Project Management Institute

A disaster-tested project culture initiative

How does a company ensure the success of a project culture initiative?
With dedication, unbending intent, teamwork and support.


Tuesday, 11 September, 8:55 a.m., the staff of the International Securities Exchange (ISE), located in Manhattan's financial district, began to gather around the oversize flat-screen TV in the reception area.

CNBC was showing an image of the World Trade Center towers with black smoke rolling upwards from a gash on the side of one of the buildings. The word “LIVE” hovered in the corner of the screen. Announcers were reporting that a plane had actually crashed into Tower 1.

Another crowd was gathered around the 26th floor hall window, which had a perfect, 15 foot high unobstructed view of the World Trade Center buildings, located just a few blocks northwest of the ISE offices. When nothing happened for a few minutes, most of the people watching walked back to their desks. “What a shame,” someone said, “for such a great building to be damaged by a lost plane.”

Most people who have lived through disasters will tell you that everything seems to happen in distorted time: rapidly, but in slow motion at once. Human beings can be unpredictable in times of panic. The military operates with an extreme and practiced discipline in order to exert some control and planning on situations that can often be neither controlled nor planned. As the events of the morning of 11 September unfolded, staff members of the International Securities Exchange experienced firsthand the horror of a terrorist attack, and with it, the benefit of working for a company dedicated to embracing a project culture—a structure, like a military organization, which has the ability to exert some control over an incomprehensible and unfathomable situation.

In May of 2001 officers of the ISE created a new department—the Department of Project Management—and hired an employee with formal project management training to run it. The Director of Project Management would report directly to the Chief Operating Officer, Gary Katz. Senior Management was convinced that if they were to succeed in launching the first all-electronic options exchange, and the first exchange to be approved by the SEC in 27 years, the ISE would need to operate in a projectized culture, with nearly all major initiatives controlled by formal project management.

With the unequivocal support and buy-in of every one of the senior officers, the Director of Project Management was able to get approval for and implement all the necessary elements a project culture requires as a foundation for success. Right away, a Project Management Office (PMO) was launched and a methodology, based on A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), the UK's PRINCE2, as well as practical experience, was custom-written for the needs of the exchange. The ISE Project Methodology (ISEPM) included a project management manual, a reference guide, and a set of templates for the most critical project documents.

A final 60-page draft was distributed to the senior officers. The fact that each of these ISE executives would take the time to read and edit a project management methodology was indication of their intent to make ISE's project culture a reality. Project managers are familiar with the disconnect that often occurs between their interests and the financial and political agendas of senior management. The support of the ISE senior management was encouraging.

Katz approved funds to have the methodology printed professionally. The documents were bundled into one binder, called the ISE TOOLKIT, and enough copies were printed for every employee in the company to own one.

11 September, 9:00 a.m. Srinivas Vittal, a project support specialist, was the only person left standing by the 26th floor hall window when he watched incredulously as a full-size jet plane appeared to aim itself directly into the heart of the 2nd tower. Quickly, the hall filled up again with staff, too amazed and now too shaken to focus on work. Someone uttered the words, “terrorist attack.” Until then, no one had even thought such a thing. The buildings were the tallest structures in the city. It was not inconceivable that a plane could accidentally hit one of them, even two planes. Two bizarre accidents in a row were more comprehensible than terrorism on Wall Street.

Some staff ran to the reception area to watch the images on CNBC. Rich Pombonyo, the Vice President of Marketing, stood at the edge of a circle of employees as President George W. Bush confirmed the words spoken in the hallway: it was a terrorist attack and it was not the only one. A plane had just crashed into the Pentagon as well. Anyone not watching the television or the live view from the hall was on the phone, describing the events to family and friends while they watched the towers burn and send smoke over the area like a small, low thundercloud.


Vital elements to include when starting a project culture initiative include:

image Build a custom methodology. Answer the questions: What is a project? How do we want to define projects at our organization? How should projects of different sizes be managed at our organization?

image Create project management document templates. Critical documents include a project initiation document, project plan, customized Gantt chart/work breakdown structure, issue and risk-tracking logs, lessons-learned logs, progress report, closure report, meeting agenda and meeting minutes.

image Create a communications and training program. Identify a strategy for relaying the project culture goals throughout the organization with enthusiasm. Try to get everyone excited about project management, not fearful of getting handed extra work with unclear value. Develop training classes for a broad range of employees, including project participants, team members and project managers. Train lower-level employees who may decide to choose project management as a career path.

