Poet Carl Sandburg described Chicago as
the “city of the big shoulders” in reference
to the brawny workers who toiled in the
stockyards and meatpacking plants that
made the city famous as the “hog butcher
for the world.” Through the first half of the 20th century, Chicago lived up to that name. Delivery of livestock
was facilitated by the city’s location in the heart of the
United States. Yet Chicago’s working-class image was
often overshadowed by something more sinister.
Mentioning Chicago to anyone who didn’t live there
usually prompted a pantomime of a hunched-over
gangster shooting a gun. “Ack-ack-ack! Al Capone!”
The city seemed saddled with gangsters and political
But along with its gangster roots, Chicago also has a
long history for thinking big—the city was home to both
the first Ferris wheel and the first skyscraper. Chicago
architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham is quoted
as saying, “Make no little plans. They have no magic to
stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be
realized.” In the early 1900s, Mr. Burnham was one of
the key forces behind “The Plan for Chicago,” which
was hailed as the first example of a widespread city
planning document in the United States. A comprehensive and visionary plan for controlled urban growth, it
envisioned Chicago as the “Paris on the Prairie.”
to earn the LEED-EB (Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design for Existing Buildings) silver certification. The 4.2-million-square-foot (390,193-square-
meter) Merchandise Mart features everything from low-energy lights to a thermal storage facility capable of cooling 71 area buildings.
Home to a variety of major multinational players, the
sprawling area of metropolitan Chicago has clearly
staked its own spot on the global business scene. But
as the world economy declines, the city’s project management community is rethinking, reinventing and
retooling processes and procedures to emphasize efficiency, flexibility and communication.
“I am seeing a renewed and increasing focus on doing
more work with a whole lot less money. There is a significant increased interest in how organizations are choosing to invest in projects,” says Joseph F. Norton, PMP. A
former CTO of McDonald’s, he’s now a lecturer of technology industry management at Northwestern University’s
Kellogg School of Management and an independent management consultant in suburban Evanston, Illinois, USA.
“The selection process for investments involves asking: Are we doing the right thing? Can we better estimate and forecast project expectations as to performance—scope, time, cost? My clients and contacts are
going back to the basics of how they plan, estimate and
design performance visibility and reporting into their
There’s a renewed interest in the selection process
for investments: Are we doing the right thing? Can
we better estimate performance with our forecast?
—Joseph Norton, PMP, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA
Not all of Mr. Burnham’s visions came to light, but
Chicago did emerge with its own distinct urban persona.
And it has a new famous citizen as well. Hailing from the
city’s south side, U.S. President Barack Obama is
redefining Chicago’s image. President Obama’s campaign was lauded for its management and organization,
making unprecedented use of the Internet as a political
organizing and fundraising tool that raised more money
from private donors than any presidential candidate in
history. The president symbolizes not just a new way of
doing things in Washington, but the innovative ideas and
methods coming from Chicago.
When it comes to going green, for example, Chicago
isn’t content to just put up posh new sustainable skyscrapers. It also boasts the world’s largest commercial building
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projects,” he says. “Their goal is to be able to predict
where projects are going to wind up and not be surprised, especially on the IT side. Senior management is
highly focused on the performance management aspect
of project investments and project management.”
Chicago is clearly feeling the effects of the economic
slump. The city posted a seven percent unemployment
rate in December 2008—a 16 year-high—with 57,500
fewer jobs than the year before and forecasts of 114,000
job cuts in 2009. Telecom giant Motorola, headquartered
in suburban Chicago, has seen its market share plummet
from 23 percent in 2006 to eight percent, posting a $587
million loss for the first three quarters of 2008.
Yet this is a city that knows how to make a comeback.
Just look at the response to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.