Generally I comment on the failings of the IT and Financial industries when highlighting project management failings. However this time I’ll use a more traditional industry as an example that project failings are almost universal. It not just the boys using bits and bytes that can screw up, the guys using nuts and bolts are also fallible.
Over this Christmas holiday period the UK’s Network Rail organization, they are responsible for the rail infrastructure: signals, tracks, overhead power lines, etc, planned to carry out major maintenance work on the main line running from London up the east coast to Scotland. With the main work taking place just north of London. The main rail terminus for this line is King’s Cross station. In addition Paddington station was also seriously affected.(Which lends its self to the slightly humorous title of this piece.)
The entire exercise was due to be completed on the two public holidays - Christmas Day and Boxing Day - which traditionally have a much reduced volume of traffic, with normal service resuming on December 27th, which is a very heavy travel day with people returning home from the holidays. Despite the efforts of 11,000 workers the work ran past the scheduled completion time, not by hours but by days. The outcome was the closure of Kings Cross station because trains couldn’t get in, and also Finsbury Park station because it couldn’t handle the mass of additional passengers sent its way by the King’s Cross closure. You know things are bad when the police close a station because of overcrowding.
Currently the executives of Network Rail have not declared what caused them to miss their completion times and dates. As with all these events rumors circulate as to the cause, but early excuses are usually wrong so I’ll wait for the alibis to be prepared and then the outcome of the cross examination when the whistle blowers undermine them.
What we can opine is that somewhere in this farrago there will be a series of estimates that have very rosy colored assumptions and happy path timings. Best case scenarios will have been run and selected. Project friction will not have been considered and confident projections will have triumphed, and the higher up the chain they went the more confident they became.
When you deploy 11,000 people it takes serious planning errors to miss your completion date by twice the scheduled time. A project of this size will - should - have had a lot of planning effort put into it. So there’s no excuse, absent a natural disaster, for getting it so wrong. Lots of qualified project managers and executives will have participated in this work and lots of project plans will have been created, reviewed, revised and approved. So not a great advertisement for our profession or methodology. This waterfall has turned into a deluge.