

her job was to facilitate these meetings, but she never really knew how to grasp and maintain control of these section

leads while helping them make decisions. Sophie had often found herself cutting into the conversation in order to

tell the section leads to take it offline and making an action item to follow up later. Sophie‟s newly polished

negotiation skills would be perfect in aiding her in these meetings and the acquisition of these skills could not have

come at a better time. Sophie had been doing the staffing for a couple of years now and she had gained the technical

respect of the section leads and PM‟s. However, she now had an additional skill that would help her to manage

without having formal authority over any of them. This skill was particularly important now that things had become

critical for the whole company and tensions were running high.

Sophie learned that she was an ESTJ personality type, meaning that she liked to get to the point, get the

details, and get it done fast. Sophie started to think about the other personality types she dealt with and immediately

thought of Lauren, with whom she just could not seem to work. Paul insisted upon doing things differently and

always wanted to look at the big picture and take the time to map it all out, which was something Sophie felt was a

waste of time. As Sophie thought about this issue, it occurred to her that maybe if she had gone to Lauren in the

beginning and taken the time to understand her divisional needs, something could have been worked out sooner. In

an effort to smooth things over, Sophie decided to meet with Paul and Lauren to figure out a way they could all

work together. From speaking with Paul, she began to understand the way he liked to accomplish his tasks and he

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was able to grasp her staffing needs and tight deadlines. Next, Sophie took it upon herself to speak to Lauren who

was unwilling to give Sophie control of updating the plans. By speaking directly with Lauren, she was able to see

her point of view and understand that Lauren liked to have control of her own projects and the interaction with the

SL‟s and PM‟s in her group. She was also willing to take extra time to do it the way that Paul liked it done. Sophie

decided it would be best for everyone involved to let Lauren take over inputting all updates to her divisions staffing

planners as long as she did it by the deadline and provided Sophie with a summary of the projects and changes.

Even with this new change, when Sophie went to her meetings, she would still have all the facts. This new process

made Lauren, Paul and Sophie happy because now they could complete the assignments in a way they all felt was

comfortable; it also reduced Sophie‟s work load!

Sophie also began to realize the importance of doing homework and making sure that not only did she

come prepared to the staffing meetings, but so did the other section leaders. The meetings would move along faster

and smoother if the section leads were informed about potential conflicts ahead of time. Currently, the section leads

came to the meetings to find out what the conflicts were and then proceeded to argue until one was able to out yell

the other. They would often leave the meeting with nothing resolved. Sophie re-crafted the email she sent out at the

start of the staffing process to emphasize what she expected at each meeting and what the section leaders and

directors‟ roles were going to be. She next met with Greg to get him on board with what she needed and to have

him understand her process. Greg then made it a point to meet with his directors and stress the importance of the

staffing getting done on time and what he expected of them.

By the third week in June, Sophie was seeing significant improvement. Many of the conflicts were actually

being resolved before the meetings. Having learned to ask well thought-out questions, rather than make ad hoc

statements, Sophie had turned the tables. She was now able to help each of them to understand other project needs,

as well as the overall division needs. Sophie had started to lead and her staffing plan for the five directorates now

started to take root.

The new process works much better because there is an established timeline which the PM‟s know they

must meet in order to ensure there are no staffing conflicts. Previously, it would be a scramble during the last week

of the month to get the staffing allocations de-conflicted and that was contingent upon all PCA‟s working in a timely

manner. Having come to agreement on the process to ensure these deadlines are met, Sophie can now properly staff

all the divisions without upsetting any other employees by not notifying them of any changes. There is clear and

concise communication between all the parties as well as an understanding of the responsibilities of everyone

involved.

The staffing process was going so smoothly that when it came time for Sophie to hand off this system to

another PCA, the division manager did not like the idea of throwing a wrench into an already functioning system.

While the staffing conflicts were starting to get resolved, the staffing needed to stay as accurate as possible because

the company was going through a tough time with layoffs. Unfortunately, if people could not be placed on projects,

then they would be the next to go. Sophie agreed to stay on doing the staffing, but now that she had the process

running so smoothly that she felt it no longer was a challenging position for her. She had accomplished her goal.

Everyone was starting to understand the process and getting the conflicts resolved, so now Sophie felt like

she needed a new problem to solve. Does she keep trying to reinvent the staffing process by finding areas that could

be improved and creating solutions to those areas so she remains valuable to the company? Or is there some way

she can convince her boss to let her offload the staffing to someone else which would allow her to concentrate on

building her PM career? Sophie would prefer the latter of the two choices but is worried that she is confined to the

staffing position for the time being!

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Dr. Timm L. Kainen is a senior professor of management at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He teaches

MBA courses in Organization Design, Change & Negotiations. He is also a corporate consultant in these areas. His

applied research and publication activity is focused on the performance effectiveness of middle managers whose

primary training and experience is in science and technology. Contact Timm_Kainen@uml.edu to access the case

teaching notes,

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