Endurance Tests - Mitigating Risks and Talent Gaps in Long-term Projects

Sandra Swanson

Last July, NASA's New Horizons space probe zoomed in to capture the first close-up images of Pluto—the result of a remarkable 3-billion-mile (4.8-billion-kilometer), nine-year journey to the edge of the solar system. The U.S. space agency's mission was one-of-a-kind, but it relied on the same project management principles any marathon project needs to succeed.

Creating a project plan that will stand the test of time takes looking to the past—and far into the future—to identify and anticipate potential risks. Maintaining continuity and enthusiasm on the project team means being a coach and a cheerleader year after year. And managing the revolving door of stakeholders and vendors requires a communication plan that will work for the long haul.

But developing this discipline takes a special skill set. Project managers who have steered long-term projects from start to finish share their secrets for passing the project endurance test.

1 INSIST ON FULL INVOLVEMENT

While team members and stakeholders are likely to come and go, the critical project constant must be the requirement document, says Barbara Rusinko, senior vice president and manager of corporate engineering, procurement and construction functions at construction and civil engineering company Bechtel, Houston, Texas, USA.

“As time marches on and you want to change a design …

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"He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot, but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot."

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