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Failed projects: the recipe

From the construction of a warehouse to the launch of a new product line or the reorganization of a company, project management plays a fundamental role. Far from being an option, it is necessary to respect the budgetary, temporal, social and environmental constraints that your organization faces.

But sometimes, there are bumps in the road.

Let’s start with a riddle: my construction was supposed to cost 2.4 billion euros, paid for in large part by the taxpayer, and last 4 years. Looking back, it will cost more than 7 billion (and counting!) and my inauguration will take place 14 years after the start of my construction. Who am I?

You guessed it, the Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt airport, the international hub replacing Tegel and Schönefeld.

How to explain a budget overrun of more than double the initial sum, as well as a multiplication of the project duration by almost 4?

This is where the essential elements of a failed project come into play: lack of vision, lack of leadership, lack of communication, and more.

The starting point of the disaster was the addition and adaptation of ideas for the new structure after work had already begun, in a poorly coordinated environment. If you change something at point A without notifying B, and B depends on A, this can lead to trouble.

The lack of coordination reflects the lack of leadership throughout this project – for example, the second technical director of the project is said to have been only partially present on site, due to his thesis preparation.

Communication, or the lack of it, is illustrated by the astronomical number of malfunctions that were either not communicated, or too late, to the project managers: more than 550,000. As an illustration, the fire system was installed backwards.

The project witnessed a series of resignations and takeovers that were supposed to channel the beast and curb the uncontrollable inertia of costs and deadlines, but that was unfortunately to no avail. Corruption, political games, and various impediments were unfortunately too entrenched.

The situation, although laughable at first glance, has also led to the bankruptcy of several companies involved in the project. They did not have the (often financial) capacity to cope with all kinds of delays. Will the social cost of these bankruptcies be considered?

Today, although terminal 1 is open – as well as terminal 5, which is the refurbished Schönefeld terminal –, the construction of 3 terminals is still to be completed, with one scheduled to open in 2021, and the others… who knows.

At AquaFin, it was our years of experience in the field of project management that prompted us to launch our “Project Management” program. It is an interactive and fun experience that teaches project managers and their sponsors how to recognize the signs of a failing project, implement best practices, and nurture success factors.

Curious about what it might look like? Write to us!

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