Thomas Ryba: Tech Transfer: Bringing Project Management to the Factory

Professional Certificate, Stanford Advanced Project Management

Thomas Ryba has spent the last 30 years working for large scale production companies, first in the steel industry and more recently in Agri-foods. Mature industries like these seem a far cry from Silicon Valley, where product cycles are shorter and the pace seems breakneck. But learning from the practices of high tech leaders was exactly what Ryba was looking for when he enrolled in Stanford's Advanced Project Management program.

"I had the benefit, through this program, of experiencing the world outside of my factory and learning from others in vastly diverse industries."

  • Facility Engineering Manager, Cargill-Hammond
  • Stanford Certified Project Manager, Stanford University
  • BS Mechanical Engineering, Ohio State University
  • Hobbies include motor sports, military history, mechanisms and technology

Ryba is a Facility Engineering Manager for Cargill, an international producer of food, agricultural, financial, and industrial products and services. He works for their largest business platform, Food Ingredients and Systems, managing the Corn Wet Milling Plant in Hammond, Indiana. "Our primary products are liquid and dry corn syrups and dry corn starch products used as ingredients in the food and pharmaceutical industries," he says.

Ryba is responsible for all capital planning and expenditure at his plant. Yet internal constraints used to limit his ability to plan effectively. "Cargill, like many mature companies, fell into the trap of operating in more of a reactive manner," he says. "Too often planning and procedure are looked at as non value-added activities due to the inevitable changes in commercial markets. I was often told that portfolio and program management activities were not worthwhile."

As a result of completing the SAPM program, Ryba is able to drive the capital and business planning activities at his plant more effectively and in better concert with the corporate platform and business unit goals. The program taught him a methodology for evaluating proposed new initiatives to determine their compatibility with corporate goals. Ryba became a business unit subject matter expert in strategic and tactical planning, and he's also a certified facilitator who guides the company in the front end development of investment plans.

Throughout his study, Ryba drew upon the SAPM learning and experiences of high tech industries such as Cisco Systems as well as innovative leaders like Ideo.

"Even in Silicon Valley, where change is constant," Ryba says," I found that these leaders have mastered a process of risk assessment and strategic planning." This was powerful benchmarking to bring back to Cargill. Ryba explained to his leaders and peers how the SAPM methods could be used to plan effectively. "When I relate that I have seen how companies like Cisco and Microsoft, whose cycles are notably shorter than ours, successfully plan, the objection consistently disappears with blinding speed."

Learning SAPM's risk assessment methods helped Ryba quickly evaluate and stop initiatives that would have failed if launched. He's also found that his ability to define and teach the different roles and responsibilities in Portfolio and Program Management opened the eyes of project sponsors and participants - giving them a greater understanding and attention to the requirements of their assignments on the projects.

"I am still amazed at the 'daily' use I get from the SAPM principles and how they are helping me to re-establish project professionalism in my plant. My superiors and management peers have expressed surprise at the progress that has been made in a short time," he says. "And even better is that they truly recognize now how everything 'fits' and shows logical progression. The facility manager said 'I didn't realize you were going to learn all this stuff there' when I reference SAPM principles in setting policy and procedures. Without question, SAPM is one of the best educational choices I have ever made."