Ajax Project Case Study
Ajax Project Case Study
The course is about project management.
The assignment requirements and the Case study is linked
Tran was taking his dog Callie on her evening walk as the sun began to set over the coastal range. He looked forward to this time of the day. It was an opportunity to enjoy some peace and quiet. It was also a time to review events on the Ajax project and plot his next moves.
Ajax is the code name given by CEBEX for a high-tech security system project funded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Tran is the project manager and his core team consisted of 30 full-time hardware and software engineers.
Tran and his family fled Cambodia when he was four years old. He joined the U.S. Air Force when he was 18 and used the education stipend it provided to attend Washington State University. He joined CEBEX upon graduating with a dual degree in mechanical and electrical engineering. After working on a variety of projects for 10 years Tran decided he wanted to enter management. He went to night school at the University of Washington to earn an MBA.
Tran became a project manager for the money. He also thought he was good at it. He enjoyed working with people and making the right things happen. This was his fifth project and up to now he was batting .500, with half of his projects coming ahead of schedule. Tran was proud that he could now afford to send his oldest child to Stanford University.
Ajax was one of many defense projects the CEBEX Corporation had under contract with DOD. CEBEX is a huge defense company with annual sales in excess of $30 billion and more than 120,000 employees worldwide. CEBEX’s five major business areas are Aeronautics, Electronic Systems, Information & Technology Services, Integrated Systems & Solutions, and Space Systems. Ajax was one of several new projects sponsored by the Integrated Systems & Solutions division aimed at the homeland security business. CEBEX was confident that it could leverage its technical expertise and political connections to become a major player in this growing market. Ajax was one of several projects directed at designing, developing, and installing a security system at an important government installation.
Tran had two major concerns when he started the Ajax project. The first was the technical risks inherent in the project. In theory the design principles made sense and the project used proven technology. Still, the technology had never been applied in the field in this manner before. From past experience, Tran knew there was a big difference between the laboratory and the real world. He also knew that integrating the audio, optical, tactile, and laser subsystems would test the patience and ingenuity of his team.
The second concern involved his team. The team was pretty much split down the middle between hardware and electrical engineers. Not only did these engineers have different skill sets and tend to look at problems differently, but generational differences between the two groups were evident as well. The hardware engineers were almost all former military, family men with conservative attire and beliefs. The electrical engineers were a much motlier crew. They tended to be young, single, and at times very cocky. While the hardware engineers talked about the Seattle Mariners, raising teenagers, and going to Palm Desert to play golf, the software engineers talked about Vapor, the latest concert at the Gorge amphitheater, and going mountain biking in Peru.
To make matters worse, tension between these two groups within CEBEX festered around salary issues. Electrical engineers were at a premium, and the hardware engineers resented the new hires’ salary packages, which were comparable to what they were earning after 20 years of working for CEBEX. Still the real money was to be made from the incentives associated with project performance. These were all contingent on meeting project milestones and the final completion date.
Before actual work started on the project, Tran arranged a two-day team-building retreat at a lodge on the Olympic peninsula for his entire team as well as key staff from the government installation. He used this time to go over the major objectives of the project and unveil the basic project plan. An internal consultant facilitated several team-building activities that made light of cross-generational issues. Tran felt a real sense of camaraderie within the team.
The good feelings generated from the retreat carried over to the beginning of the project. The entire team bought into the mission of the project and technical challenges it represented. Hardware and electrical engineers worked side by side to solve problems and build subsystems.
The project plan was built around a series of five tests, with each test being a more rigorous verification of total system performance. Passing each test represented a key milestone for the project. The team was excited about conducting the first Alpha test one week early—only to be disappointed by a series of minor technical glitches that took two weeks of problem solving to resolve. The team worked extra hard to make up for the lost time. Tran was proud of the team and how hard members had worked together.
