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Author's profile photo Former Member

If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans

Woody.JPGThis quote from Woody Allen is a perfect headline for a blog about project management disasters, don´t you think?

Every day we see businesses respond to a challenging economic environment by deploying scarce investment funds in pursuit of a competitive edge. These initiatives, which are inevitably delivered via projects, represent significant investments for the organizations concerned.

As organizations struggle with the impact of downsizing, increasing complexity and global mobility, successful project management is becoming increasingly important. Executives in high-performing organizations recognize the imperative to identify, prioritize, coordinate and manage the projects that will turn their strategies into reality. In the global competitive environment, value-for-money is a priority. While many businesses have cut back optional spending in recent times, we see others that can no longer hold off essential projects. Effective project management practices help control the added risks that project activity introduces to normal business practice. 

History is littered with project management disasters that show how painful the consequences of poor project management can be: huge time delays, excessive project costs and mockery that ruins the brand value these organizations have built up over years. Here is a recent example of a recent spectacular project management disaster in Germany: 

The Berlin Brandenburg Airport

Normally known for our efficiency, punctuality and engineering mastery, the new airport in Berlin is an embarrassing example of a troubled construction project from the Federal Republic of Germany.  Having missed 5 target dates for its opening, the project is still underway and the final opening date still remains unclear. Original plans showed a target opening date of 30 October 2011. The original budget for this massive project was 1.7 billion Euros. To date, almost 5 billion Euros have been spent so far.

The causes for this huge project failure are not completely transparent to the public, but there is one important factor to consider: the public sector often struggles with such large-scale projects, because it’s not responsible to investors but to the people, the tax payers. Project leaders have to act transparently, involve citizens, manage the money and solve complex infrastructure tasks. Public building has reached a level of complexity that is apparently too much for the state to handle.

Slimmed-down administrations are hardly capable of controlling construction projects efficiently. It´s the old dilemma of poor project monitoring and mismanaging resources. In my opinion, there is another important rule organizations should not forget: don´t work in silos, don´t think in silos and set clear project goals. In the case of the Berlin airport, quality management and security experts were obviously not fully integrated in the development process. Also, there was a constant change of requirements and design ideas that made the whole project a disaster.

This is just one example of project failure, among the plethora in the news.

SNCF – French Railway

For instance SNCF, the French Railway company, found out how one bad assumption can “derail” a project. Following the arrival of the first of its new fleet of regional trains, SNCF discovered that the newly designed trains are too wide to fit into many of the railway stations they were intended to serve. So, 2,000 new trains are too wide for the railway. I see this as a combined R&D and Project Management failure.


After concentrating on failures, let’s focus on what makes projects successful?

  • See the entire picture and share the same project data
  • Detailed financial planning
  • Resource scheduling
  • Impact analysis: coming back to Woody Allen´s quote – unforeseen changes do happen! This happens on practically every project. You start with a clear concept or at least you thought it was clear when you started.  Then one thing leads to another and before you know it you are involved in a different project.  Structured, logical thinking and software with powerful analytics can help you analyze different possibilities.
  • Cope with BIG project data

Fortunately, a large percentage of projects are indeed successful, both in time and on budget. With the help of SAP Portfolio and Project Management, the South-Africa-based railway corporation Transnet experienced $62 million visible savings in two years’ time, increased project transparency and better financial reporting. Read their story.

Needless to say, there is always the risk that something unexpected may arise in your project that software cannot predict. But software can help you adjust your plan, make risk analyses and play what-if-scenarios. That way, you can at least try to outsmart fate…  and if you want to impress God, plan with a software-supported process.

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      Author's profile photo Richard Howells
      Richard Howells

      Great blog Nadine. Some wonderful examples of poor planning. A train that is too wide for the tracks. Who would believe it!!!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks, Richard!! Well, I think errors are human and these are just 2 examples of thousands.

      Author's profile photo Sylvia Santelli
      Sylvia Santelli

      Great title and great story.  Gave me a good midday chuckle.  Some things we can't plan for, but a lot we can plan the width of a track, for example. Live, Learn, Laugh/Cry....depending on who is telling the story I suppose.

      Author's profile photo Raymond Adams
      Raymond Adams

      Reminds me of the time I designed and built a tree house. Simple enough.  I had the perfect tree and started framing it out.  After 2 days of work, my neighbor said, 'Ray, that's not on your property - that's in the open space, and we're not allowed to build there'.  Ugh.  So I picked another tree, clearly on my property.  Tore down the old one, built the new one.  Took me 3 weeks to complete, but it seemed sturdy.  So I finally showed my son.  His response?  'Daddy, I'm afraid of heights...'.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author

      Ray, thanks for sharing this story! I really hope that your son is now enjoying his tree house.