image Build a project management Web site. Create a center for project management excellence online. Make accessible information about project management basics, including terminology definitions. Include a PMO contact name and phone number.

image Tie project success to an employee rewards program. Include successful project management, or successful participation on a project, to the employee profit-sharing or awards program, or include it in performance reviews.

image Implement project reporting. Build a database or buy a product for gathering, storing and reporting on project progress. Implement a process for gathering the data, such as through progress reports and one-on-one project “interviews” with the PMO. Then, deliver basic progress reports, at least monthly, showing project manager comments, project percentage complete, target finish date and other information that senior management will find valuable.

image Make it fun. Find champions of the effort, including employees new to project management as well as senior managers who will stand behind the effort. Give your champions a voice: get quotes from them to post on the project Web site, and have them speak during a training class. Talk to staff one-on-one—communication is golden.

Once the TOOLKIT was printed, classes were scheduled to teach project management basics and how to use the templates. These included a project initiation document; project plan; Microsoft Project-based project schedule with a prewritten ISE-customized standard development lifecycle; issues and risks tracking logs; meeting agenda and minutes; progress report; closure form; terms of engagement for formally “contracting” resources to a project; and a lessons learned log. Department heads were contacted by the senior officers to ensure that all employees would be encouraged to attend the TOOLKIT classes.

While there are many leadership training techniques and classes that can be taught, there is no predicting who will actually be able to lead in a time of emergency. In the military, all manner of stress tests are imposed during training, plans and strategies are conceived and ingrained, so that in war and emergencies, second nature takes over and visceral reactions of fear and shock can be overcome. The military, no surprise, founded modern project management.

11 September, 9:30 a.m. Over the building PA system, a voice told all tenants to evacuate the building. With the chaos mounting in the streets below, and the possibility of further attacks, leaving the safety of the building was a dangerous prospect. Jack McLaughlin, Vice President of Facilities and ISE's Fire Warden, grabbed a bullhorn and started gathering everyone into the reception area. He had talked to the building supervisors and arranged for the company to stay inside. “This is the safest place for us right now,” he said. He looked as relaxed as if he were getting everyone seated at a ball game. Next to him, a young administrative assistant wiped tears from her face and looked towards the elevators. She clutched her handbag to her body. She and a few others wanted to leave and leave now.

Chief Executive Officer David Krell and Katz entered the reception area from a rushed emergency meeting. “Your safety is of primary concern to us,” Krell said, with presidential calm. The TV image behind him was scope-locked on the towers pluming smoke and flames. “We urge everyone to stay here in the office. However, if you want to leave, you can.”

The senior officers were now all gathered in the reception area. Though many staff looked dazed, the officers looked focused. Plans were being made. None of the officers have military backgrounds, but every one of them looked ready for battle – trained, focused, unafraid. It was one of the many unforgettable images of that day.

Flat screen computer monitors are mounted on walls around the Exchange's offices, with one monitor mounted on a table in a hallway at the foot of the stairs to the 27th floor. Most employees will pass this monitor at least once, often many times each day. The monitor displays a large color bar chart, graphing the trading volume for each of the five options exchanges in the United States: the Chicago Board Options, the American Stock Exchange, the Pacific Stock Exchange, the Philadelphia Stock Exchange and ISE.

Throughout the day, the bars grow like blue towers, while bold black numbers display the changing volume percentages. Since the launch of the exchange in May 2000, the ISE bar has grown from half the height of the other bars, to a taller height than three of the other five exchanges. Most days since Spring 2001, the ISE is 3rd or 4th in total volume by close of trading, 4:02 p.m.

The monitors are a conversation piece, a graphical view of the competition, a motivational image.

As an all-electronic exchange, ISE is “lean and mean” as Katz likes to call it. The “trading floor” is a quietly humming set of computers enclosed behind a glass wall. Paul Bennett, captain of the immense project to launch the exchange, fondly calls it, “the Command Center.” Operations staff sit at the computers and monitor the trading numbers, volumes and graphs, answering calls from Exchange members and keeping watch. There is no yelling, no frantic running around. There are no hand signals, no reporters on a paper-strewn trading floor. There are only seven employees in the command center, 101 full time ISE staff overall.

“In order to make ‘lean and mean’ work,” says Chief Information Officer Danny Friel, “it is absolutely critical to run activities like projects,” controlling and scheduling implementations such as a fully-functional “Site B” for the required 100% fault tolerance that gives traders confidence in a computer-based exchange.


