There are a lot of reasons for the problems occurred with the baggage system at DIA, but most center the root causes on some factors: the underestimation of complexity of the system; the change in the strategy³, the decision to proceed with the change³, acceptance of changes requests; newness of the technology and none improvement in the organizational side; poor project definition; and the short time span for completion. Clearly, management failed to create a consistent flow of information between all the stakeholders involved.
There was no evidence that the management even tried to understand how big their problem was until the delay of the airport’s opening. The initial planning decisions, the action to implement an airport wide integrated baggage system (letting aside the fact that it was already too late) and the freeze contractual requirements to scope, schedule and budget all represented judgments that were made by people who didn’t have the necessary knowledge. The misjudgments resulting from those decisions were the sparks that ignited the fire, and create the “baggage system from hell”¹.
1) From the BAE perspective, what were the top factors that contributed to the failure of this project
From side of the President of BAE, Gene Di Fonso, a lot of reasons could be raised in order to explain the failure in this project, such as the short deadline, the low importance given to requirements by the engineers and architects, a lack of planning resulting in subsequent changes in strategy, the inexistent time to test the system, the lack of a competent leadership after Slinger’s death, the relation with the management, the lack of experience or competence from the management team, and at the end the bad relation with the city. Some quotes got from the case illustrate these reasons:
“BAE told them from the beginning that they were going to need at least one more year to get the system up and running, but no one wanted to hear that”, a United project manager when refers to the time that they need to test the system. “they severely underplay the importance of the requirements”, Di Fonso talking about the situation when the BAE arrived on the scene, with fully defined project specs, but without the concern of the requirements of a baggage system. “The relationship with the management team was very poor”, Di Fonso, referring to the management team that has no previous experience or competence to work with a project of this size. “We have gotten to the point with the city that literally we are not talking to each other” Di Fonso, claiming about the final situation, that led to the bad relationship with the city.
2) How would your answers differ when taking the City’s perspective?
At the end of the case the city has taken some corrective actions that serve only to complicate the relationship with BAE. The lack of engagement on technical issues by the city, caused the city did not have a critical sense about what was really the big problem of the system. But from the City’s perspective the main factors that contributed to the failure are the underestimation of complexity by the BAE, “their work ethic was deplorable” – PTM about BAE making firm commitments in the face of massive risks and uncertainty, and also the failure to perform risk management.
3) What quote from the case (any section) describes the root cause of the problem here?
“The prototype system convinced Chief Airport Engineer Walter Slinger that the system would work”. While several points contributed to the failure, there is one top factor that triggered the failure. Successful projects need people that are able to make effective decisions and making effective decisions requires, beside other things, knowledge and expertise³. Walter Slinger and also the BAE’s Senior Managers didn’t have previous experience and competence to work with a system of this scale. In addition, given that the automated baggage system designed was a new technology, even BAE’s management team had only a limited understanding of the real complexity of the system. So, following the concept of Synchronous Innovation², when they embrace the new technology, some improvements should be made on the organizational side in order to capture the benefits of the new technology
4) What is the single best piece of advice you could give to a group wanting to build a new airport near a major city from this case?
The main advice would be recognize the lack of knowledge and the uncertainty they will face, and from that take a number of steps that will reduce the risks. One of these steps is to listen to those who do have the necessary previous competence and expertise. In the technical side I would recommend that they should start out by assessing the design and performance of the system cautiously and far in advance prior to the use. By doing that they would allow architects and engineers work with the proper requirements, and changes in the scope project would be more easily handle.
5) What lessons do you draw concerning special complexities of large, adopted technology projects (synchronous innovation)?
An appropriate conclusion to this case aims to the necessity to acquire resources and get information and expertise to help in the decision making areas, by providing enough information to make important judgments in the design process. Talking about the deadlines, complex projects require not just reasoning, but also good anticipation of the problems and a solid risk management, with contingency plan, and so on. For this specific case the lack of a reasonable time to test the system, and also the short deadline to design, develop and implement the software were crucial factor that delayed several times the DIA’s opening, so new technologies, when are adopted, asks for improvements in the administrative processes, or at the management area, in order to rearrange the project scope to fit the requirements and deliver the final product as expected.
This issue concerns to the Airport Project Management Team that have failed when didn’t notice that a shift in the technology requires an equal shift in organizational responsibilities. The failure to recognize that improvement represents a failure that dated back to the very beginning of the whole project.