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Learning from Aviation Project Resource Management to avoid Project Failure

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Dirk Nicolas Wagner

Karlshochschule International University

Karlshochschule, Germany


Abstract

In aviation it has long been established that based on technical advances alone airlines would not achieve acceptable flight safety standards. As a consequence, the industry invested heavily in understanding and coping with so called human factors. An integrated and comprehensive approach to training called Crew Resource Management was developed. This was initiated after the Tenerife Airport disaster in 1977, the, until today, deadliest accident in aviation history. This article reviews the case of Tenerife and compares it with the case of the construction project of Berlin Brandenburg airport, one of the most prominent contemporary failures in the project management arena. The analysis shows that in Berlin and in Tenerife similar patterns of behavior significantly contributed to undesirable outcomes. It is suggested for project organizations to consider learning from aviation and to derive an approach for Project Resource Management from the established Crew Resource Management methodology.

Key words: project management, project failure, human factors, Crew Resource Management (CRM), risk management

Introduction

Projects often do not reach their objectives. Irrespective of the industry or even the sector concerned, they fail in the sense that they do not meet their schedule, cost and scope respectively quality objectives (Flyvbjerg et al., 2002; Altshuler/ Luberoff, 2003; Priemus et al., 2008). It is widely accepted that project failure can be traced back to technical, psychological and political-economic reasons (Flyvbjerg, 2009). Empirical evidence suggests that technical causes are less relevant than causes that are rooted in behaviors and interactions of humans involved in the management of projects (PMI, 2016). In such a context, it is not surprising that project management emerged as a dedicated discipline. Yet, limited project success rates in times of accelerated projectification of business and social life call for an ongoing search of improved and better practices, also outside the own profession.

Below, the case is made for learning from aviation. In aviation it has long been established that based on technical advances alone airlines would not achieve acceptable flight safety standards. As a consequence, the industry invested heavily in understanding and coping with so called human factors. It all started in 1977 with the, until today, deadliest accident in aviation history, the Tenerife Airport disaster. Following the Tenerife accident, the aviation industry identified a need for the development of skills and managerial techniques. An approach today known as Crew Resource Management (Kanki et al., 2010) was developed. The case analysis is used to reflect how the discipline of project management can learn from the aviation industries Crew Resource Management (CRM) methodology.

For the purpose of this case study, the causes of the well documented and researched Tenerife accident are compared with one of the most significant contemporary and thus also well documented disasters in project management, the endeavor to build a new airport for Germany’s capital Berlin, Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg “Willy Brandt” (BER).

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About the Author


Dirk Wagner

Karlshochschule International University
Karlshochschule, Germany

 


Dirk Nicolas Wagner
is Dean of the Faculty for Business Economics & Management and Professor of Strategic Management at Karlshochschule International University. Prior to joining Karlshochschule in 2013, he served in various management positions in the Technical Services Industry in Europe, most recently as Executive Chairman of the Board of ThyssenKrupp Palmers Ltd. and as a Director for WWV Wärmeverwertung GmbH & Co KG. His professional background includes major projects in oil & gas, power and rail infrastructure.

Professor Wagner can be contacted at mailto:dwagner@karlshochschule.de