Project Management Institute

Slow motion

CASE ANALYSIS

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After almost five years, plans for a four-story, $1 million Chicago, Ill., USA-based monument memorializing the 150th anniversary of the Irish potato famine have produced nothing more than a 50-inch rendering. Other memorials to the famine have been completed in Boston, New York and Philadelphia—and given that Chicago's Irish community is very active in celebrating and commemorating its ancestry (the city has an Irish Heritage Center as well as several annual Celtic and Irish fests)—this project's slow progress is surprising.

The project began in 1994 with the formation of the An Gorta Mor (“Great Hunger” in Gaelic) Education and Commemoration Committee whose goal was to build the monument. In 1999, the group started to raise money, chose the memorial's two artists—Matt Lamb and S. Thomas Scarff—and its location across the street from the city's Roman Catholic Archdiocese offices, Holy Name Cathedral. A small replica of the planned 46-foot (14 m) granite-and-bronze memorial was crafted. Then, the project stalled, mostly due to the appointment of a part-time project manager, according to Oliver Lehmann, PMP, vice president of professional development for PMI’s Troubled Projects Specific Interest Group.

Such sluggish pace often plagues projects when the leader cannot devote enough time to its success, Mr. Lehmann says. In this case, the chair of An Gorta Mor Education and Commemoration Committee is a police officer who can work on the project only in his off-time. “A project of this magnitude and importance demands a dedicated, skilled, full-time project manager who delegates tasks to complete the project,” Mr. Lehmann says.

While the officer heading the group declined an interview with the Boston Globe, he's not the only team member responsible for the sluggish pace, the paper reports. When the pastor who initially approved the project left Holy Name, the church reportedly no longer backed the project, according to the Globe. Last January, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Archdiocese told the newspaper, “It was just a good idea that fell off the radar screen.”

It appears that committee members lost steam on the multi-year, complex effort, and no one assumed a senior leadership role, causing the project to stall. “In situations where there isn't a full-time project manager, the person in charge can get overwhelmed by responsibilities,” Mr. Lehmann says.

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IMAGE COURTESY OF HOLY NAME CATHEDRAL PARISH

Unfortunately, miscommunication like this isn't limited to teams with makeshift project management. “Even full-time project managers can run into situations in which they get overwhelmed by the number of responsibilities and they cannot attend all the necessary meetings, have all the conversations and read and reply all of the e-mails,” Mr. Lehmann says.

The takeaway: If the available resources—or time and money—are not sufficient, a de-scoped solution, which is still feasible and realistic, can be considered. Without a central facilitator, however, these important decisions can languish. “If support from the stakeholders is insufficient to help the project succeed, then the project should be formally closed and the reasons for closure documented and communicated as lessons learned,” Mr. Lehmann says. “Sometimes this can even be a chance to start a second, more successful project.”

While hiring a dedicated project manager might increase expenses, it often is the only way to ensure success. “Someone must take the time and spare the energy required to plan and track a project, making sure that participants and project details are getting enough attention,” Mr. Lehmann says.

Until then, the 50-inch rendering of the Chicago monument resides at Purdue University North Central in Westville, Ind., USA, along with a painting of the project the artists hope will still be completed.

If you know of a troubled project in which a project manager could have (or did) save the day, share your lessons learned. Contact pmnetwork@imaginepub.com.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

APRIL 2005 | PM NETWORK

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