The Alpha II test was conducted on schedule, but once again the system failed to perform. This time three weeks of debugging was needed before the team received the green light to move to the next phase of the project. By this time, team goodwill had been tested, and emotions were a bit frayed. A cloud of disappointment descended over the team as hopes of bonuses disappeared with the project falling further behind schedule. This was augmented by cynics who felt that the original schedule was unfair and the deadlines were impossible to begin with.
Tran responded by starting each day with a status meeting where the team reviewed what they accomplished the previous day and set new objectives for that day. He believed these meetings were helpful in establishing positive momentum and reinforcing a team identity among the engineers. He also went out of his way to spend more time with the “troops,” helping them solve problems, offering encouragement, and a sincere pat on the back when one was deserved.
He was cautiously optimistic when the time came to conduct the Alpha III test. It was the end of the day when the switch was turned on, but nothing happened. Within minutes the entire team heard the news. Screams could be heard down the hallway. Perhaps the most telling moment was when Tran looked down at the company’s parking lot and saw most of his project team walking by themselves to their cars.
As his dog Callie chased some wild bunnies, Tran pondered what he should do next.
1. How effective is Tran as a project manager? Explain giving specific references to the information in the case.
2. Using examples in the Ajax case, identify and discuss the difference between functional and dysfunctional conflict on a project.
3. What are some of the risks/issues that Tran face that could negatively impact the success of the project?
4. If you were the project manager, how would you go about solving each of these problems? Why would you use the approaches you suggest?
5. Why was it appropriate for Tran to hold the formal team-building session on the project?
Ajax Project Case Study
From the case analysis, it is clear Tran has been an effective project manager so far. As a project manager, it is essential always to be a good delegator who can distribute tasks to your team. To show how effective Tran was as a project manager, he has completed five projects for CEBEX so far, and half of them were completed ahead of schedule. Also, given that Tran was working with a team as a leader, he knew the importance of building mutual trust between team members and him, enabling delegation to happen more effectively. For instance, he was correct in his concerns as a project manager because the split of the team and inherent technical risks for the Ajax project was a vital idea that aimed at bringing competence among the team members. The case also indicated that as project manager, he was concerned with building a team that would complete the assigned project on time and effectively (Michael Page. (n.d). This indicates that as a leader, he had to set a good example as a project manager that proves skills and knowledge, thus making the team emulate. The Tran idea of building a team retreat was a great idea that seemed to have worked well. Through the retreat, the team was able to mesh better, thus building a more conducive environment among them by the time the project was ready to begin. When the team is built on achieving the same goal, they are more likely to work better together and less likely to point out unnecessary flaws. Apart from building an effective team, he ensured that he had daily meetings about the previous day’s accomplishments, which was important for him as a project manager and the team. Having daily meetings as a team was a vital idea because it enabled the team to start on the right foot, thus making things work out even when there were some drawbacks. Therefore, it is true that Tran was an evidently effective manager because he ensured he built the environment that enabled the team to work effectively and competently.
The differences between functional and dysfunctional conflicts in a project are always based on the efficient performance of the work. For instance, functional conflict enhances organizational interests, but on the other hand, dysfunctional conflict is counterproductive. There was a functional conflict between the team that Tran experienced from the case. It is clear from the case that engineers working on the project had different skill sets; thus, they tended to look at problems differently. But even, despite their differences in viewing the project from different perspectives, they worked with the same goal of achieving the project objective. The functional conflict, in most instances, tends to create awareness on both sides of the issue, thus improving the working conditions that can lead to positive teamwork (Harappa, 2021). From this view, it is clear the differences between engineers were functional; thus, Tran arranged the team retreat to make them have one spirit of working together as a comrade. Even though there had functional conflict among themselves as a team, the idea of project managers making them know their key mandate enables them to work side by side to solve problems and build subsystems. Also, there have been dysfunctional conflicts experienced in the project implementation process from the case. For example, even after Tran availed the project plan to the team, there was still a failure to achieve the set objective. The disappointment team experienced when they felt that their bonuses disappeared after the project fell further behind schedule, indicating dysfunctional conflict. It is clear the time allocated for the completion of the project test was not enough for the team, thus making them feel the schedule was unfair and impossible, to begin with (Verdhan, 2021). From the analysis of the case, it is true the dysfunctional conflict occurred out of the egos of the team with competing ambitions that led to a lack of achieving their aim of the project’s objective.
