Deo volente.

Big Dig – Time to call Shenanigans

Can you call shenanigans on a 15 year program?

While doubts about the infrastructure’s safety are only coming to light now – a December 1998 Inspector General’s Report reviewing the project’s use of anchor bolts documents numerous problems with the bolts and glue used to secure the ceiling in the Ted Williams Tunnel which opened to traffic in 1995. The I-90 connector connects the Mass Pike with the Ted Williams Tunnel.

A bunch of folks were taking this issue on over at Ace’s recently. It’s difficult to see good ideas go to hell by process, but that’s what seems to happen when bureaucracies get a hold of them. Forty engineers don’t necessarily make better decisions than four, and it’s damned sure that forty managers don’t.

“Now why hire a geotechnical engineer to study structural failure,” posted one reader after reading a newspaper report about a geotechnical engineer hired to conduct an investigation on behalf of the Turnpike Authority.

Look, I’m all for authority and hierarchy. But I’ve seen so many decisions made by management that exactly mimic this: what does a geotechnical guy know about structural failure? And I’m not faulting the engineer here – I’m sure he got in there and did (is doing?) the best he could. I’m not even going to point a finger at a manager per se.

Everyone gets on these big projects that are over budget and out of control, and people tend to do the best they can with certain passive aggressive exceptions. What I’ve seen is that no one takes ownership of the problems, of the schedule, of whatever, and process can’t substitute for intention.

Look, I am involved with a government project that is – literally – $3.8 B over its original budget of $200 M. One of the best analyses I’ve ever heard was from an unrelated software engineer who said, and I quote, “I don’t think that software that costs over $500M could even work.” There is a lot of wisdom to that.

In a separate conversation with an architect for a huge health care company, we were talking teams. His company has 2000 programmers working on integration. His points were a) that there are maybe 12 or 13 program managers in the world who could manage a software project with that workforce, and b) that the majority of successful software projects are executed by small teams (4-8).

I tend to agree with both of them. And then you look at the Big Dig – a government project where failure was not an option, money kept funneling into it, and no one took ownership of the key components, and now people are putting poor band-aids on big problems.

Another posting says all engineers with substantial field experience who have commented on the site agree that epoxy anchors are fraught with danger and that their use in the situation at hand was a poor choice.


July 30, 2006 Posted by | Project Management | 1 Comment