On November 16, 2011, the UMBC Technology Center was packed with Program Manager and System Engineering Professionals in the first time ever joint meeting between INCOSE Chesapeake Chapter and PMI Baltimore Chapter. The cafeteria was filled with the sounds of conversations and networking opportunities as the guests enjoyed a wonderful meal of Grilled Salmon; Beef Short Ribs braised in red wine; Chicken Picatta; Fresh Vegetable Medley, Mashed potatoes and traditional rice pilaf. The open bar was also appreciated. But soon everyone retired to the lecture hall as Dr. Don York, PhD, P.E., CSEP, INCOSE Chesapeake Chapter Programs Director, introduced the panel. Each panel member shared their thoughts on the question: “Differences and similarities in the roles of the Program Manager and the Systems Engineer. Who does what? Can one person do both?”
Eric W. Perlstein, PMP, RMP, President of the PMI – Baltimore Chapter, explained how both Program Managers and System Engineers are leaders within a development project, however, each have a different approach. Program Managers are concern with delivering the final product whereas System Engineers are concern with the total Life Cycle. Each profession has the same objective, “Meet the Customer Requirements” and there is agreement on teamwork and CMMi principles, but they are each using a different Body of Knowledge embodied in the SEHK and the PMBoK. Communication is the key to successfully the two professions working together. Eric also suggested reading “Visualizing Project Management” third edition by Forsberg, Mooz, and Cotterman. He explained that he reads it every few years and gets something new out of it each time. In order to demonstrate that there is no conflict between these occupations he provided the System Engineers on the panel with a PMI Baltimore Chapter pin and a thumb drive with the PMI Baltimore Chapter logo.
Jim Armstrong, CSEP, explained his experience with Defense Systems Management College’s Program Management Course where he was hoping for an integrated approach managing a program but found instead 13 stovepipes – some assembly required. Later, while on faculty, he developed an integration approach using the systems engineering process as the basis to integrate the stovepipes. Having defined the path from problem to solution, other details such as reviews, acquisition strategy, milestones, funding, contracting and management processes will fall naturally in place. Bottom Line: It’s not Program Managers versus System Engineers but Program Managers with System Engineers.
Rick Hammond, PMP, came after the question from a training perspective. During the dinner he noticed that people where asking each other, “What side are you on?” However this not a one side verse the other debate when clearly both tasks are needed for a development project. Can one person do both? Depends on the project, training and experience that person will bring to the job.
David M. Fadeley, PE, PMP, ESEP, highlighted the definitions of Program Management and System Engineering. SE relates to the system being built whereas PM is concern with the project. Conflict can occur but as mentioned before, communication and teamwork can mitigate the differences. Plus a common definition of project success.
Amber Roy, PMP, VP, Finance for PMI Baltimore Chapter, told a story of helping save a project by being the liaison between venture capitalists and a team of engineers. The PM job is 90% communications, not doing the work but explaining to the “powers-that-be” what is being done and if it is going as planned.
Stephen J. Sutton, P.E., ESEP, explained how Program Managers and System Engineers each deal with Systems: the Program and the Delivered Product/System/Service. Each follows a similar process but has different but related goals and success criteria. Each are Renaissance people (knowledge and experience in a variety of domains). They have a complementary and collaborative relationship and work as partners in their endeavors.
The Q&A session was energetic and provided more layers of complexity to the initial question. All and all a very good time of discussing how Program Managers and System Engineers can better understand and work better with each other. Read the announcement, released by INCOSE on 9 September 2011, “PMI and INCOSE Align To Help Organizations Improve Program Success.” Also check out Eric DeVito’s blog on the subject.
Prior to closing out the evening Don York thanked Heith Hart of UMBC Training Center for helping organizing the event. Erik DeVito, the 2012 INCOSE Chesapeake Chapter Programs Director thanks Don York for his two years of excellent programs and tutorials as the present Programs Director. All the attending INCOSE members hardily agreed. Another great program and hopefully we’ll make this an annual event.
Jim Armstrong Brief 2011_11_16 (pdf)