James J. O’Brien, 91, a co-founder and former CEO and chairman of construction management innovator O’Brien-Kreitzberg & Associates Inc. and an early guru of critical-path method (CPM) construction scheduling, died on Dec. 31 in Yardley, Pa., of natural causes, according to his family.
The firm he formed in 1965 with partner Fred Kreitzberg, became the largest pure CM firm in the U.S. in the 1980s. It honed the CPM approach on projects that ranged from fast-track renovation of San Francisco’s cable car system to program management for redevelopment of New York City’s JFK International Airport.
An engineering graduate of Cornell University and US Navy veteran of the Korean War, O’Brien wrote the first CPM textbook in 1965, a best seller and staple of academic study now in its eighth edition, as well as 11 other books.
O’Brien and Kreitzberg used CPM as the basis of a Management Information System (MIS) to support the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in construction of ground facilities for the Saturn rocket program at Cape Canaveral, Fla., a successful venture that led to NASA choosing the engineers and their team to develop a similar system for all aspects of the Apollo space travel program.
CPM advocate Fred Plotnick, an O'Brien text co-author, says he “literally took this new tool for speeding project delivery to the moon by introducing [it] to NASA.”
In a 1994 ENR firm profile, Kreitzberg said O’Brien had “the most logical mind of anyone I’ve ever known.”
In 1968, O'Brien led a team to "apply the successful Cape Canaveral approach" to New York City's capital program, which had a $4-billion public works backlog, and needed to expedite projects to the bid stage, says one biography. O'Brien-Kreitzberg Associates eventually headed a team monitoring 2,500 projects.
Says Richard LaRuffa, a former engineering manager at the firm: "We always worked as a team, and although Jim was the team leader he often worked as hard as every member."
Despite CPM’s high-tech underpinning, O’Brien said in a 2003 ENR cover story that he had “a sci-fi feeling that computers are being used to steal control of the art of planning and scheduling.”
Among his many industry involvements, O'Brien helped found the Project Management Institute and the Society for Advancement of Value Engineering.
He was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, and was a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Project Management Institute and Construction Management Association of America.
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