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Amsterdam Metro Line Project

Successful projects... predicted!

Amsterdam Metro Line Project

The first blog I posted (https://www.projectmanagement.com/blog-post/29357/Successful-projects----predicted-) dealt about whether a reliable model could be developed in order to predict project success. The motivation of this second blog is to share a few thoughts about a project that will be soon completed in Amsterdam, where I relocated almost two years ago. I take this opportunity to encourage everyone to discover this wonderful gem in Western Europe. Also known as the Venice of the north, Amsterdam has a lot more to offer aside from the well-known coffeeshops and windows populated with women in skimp lingerie.

Every since I moved here I heard the story of a new metro line, Noord-Zuid lijn, which completion was planned for 2011 and that will be finally opened in July 2018. Not only that; the original budget exploded from €1.46 bn to €3.1 bn! I had to read more about the reasons that caused the massive delay. The list below summarizes the main findings:

  • Cracks appeared in a building adjacent to new Rokin station
  • Failures in the slurry diagram support walls at Vijzelgracht station causing a loss of large volumes of soil and the evacuation of seriously damaged adjacent building
  • Bankruptcy of two contractors
  • Lack of coordination in the acquisition of required software
  • Unrealistically low bid (similarly to the famous Panama Canal expansion project)

A poor management of project procurement, risks and requirements, just to name a few, seem to be the most obvious causes that led to the massive delay and budget overrun. This is a good example of how important is to follow what Abraham Lincoln stated already on the XIX century “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”.

In 2009, Alex Sheerazi was hired as Head of Communication Officer. His first mission was to fix project’s reputation. He stated “A very strong reputation is like a mattress, a cushion that can soften a blow. Small incidents then have a negligible impact. But in 2009 the reputation was down the drain. Every small incident was blown out of proportion. We needed to get some air into our reputation mattress again”.

Sheerazi saw transparency as key. First off, he admitted that the project had turned out badly on several levels. However, also some positive and interesting aspects were worth sharing with the media. By placing positive images next to the negative ones, balance was created. In addition, by involving the media in every event, the project gained a better reputation. Next to it, Sheerazi connected the project to the city by engaging the Amsterdammers. For instance, excavation boxes were opened regularly for public tours and an underground lookout point was set up, with a great success (over 200k visitors in two years). Project managers and engineers changed their ways of communicating by creating project co-ownership with the citizens, or, as Dale Carnegie would put it, by providing them a feeling of importance.

Several questions may arise, now that the project is about to be closed off. May the project be considered a success despite of the colossal deviations in budget and schedule? Did the communications strategy make up for the project shortcomings? What could have been done differently? I look forward to your comments in the section below.

Posted on: February 08, 2018 05:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Successful projects... predicted!

I recently came across an attention-grabbing paper titled “Dance hit song prediction” (Journal of New Music Research, Vol. 43, 2014). In this research, the authors developed a predictive model to evaluate the likelihood of a new tune to make it to the chart’s Top 10.  For that purpose, a vast database containing dance hit songs from 1985 to 2013 was built; characteristics in a tune such as tempo, duration, loudness, energy or danceability were measured and modeled. Amazingly enough, the rate of predictability was found to be at least 70%!

Extrapolating this concept to project management, we all have heard – or worst, used – expressions such as “this project was doomed for failure”.

Thus, one wonders if a robust model to predict the odds of a project success could be developed, which would eventually save the organization human and monetary resources. It is not a trivial task; prior to diving into complex formulas or models – which requires a comprehensive and thorough analysis, as it may be seen from the cited paper – it is indispensable to identify the key success drivers:

  • Familiarity of performing organization with similar projects in the past
  • Strength of business case
  • Alignment of project within the performing organization strategy
  • Commitment from PM and project team members
  • Support from management (i.e. steering team, project sponsor)
  • Clarity in project deliverables
  • Understanding of the project scope by the customer
  • Truthfulness and accuracy of project schedule and budget
  • Availability of resources for the length of project life
  • Availability of project management plan and/or its subsidiaries (communication, risks, scope, etc.)

Are they all equally significant? If not, which are their relative weights? May some of the items be discarded under the Pareto 80/20 principle? Are there other important variables missing? A massive data mining from past projects – similarly to what was done with the Hit song project – is reckoned necessary in order to develop a realistic and accurate predictive model. It is beyond the intention of this short blog post to develop a predictive model – that would be indeed its ultimate goal.

Posted on: May 05, 2017 04:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)
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A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.

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