Once each year I attempt to highlight the qualities of an individual who has made this industry a great place to work for me. To that end, the best overall project manager I've worked with is Allen Moyer.
Moyer is the quintessential relentless bulldog. He built much of Walt Disney World, Sony's Retail Entertainment Centers and the Apple Retail Stores. Simply put, if you are truly serious about building something innovative, he will get the job done. Not the cheapest PM certainly, but if I was rich enough and wanted to build a city on Mars he's the only person I'd call. He understands and nurtures meaningful cost effective innovation, and keeps a weather eye on what's truly important at all times.
Moyer is not one to tolerate fools or their foolishness well. Yet first and foremost he protects his design teams. That's not always easy to do when the owner is cloaked in a reality distortion field; demanding the wrong things more out of frustration than out of necessity. It takes God-given talent to navigate such political minefields, and invariably one makes enemies along the way. Yes, doing good things takes time and an impatient owner often does not have that in abundance to give.
One of the best ways to see the impact of an individual is to see what happens when they are no longer involved with a given effort. In hindsight, one can usually derive the date Moyer stopped working on a given project. It's the day the innovation stopped and the stagnancy began. Every project or firm goes stagnant, typically out of temporary financial exhaustion. I suspect this is anathema to Moyer's internal drive; he thrives on the challenge. No Don Quixote syndrome here.
Moyer's had tremendous success where others have failed. He started building the Apple Retail Stores just about the time Gateway started closing down its 188 stores. In hindsight, it was all about expectations and execution. Mind you this was before the iPod hysteria, and frankly there wasn't too much Apple branded product in the hopper to sell yet. Yet on opening day customers queued up for half a mile, even after the novelty of the first stores faded, in tribute to both the Apple marketing machine and to the quality of the end product. Naturally Steve Jobs got all the credit, but the reality is Moyer did most of the work.
One hallmark of a Moyer project is a scrupulously clean work environment. I suspect this is both a remnant of his childhood and stints working at Disney, where a watchful eye is often connected to a broom and dustpan.
Expectations are both set and maintained high, which provides a positive aura on site impossible to miss. Heaven help you if your wiring loom isn't neatly combed and your equipment room spotless. A Moyer-built rear-projection room is something to behold; it's close to antiseptic.
Creating and building something new involves continual ego-bruising decision-making, requiring some finesse to resolve. Often those decisions have to be made based on fact, intuition, experience, and some speculation knowing it is far better to make timely decisions that to let them languish. Keeping a project moving within an organized structure while the calliope music keeps playing is vital.
One of the highest complements Moyer ever received is one he never heard. To set the background, I had managed the development of the electronics for the Apple Retail Stores while a colleague developed a new electronic system that ultimately turned into something very special. Initially it was little more than a pipedream; a technical stretch if ever there was one. Jobs himself stated that this thing will "only work when pigs fly." Due to the hard efforts and a year of work on the part of my colleague, the swine were indeed airborne later that day, much to Jobs' surprise. It never would have happened if Moyer hadn't supported us 100-percent through some very difficult development issues.
Recently a similar technical stretch was offered up, and I inquired about my colleague's interest in working on the project. Long before he knew the scope he stated, "Hey, if Moyer's managing it, I'm in. Those chances don't come up very often."
The best thing you can say about any project manager is they gave you a clear scope of work, the time to do your work, and a budget to meet. This is quantified in a concept called the "Triangle of Success" within some circles. Time is in fact money, but the true harbinger is quality. Moyer recognizes the uniqueness of quality and is willing to do what is necessary to create quality product.
In Moyer's case there's a bit more to his triangle of success: skill, knowledge, experience, and a bit of daring. He is able to deliver the goods.
John Mayberry (firstname.lastname@example.org) is vice president of engineering for Emmaco Prentiss, a consulting firm located in San Marino, CA. He has worked in the communication and entertainment engineering business for more than 20 years. So far the journey has included theme parks for Disney, transportation systems for AT&T, broadcast distribution for NBC, entertainment centers for Sony, retail stores for Apple Computer, and some other stuff he's not allowed to talk about.