A Conversation with Lee Archer, Principal Project Manager


As Principal Project Manager, Lee is invested in each project. His robust determination and enjoyment of daily challenges ensure that every project is progressed to the planned conclusion. 

Lateral is well-known for working with a broad spectrum of international clients delivering highly complex projects.  With the rapid shift in our global business landscape caused by COVID-19, are you having to modify your approach and service to your client’s needs?

We are lucky to have a large team of specialists who are used to working remotely and at distance from the client. They revel in finding technical solutions to best balance the needs of a project.  Additionally, all our project leads are all technically trained and experienced in differing aspects of the industry so have more to offer than a traditional project control function. This, and their years of experience in delivering projects means that it is natural that our in-house processes offer some flexibility. By no means can we say that we are doing business as usual, but by pulling together as a team and embracing technology, we have found ways to support each other, our clients and projects alike.

Thinking about it now, our way of working is likely to be responsible for the large number of ongoing technical relationships we have built over the years. We enjoy working collaboratively within engineering teams. This means that as well as providing long term detailed engineering support, we can also step in and out of projects to provide a technical boost when required. Lateral has industry experts in naval architecture and engineering, we are not designers, builders, brokers or captains, but our skills compliment those of our clients. One of the greatest privileges is to experience this synergy building within a project team.

But, to swing back to your original question, we all see shipyards and projects that from the outside are seemingly continuing as usual, and there are those at the other end of the spectrum which are clearly struggling. It is fair to say that those utilising modern management techniques are adapting the quickest. I see this as further evidence that the conventional waterfall methodologies used through-out the large yacht industry are becoming less-and-less useful. Modern yacht projects need more ability to manage emerging technologies, up to date build practices and to support the global nature of the delivery teams involved. Companies and shipyards that have previously realised that traditional project management processes need to be reworked to be more agile, and therefore more useful for complex and ever more time sensitive projects are also able to deal with rapid changes in external business influence, as we are currently experiencing.

So, what is at the heart of Lateral’s project delivery, is it expert technical knowledge, your process or the development of well performing project focused teams?

I’m not sure any of those categories are exclusive. Overall, we are a company of engineers who enjoy being challenged and who understands that the most successful projects our industry has seen…to date utilised the best of the best; the best equipment, the best knowledge, best concept, etc. This is where the teamwork element comes from, but there are significant additional components to controlling a yacht project to reach a conclusion on time and to budget. I also believe that our TPM’s [Technical Project Manager’s] have a responsibility to both the current project and in providing a stronger starting point for the clients next one.

Taking a wide lens, I think we would all agree that developments in science, technology and manufacturing industries are beyond compare to what was imaginable just a few decades ago. We are even seeing evidence of how initiatives like the ‘Queen Elizabeth Engineering Prize’ bring together groups who collectively want to solve bigger problems than it would be possible to do alone. As a group, the superyacht industry has sometimes been slow to formalise its response to this type of initiative, but at the same time it continues to demonstrate an ability to take bold ideas and deliver them with relatively efficient outlay in time/cost. So, just think what would be possible if we really embraced collaborative working as seen in the wider science and engineering community and chose to share our collective homework?

Are you suggesting Lateral would give away its secrets to benefit the industry as whole?

Really, I’m questioning what would be possible if we decide to align ourselves strategically. As an industry, we are facing some pretty big questions and our responses to these will shape the future of the superyacht industry. Whilst everyone is working extremely hard, only a few companies and organisations have set themselves the BHAG [Big Humungous Audacious Goal] of moving the dialogue into the open. We can also point to examples from other industries where successful collaboration between competitors has increased market share for both. For example, Ford and VW, two automotive giants collaborated in the development of higher quality EV [electric vehicle] architecture and control systems. I believe, we would all be excited to see what would happen if two or more superyacht companies would join forces to answer some of those big questions and would be willing to bet that neither party would lose out. Both would learn, be enriched and gain a competitive advantage within the industry. But overall, it is the end-client that would benefit.

The best superyachts are unique, they are aspirational and linked directly to the end user. Are you concerned that the approach you outline naturally reduces design freedoms and therefore the customer would have a poorer experience?

I think that largely depends on your individual focus. We have witnessed how technologies have made a positive impact to our industry. Global design and engineering teams, distributed manufacturing models, quality control modelling and supplier engagement programs have all combined to provide huge benefits for us all. Each of these initiatives is essentially a co-operative one. But we should be thinking of these as the starting point; important in themselves but they alone will not answer the next challenges we all face. In my opinion, there are also a number of areas where targeted technology partnerships between the superyacht industry and possibly outside partners would likely yield huge benefits. Take the example of the growth in automation, Big Data, AI and other digital technologies. It is already providing benefits in a wide range of areas such as improved CFD [Computational Fluid Dynamics] and in structural engineering. The natural next step is to link this with 3D Additive printing within the shipyard. Therefore, stronger and lighter component parts using less material can be produced locally to the yacht, making high quality bespoke production quicker and potentially more sustainable than we have ever experienced previously. However, in order to realise this we must do several things. We must unpick the established narrative in bespoke manufacturing, link with a new range of equipment suppliers and learn collectively how to get the best outcome.

How all these factors will combine is complex and uncertain. However, I predict that all this will eventually lead to even more stylish and radical superyacht designs in the future – so far from reducing the design freedom and bespoke artisan nature of yacht building, the correct use of technology and innovative working practices will actually enhance it.

So, is this what motivates you as a project manager; finding better ways to design, engineer and build yachts?

For sure. But there is more to a successful project than that. Each of the Lateral TPM’s work hard all day with one goal; which is to help our clients and customers realise their ambitions. For some, the best service you can provide is a simple answer to a simple question. Others want to sample, before deciding to build a long-term relationship. Sometimes, we have a blank sheet of paper and other times there is a framework to work within. Of course, there can be long days and headaches but overall, when we reach the finish line every type of project has its own merits.

The one-size-fits-all strategy is rightfully now facing extinction within the extended large yacht engineering community. There is work still to be done, but the interconnectivity with a wider and highly skilled project team is vital, as it is here where a good project excels and becomes something even more special. A modern PM remains the gate-keepers for project control, they retain operational responsibility for highly asset-intensive projects so it stands to reason they need a large toolbox. Technical understanding with emotional Intelligence is not at all a new concept in today’s corporate world, but it is a progressing and inspiring trend in our own process-based and very practical industry. The better you are in bringing the wider team together, establishing goals, projecting aspirations and establish proper communication between them all, the higher are the chances of ending with one of those truly inspiring projects, we all like to have a share in.


Back to the Whitepaper