Practical Technical Challenges
The issue of training and mentoring the basics of Software Engineering Institute/Capability Maturity Model for the software teams posed little problems in understanding by the Iraqis. However, using Project Management Institute concepts for the teams that were involved with the physical building and plant layout was one of the hardest things to do because most Iraqis and some contractors in the building trades knew very little of how projects needed to be executed using a repeatable method.
For example, the simple idea of grounding the data center and all the systems was not something understood by all and had to be explained to both contractors and Iraqis alike. Other building and infrastructure issues were getting all the requirements in for electricity, network, phones, televisions, contractor housing, and hospital needs. This was needed because the digging and building of a conduit to accommodate these different needs had to be planned, the correct fiber optics had to be ordered, and construction had to be carefully timed because of security issues with Iraqi construction contractors. We also encountered problems with the electrical system used in Iraq.
The Iraqi system is based on the British electrical system, and American companies shipped a U.S.-based electrically supported system. Because everything had to be flown in, workarounds had to be put into place until the correct equipment was shipped. For one piece of equipment, the system had to be rewired because replacing the equipment would have cost more than the rework. Another issue that had to be overcome was the heat, sand, and dust. In the direct sunlight on top of the building, temperatures reached 160 degrees Fahrenheit and melted the equipment used to communicate with the satellites.
The building that was used to house the data center was originally built by Saddam's sons and called the Hall of Records and Justice. This building stored millions of records detailing all the people Saddam's regime had murdered; many were tortured in the main square under it. The data center refurbishment and set up required that personnel hand carry every desk, chair, individual computer, phone, light, and other office equipment to fill the seven story building, and then to build the data center, they had to hand carry all 110 servers and related hardware up seven floors to make the system work.
This was done without the aid of air conditioning or elevators in temperatures of 130 to 140 degrees, but there was a real sense of ownership and no complaints about the unusually harsh working conditions. What made it more difficult than accomplishing anything in the western world was that the Iraqis were constantly being threatened while coming and going to and from their work centers. At times, safe rooms had to be set up so that the workers could stay overnight.
Plockmeyer and I created a work environment that encouraged trust and creative thinking and maintained focus, intensity, and persistence. Even under severe wartime work conditions, we took the teams out to dinner and set up a small movie theater inside the building where they could stay and be somewhat safe. In turn, the Iraqis brought local food and shared their family cooking.
1. Capability Maturity Model (Integration and Computer Society for Software Engineering by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.) is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by Carnegie Mellon University.