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Week of 22 January 2024: Nothing Magical

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I have served as an expert witness in several capital project cases (dare I say disasters?).

How do projects end up in this condition (disasters)?

There only seem to be two major causes of such fates. The first is believing in magic and the second is dishonest dealings. We'll cover magic this week.

This is simple. No project can defy the laws of physics, gravity or fluid mechanics, or the basic principles of chemical formulation. Further, no project can defy the calendar for completion or the daily clock for production output. Finally, steel is stronger than humans. Period. Notice I did not mention electricity--an engineering discipline which has as one of its defining principles the square root of minus 1 is beyond my comprehension.

How do engineering and project managers get into these predicaments? Lack of experience coupled with an attitude that "hope springs eternal" is the usual path. Another way is "group think" where several people repeat something often enough they believe it is true.

The most dangerous situation I have seen is where one project with what turns out to be minor problems is closely followed by one where "operations is going to run this project to show you how it is done." This is akin to having a doctor who specializes in shoulder surgery doing a kidney transplant for you. After all, they are both doctors, how hard can it be?

Yes, two engineers may have gone to the same university, let's say they are even siblings. But one took a management path, and another took an engineering path. It is now twenty years later. They cannot instantly swap roles and expect to have excellent results.

Only the most experienced can find places to save time in the schedule. Only the most familiar can make efficient engineering calculations.

Ignorance or wishful thinking does not make what is not so, so.

If things are getting a little crazy, call a halt and do an assessment of conditions. Call professional outsiders if you required. You may just save the project and your job.

Be safe and we will talk next week.



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