Introduction | Education | Airport Expansion | Program Startup

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 dog box.

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 trouble.

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 all together.

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 Tuesday’s 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.

Project Management in Education  Project Management in Education

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