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It's boring... but brilliant

The worlds largest sporting event: boring. Europes largest engineering project: boring. London 2012 Olympics and Crossrail: two examples of boring projects.

From the outside looking in, its hard not to be anything but impressed by the London 2012 Olympics build project. Breathtaking, awesome, mindboggling, and any number of superlatives besides could be used to describe the size and scale of the task facing the project teams who took up the challenge seven years ago.

But let us not get overawed by the teams efforts.

Asked what had contributed to its success, ODA chief executive Dennis Hone downplayed the achievement, saying they had done the basics well. Kenna Kitrea, ODA head of venues and infrastructure, echoed these sentiments in the second learning event when she talked about the rigorous application of PM. Kintrea and her team spent the best part of a year setting up the project properly. But again, it wasnt anything extraordinary or unique; tried and tested project methods in planning, governance and assurance made it possible.

The tunnelling phase of the mighty Crossrail project started earlier this month. Its significance, in the grand scheme of things, should not be underestimated. After near-on 30 years of delays and false starts, the whir of the giant tunnel boring machines, tunnelling deep beneath the capitals streets, has created a palpable sense of excitement and a buzz around the site. This is where the real work starts, one Crossrail employee told me, rubbing his hands together.

But its the work that has gone before that has set up this moment. The Crossrail dig is not a straight A to B dig; its a zigzagging, up and down type of dig, through soft ground and hard. The complexity saw great sway placed on technical and organisational controls, ongoing monitoring of ground conditions and wide-ranging consultation to keep various stakeholders from community groups to statutory bodies informed of progress.

It was all the small details, done correctly, that helped avoid a liability or something far worse.

The project profession is wonderfully diverse and rich in terms of scope and content. From showpiece Olympic stadia to community regeneration projects, London 2012 and Crossrail ably demonstrate the art of what is possible underpinned by boring PM processes. This is success for the same boringly repetitive reasons, not boring in the derogatory, ordinary sense.

We should come to recognise boring as a valuable addition to the project lexicon. We should celebrate themundaneness of projects delivered on time, to budget and to quality. Above all, we should recognise that the same boring results are achievable by every single project manager who holds a professional tag.

To quote Andy Alder, Crossrail project manager and self-confessed tunnel buff: It may be boring, routine stuff, but it gets the job done.

Read the full interview with Andy in Project April.

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  1. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 24 March 2012, 10:03 AM

    The art of successful project management is achieving perfect boredom the resulting deliverable may be exciting, artistic or boring depending on whats produced, but the management process if done well results in a smooth steady progress towards a successful completion with limited or no excitement (ie, unexpected panics) along the way! The trouble is management tend to reward heroes who overcome challenges with fantastic effort above the competent manages who dont get into trouble in the first palace. We are working on a framework for organisational Project Delivery Capability (PDC) some initial thoughts are posted at http://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/pdc-value-proposition/ Perhaps as PDC maturity rises in organisations beyond the current Level 2, the heroes will be les well regarded and the competent managers who boringly deliver good outcomes will start to receive due recognition.

  2. Andy Jordan
    Andy Jordan 22 March 2012, 02:43 PM

    I would say boring is the last word I would use for these 'works of art'. It's perfection personified in the flow of task after task achieved after effective, meticulous planning. It's like the compilation of music from a finely tuned orchestra where one can relax as the pieces play in unison, ticking off each bar as the music progresses allowing the listener to enjoy the events unfolding. Some people relax to the music transitioning into a different world; some use it as background while multitasking.The boredom, or musical pace, is disrupted by unexpected changes or occurring risks - these then bring us back into the not-so perfect world which, for some, is an everyday reality whether through poor planning or just one of those things! But, while it lasts, enjoy - don't be bored!