5.0 out of 5 stars
How to do big (and small) projects on T.I.M.E.
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on 9 February 2023
Most books about project management are dry as dust and loaded with platitudes about planning, prioritizing and scheduling. This one is exciting because it brings to life the colossal failures --- and also a few stellar successes --- of projects most of us have never heard of.
Others are shown in a new light. For example, the Sydney Opera House is a national symbol of Australia. The authors point out that it was completed only after the first design failed, causing it to open more than a decade behind schedule, at multiples of its estimated cost. Australia’s government was so furious with its architect that it banned him from the country for life. He died in 2008, 25 years after it opened, never having set foot in it, to see it with his own eyes.
Most government-run projects are like that, because politicians and bureaucrats don’t care about wasting the public’s money. Such as the proposed “bullet train” from Los Angeles to San Francisco, abandoned after spending hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. So are many private projects. I developed information systems in the 1990s as a three-person company to provide work arounds for corporate IT projects that failed after the companies threw tens of $millions down IT ratholes. I saw some companies bankrupted by chaotic information systems that drained their cashflow. The failures were mostly covered up to avoid embarrassing the CEOs until the companies went belly up.
This authors discuss these megaflops, but also points out some stellar successes like The Bilbao, Spain Guggenheim Museum (I’d never heard of it, but when I searched an on-line image, it blew my mind) and the T-5 terminal at London’s Heathrow airport. Also, some old-time classics like The Empire State Building, built in less than two years and under budget. Why was the Empire State building completed so fast? Because it was modelled on a smaller 34 story building that still stands in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The same company built both, scaling the small one into the big one. The book is loaded with fascinating stories like that, of how smart management builds on experience instead of reinventing the wheel. The authors give a fascinating account of how the magnificent Pentagon was built in only two years , but only after the original horrific plan was torpedoed by a few conscientious government bureaucrats, to the angst of their superiors. The best part of the story is that the legacy of its first iteration failure was preserved in the beautiful second iteration. If it had been designed and located optimally on the first iteration, it would only have four sides and become just another bland government building.
This book is mercifully free of goofy business management acronyms. If I had to invent one, based on its most salient themes, I’d call it T.I.M.E. for Teamwork, Iteration, Modularity, and Experience.
The authors show how these are the fundamental factors that separate the on-time, on-budget, and perform-to-expectation projects from the years-delayed, budget-busting, fail-to-perform, then-are-abandoned ones. You should hire the most experienced people to build a project that has modular components that can be finished in iterations of increasing finish, and build a team spirit to do it right.
I instinctively used these ideas in the 1990s and early 2000s when my company of 3 people replaced failing ERP systems for Fortune 500 companies. Our systems were iterative --- i.e. produce basic functionality in six weeks, then layer complexity on top of it only where complexity is required. They were modular. When a company liked our Supply Chain system, they asked us to design a Customer Service / Order Management system. Instead of building a new one from scratch, we repurposed the Supply Chain application into Order Management by hanging a minus sign in front of it. Instead of putting stuff into inventory, the system took it out. Same system, two purposes. Our systems were operational in six months for under $1,000,000, while the companies’ failing systems we replaced didn’t work after 6 years and $60,000,000.
Kudos to authors Ben Flyvbjerg and Dan Gardner, who have done their share of managing world-renowned projects, for writing in a fun-to-read style. I especially liked their showing the common denominators between gigantic projects few of us will ever work on, and home improvement projects most of us will. A contractor is completing one for me at this very moment. After reading this book I can understand why it is going so well. The one before it went horribly. I ended up suing the contractor into bankruptcy then getting the state to convict him of fraud in criminal court. If I’d know what was in this book the first time around, I would have abandoned the first project at the outset before any damage was done instead of having to close it with civil and criminal prosecutions that took a couple years to wend through the courts. The current project, of similar scope with anew contractor, will be completed in two weeks at 25% of the cost of the failed one.
Read this book for gleanings on doing big, and small, projects on T.I.M.E.
22 people found this helpful