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Watch Out for the J-Curve

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The first plenary presenter at the PMI Research Conference was Dr. Andrew Pettigrew. He is a globally known figure in management academia, the dean of the management school at University of Bath, England. Not project management, just management. But despite this, his stature, topic and talk were all very exciting to the audience. Ed Andrews, in charge of organizing the conference, said it took several attempts to convince Dr. Pettigrew to come.

He talked about seeming conflicts in corporate management that came about in the late 1990s--things like companies both standardizing and customizing at the same time, trends such as centralizing strategy while decentralizing operations. These were among trends that "took some getting use to."

Dr. Pettigrew used 1990s BP as an example for a company making wholesale changes that improved the firm's fortunes in that era of relatively flat oil prices. It cost the head of the CEO who first proposed the changes, he said, but later that CEO (Mr. Horton) got a bonus--posthumously, you might say. The speaker then sidetracked a bit on revolving-door CEOs, saying the average tenure of three years each couldn't be good for companies.

One bit of advice for attendees: Watch out for the J-curve. For non-researchers amongst us like myself, this roughly means things get worse before they get better.

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