Major Airport Expansion
This story is about the Project Management Institute's ("PMI")
Project Management Body of Knowledge ("PMBoK") and took
place a few years ago. As you will know from my Contact
Info, I live in Vancouver and the engineering consulting company
I used to work for here has their head office in The Big City, some
3000 mile to the east.
Now our head office received a government proposal call to provide
project management services for adding an extension to The Big City's
International Airport, one of the busiest in Canada. I should add
that the services in question were something of a departure from
government's normal way of doing business and called for a very
tight schedule. In fact, only three companies were invited to propose.
This was also something of a risk for the government department
concerned, not just because of the approach but because their standing
procedures required that three submissions must be obtained before
a selection could be made and the process progress further.
At the time our head office had most of their project management
people on overseas assignment. So the proposal was handed on to
a group of four others assembled to prepare a response. Four weeks
were available for this purpose. Clearly, the proposal was very
important to the company. Not that there was a good chance of winning
it, in fact the other respondents were considered to be much better
placed. Rather, failure to make a submission would put the government
department in a difficult position and our company would be in the
Now, by the end of the last week but one, the worthy four in our
team had prepared scads of notes, analyses, little schedules and
other exciting things. But at that point they seemed to have got
thoroughly stuck. They couldn't seem to pull it all together.
The Senior Vice-President responsible realized they were in serious
In desperation they cast around to see who they had in the company
who might be able to "fix it". As luck would have it,
they found this guy in Vancouver (me), a member of PMI, and they
said to themselves "Well, he's heavily into this project management
thing and is supposed to know what to do, so let's get him involved"
Thus, I was sent to The Big City to sort it all out.
By the time I got there, there was less than a week left. So I
sat down with the group and reviewed with them what material they
had. As I said, scads of notes and things, but nothing you could
call the elements of a proposal. In fact, they hadn't even developed
an index something that they could hang the rest on to.
At the time, I had little or no experience of building an airport,
nor am I a transportation project manager. Moreover, there seemed
to be few clues on how to respond to the proposal call effectively.
So I went away and read the big, fat government document and all
the material generated to date to figure out how we could pull it
Then I thought: What experience can I draw upon? And then, bingo!
How about the PMBoK and its eight functional areas? That should
provide a good starting point! So I reassembled the troops and told
them "OK gang. Here's what we'll work to. First of all, describe
the scope, etc., etc., all the way down the eight PMBoK functions."
By this time it was the Friday before the submission on the following
Tuesday and a long week-end at that. The Vice-President was intent
upon reviewing the product on the Monday. Bear in mind also that
the group had not been too enthused over this joker from Vancouver
coming to tell a bunch of head office folks what to do. Sort of
a pride thing. Nevertheless, they all perked up immediately and
said "Hey, that's not such a bad idea!"
To cut a long story short, they got very excited and said "We
need secretaries!" We managed to persuade four secretaries
to come in and work about eighteen-hour shifts over the long weekend
and rounded up nine personal computers for every one to work on.
It is difficult to understand how they did it all. My job was to
sit in the background offering advice when necessary, the way a
project manager usually does. By the Monday morning they had got
a good looking document together much to the surprise and
relief of the Vice-President, I might add.
After he had reviewed it, and made a number of refinements, we
got out a good final copy, complete with charts and diagrams and
delivered the document just before the Tuesdays twelve noon
deadline. Since we had satisfied the requirements, I thought, good,
I can go home. The government will be satisfied and everything
will move on as usual.
However, there is a postscript to this story. About five weeks
later I got a telephone call in Vancouver. They said "Oh, by
the way, we're flying you to The Big City to take charge of this
project." I said, "What project?" Well, you guessed
the answer to that one!
As we got in and worked on it, I had an opportunity to ask the
government's project director "How is it that we were awarded
this work?" (because by then it was generally well known that
we were not exactly the lowest bidder.) He replied "Your submission,
structured the way it was, was the only one of the three that made
sense to us. So, we gave you the work."
It proved to be a difficult project technologically, but three
years later we had employed a lot of people and made reasonable
money in the process.