Having done the significant analysis, there are some issues Tran faces that could negatively impact the success of the project. For instance, the first issue Tran tried to have taken care of with the team retreat was split down the team’s middle. The split down of the team brought up division among themselves, making it difficult for the Tran project to be successful. Another issue is that the team’s technical difficulties would present unforeseen risks from laboratory to real. It has also been indicated from the case that integrating all different systems created difficulty for the team. For example, at the beginning of the project, the team ran into some technical glitches that set them behind. This indicates that the used systems and the time which project manager set were not effective in making the project successful. Even after the project’s first testing failure, the team worked hard and made up for the lost time, but still, in the second round of testing, another set of glitches was experienced. The failure on the second testing of the project made the team run behind the time of completing the project, thus making them frustrated and worried about the third set of tests. Therefore, it is true that Tran faced issues that contributed to failure to deliver the project success is that he never responded to the first and second tests effectively and strategically. As a project manager, it is essential that Tran should have ensured that there is a proper plan and proper control method.
The failure of two tests has significantly affected the working morale of the team thus, if I were the project manager, I would use different ways to solve these issues. It is clear that the team is disappointed in the process so far, and there is a need to enhance effective strategy that will make them remain focused on achieving the project goals and objectives. For instance, the first step I would take to solve the issues is changing the project’s schedule. Obviously, the team is working quite hard to stay on schedule, but due to drawbacks, it is unable, thus leading to the failure of the project. Tran might have thought this could have happened, thus finding the solution on time. Also, there is a need for another team-building exercise as that is an effective way to bring spirits back up. What I mean is that there is a need to have a team retreat, and that does not mean something big, but rather something as simple as lunch with the entire group so that to make them feel motivated. The idea of having lunch or dinner with the team is vital because it is non-work related thus, it will help to bring back the spirit of camaraderie among them, thus leading to the successful completion of the project.
It was important for Tran to hold a team-building session because there was an existing rift between hardware and electrical engineers before the beginning of the project. Thus, holding the formal team building session was appropriate because it helped bring harmony among the engineer team and communicate the project’s objective to all parties that will be involved. Furthermore, holding a formal team-building session helped Tran enhance good feelings to the entire team that made them focus on the mission of making the project successful. Also, the aim of Tran as project manager was to ensure that he achieved the set objective of the project; thus, holding team-building sessions helped him build trust, mitigate conflict and increase collaboration among all stakeholders in the project. In fact, team-building, in most instances, is to ensure that the team and staff in the workplace are united and are focused on one goal; thus, the idea of Tran holding a formal team-building session was appropriate to move (Mojica, 2019). Another vital thing I think the holding of team building was effective is that it helped Tran increase team motivation and respect among themselves. For instance, after the meeting, the team was excited about conducting the first Alpha test, an indication that there were really motivated and ready to work as a team. Most of the time, the leaders hold team-building sessions to ensure that each employee sees each other in a different light, which helps enhance collaboration.
Michael Page. (n.d.). What makes an effective manager? Michael Page. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://www.michaelpage.co.uk/advice/management-advice/development-and-retention/what-makes-effective
Mojica, K. (2019, October 4). Why Team Building is Important for Your Business. Complianceandethics.org. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://complianceandethics.org/why-team-building-is-important-for-your-business
Harappa, H. (2021, September 1). How to deal with functional and dysfunctional conflict. Harappa. Retrieved May 3, 2022.
Verdhan, R. (2021, September 9). Dysfunctional conflict - how to resolve it? Explained! with example. Thesis Business. Retrieved May 3, 2022
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