By Cyndee Miller
I write about project management—a lot. But there’s a certain adrenaline rush that comes when you actually get to check out a project and get the scoop from people in the know.
I was feeling mighty pleased that I scored a backstage pass to the Berlin Brandenburg Airport project—two years before it’s slated to make its long-awaited debut. So this intrepid reporter put on a super-chic red construction helmet (and complementary work vest) to get the low-down on one of the most notorious projects in recent history—as well as the strategy to get this baby open by 2020.
The team is refreshingly honest about the issues it’s faced since the project first launched in 2006: a “constant” increase in complexity, a spike in passenger volume that far exceeded expectations and a “difficult political environment”—which meant fielding requests and often brutal criticism from airlines, governments, the press and a slew of other stakeholders.
But the team has a blueprint and seems resolute it will deliver on its Master Plan 2040 that promises to deliver capacity to handle 55 million passengers. So what makes the team think it will actually be able to pull this off? The will to get things done—from the very top.
Sounds promising, but can they do it? Only time will tell. But there is a rather promising precedent, as my fellow reporter Matt Schur learned when he headed out on PMI’s other off-site excursion. The Hauptbahnhof train station, with rail lines extending in every direction, wasn’t built in a day—or 100 years for that matter. The project had been floated since the turn of the 20th century. But two world wars and a divided Germany stood in the way before the project started in earnest in the 1990s. Even then, complexity reigned.
Location is everything, I’ve been told. And while Hauptbahnhof’s spot in the center of the action is a major asset today, the location created one of its greatest challenges. Water and sandy ground surround the area, forcing the team to dig huge excavation pits, ultimately removing 1.5 million cubic meters of earth.
And despite being a century in the making, the team ran up against massive schedule compression: The German government wanted the train station done in time for the 2006 World Cup. With a slight shift in scope, the project closed a month ahead of the big deadline.
Getting that insider scoop was a boost for project managers, too.
"The visit was beneficial to me to see that complexity is everywhere—not just on my project," says Tamy Baddour, PMP, IT project manager at Bankmed, Beirut, Lebanon, who toured the rail station. "It's great to know that there's light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long it takes. It was an eye opener for me."
For those project and program managers who didn't make the sojourn to the airport or the train station, experiences were front and center in some new-fangled immersive sessions. Attendees worked in groups and partnered up with colleagues to brainstorm potential breakthrough innovations, debate the differences between good project managers and great ones, and test out their strategic leadership skills.
Fellow reporter Kelley Hunsberger checked it all out and declared her favorite immersive experience to be Escape from Earth! A Project Management Board Game. Attendees were broken up into different teams and left to figure out how to save humanity from certain extinction after the planet had become hostile to human life. Teams completed a bevy of challenges through a series of sprints to rescue the human race
Saving a world, now that would be an adrenaline rush.