Project Lessons from the Big Boys

  PM Problems

If you read the business news you must be aware of the intense rivalry between the European Airbus Consortium and The Boeing Company dueling to capture the future commercial aircraft market. Both of these companies are in the final stages of major programs to deliver new generation airliners.
These are huge projects worth billions of dollars in both development costs and future sales. Both of these programs are significantly behind schedule and Airbus has a 50% cost overrun.

As a project manager, I enjoy reading about the successes and especially the tribulations of other projects, not for sadistic pleasure, but to try to understand and learn something both from their good decisions and also their mistakes.
This past Monday, Airbus delivered its first production A-380, a 550 passenger double deck mammoth which now becomes the world’s largest passenger airliner. 

The planned $12 billion A-380 project is currently $6 billion overrun and two years late. Coincidently, this same week, Boeing announced that its new fuel efficient 787 Dreamliner using carbon nanotube  and titanium skin technology will be 6 months late. Needless to say, both these projects are very complex state-of-the-art high technology development and production efforts under intense schedule pressures.

What can we learn from mega-projects likes these?  It turns that mega-projects must deal with the same kind of detailed problems encountered on your own projects. Mega-projects are useful for lessons learning  because even small violations of good project practices get magnified greatly and become highly visible for analysis. It’s not easy to hide even small mistakes on such large projects. Examining the root causes of problems in huge projects will likely reveal the violation of fundamental project management principles that apply to most projects.
Rather than give my views on the lessons to be learned for these projects, I would be interested in reading what you know and think it about them. Give us your insights. Don’t be shy, let’s have a good old fashion project retrospective and squeeze out the lessons to be learned from the big boys. 


1 thought on “Project Lessons from the Big Boys”

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    My experience is that the “big boys” usually have a fantastic project management lifecycle and world-class processes, but . . . they don’t follow them, and instead become ensnared in reams of bureaucracy and politics. Many years ago I personally worked at HP for 10 years. We used to say “If HP knew what HP knows, we’d be very successful.” Things have improved since then – my husband still works for Agilent, which separated from HP in the last century, and I hear they have made excellent progress in adhering to sensible project management practices. Unfortunately the “lessons learned” need to be relearned again and again. Honestly, do I really think that Boeing and Airbus are surprised by cost overruns and schedule slips? I am quite sure that there were people on the project team who were desperately trying to tell their executives that these schedules and budgets were hopelessly optimistic when they were first put to paper. And how about the last 10 new aircraft development projects – – – did they finish on time and on budget per the original estimates? Probably not, so why should this one be any different? Unfortunately 20 years of experience just translates into 1 year of experience 20 times for these corporate behemoths. And pity the fool who cares enough to push back and try to speak truth to power! Sorry, I just haven’t seen enough examples of big companies behaving in any rational way to be optimistic about this one. – Kimberly Wiefling, Author, Scrappy Project Management

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