International Securities Exchange COO Gary Katz, left, and CEO David Krell appeared “trained and focused.”


An electronic exchange can be an unpredictable environment. Though an identical exchange run from a separate location as “Site B” provides full fault tolerance, there are still land mines to be found in the daily operation of a computerized trading floor. When glitches do occur, even though they are not life-or-death, the exchange must be able to react with precision, not emotion, with both planned and improvised solutions, not panic. “This requires a culture of project management,” Katz comments, “not just a place where people use project management techniques to control the more expensive initiatives.” To further the foundation of a project culture, an Intranet site was built as an online PMO “presence” and resource. The PMO site, titled the ISE Center of Excellence, included four main sections:

image Projects, providing ongoing project progress and summary information

image Project Management Reference, providing project management terminology, definitions of standard roles and responsibilities, and even some project management humor

image TOOLKIT, providing the entire methodology online, as well as each of the templates for downloading

image Presentations, providing access to slides and presentation material from project management and Toolkit classes given at ISE as part of the project culture initiative.

The site even included a graphic: a three-dimensional dark blue sphere with white letters spelling “PMO”, and the animated words “Center of Excellence” rotating around it.

The Project Management Director was surprised one morning to find that Katz had e-mailed a question about one of the terminology definitions on the site. He had been reading through the project management reference section while having his coffee at 7:55 a.m.

Clearly, the project culture initiative was not something that the officers were going to say they wanted but then generally forget about. During a presentation to ISE staff, Katz was explaining ISE's plan to roll out a new version of the trading platform, including complex orders and spreads. He used words like milestones and deliverables.

After the presentation, he approached the Project Management Director. “Did you approve of my use of the terminology in my presentation?” he asked, smiling. “Just wanted to get everyone used to those kind of words,” he said.

11 September, 10:09 a.m. A moment that no ISE employee is likely to ever forget. Some staff were on the phone, calming relatives and friends. Suddenly, a rumbling went through the halls and shook the building so viscerally, it was as if thunder were inside the walls, not in the sky outside. A woman began howling in an office upstairs. Vittal, whose desk was next to the hallway window looking out on the towers, was in shock. “It's just gone,” he said, not believing what he had seen. The first tower had just collapsed. A hole in the skyline filling with dark gray smoke was all that was left. Over the PA system, a scratchy voice screamed violently, “GET OUT OF THE BUILDING NOW! Evac! Evac! Evac!”

Suddenly, the electronic exchange looked exactly like an old-fashioned trading floor. People were running, yelling, looking around. Chief Financial Officer Bruce Cooperman, conveniently one of the tallest members of the ISE, directed everyone to the reception area. Now, we would evacuate.

In the midst of people grabbing personal items from desk drawers, dialing numbers from cell phones that had ceased to connect to outside lines, the ISE officers gave at least the outward appearance of total control and calm. It was a remarkable performance, if it was staged, but still winning. Call trees were quickly photocopied and handed out to department heads. Staff were directed to the elevators, and car by car, transported to the lobby.

Cooperman and McLaughlin gathered ISE employees to one area of the lobby, air thick with ash from the streets. Outside the glass doors of the lobby pulled shut, was only blackness. People who had tried to leave the building ran back inside, completely coated, hair gray, coughing.

Iris Frank, Director of HR, held a list of the staff. In the middle of all the confusion, staff from other companies holding each other and finding space on the lobby floor to sit, in shock, Frank screamed above everyone. “Robert Cornish!” “Here!” Rob yelled back. “Lauren LaBruno!” Name by name, she called out. Some people had left long before. Some of them had called before the evacuation, to say they had gotten away safely. A small few were missing.

A project culture cannot be created overnight. By definition, culture is something that has evolved over time. The ISE is still very young. The project culture initiative is even younger. There are techniques that project managers use to try to predict the future. Project managers always say, you can't always control the outcome—since anything can happen anytime—but you can control the project itself.

By putting in place a strong project infrastructure, including solid, documented project plans and schedules, issue and risk analyses, organization charts and communication strategies, project managers can at least prepare for known risks. With a strong project infrastructure, projects can also stay alive, if not on target, through the most difficult and unplanned situations.

A small but powerful company run properly is inherently projectized—if it has in place the right plans, strategies and leadership that lend the Chief Executive Officer the right level of flexibility and control, like a project manager of a project.

Nevertheless, some project management techniques can't always be taught. All the PMI® certification courses and all the project management seminars in the world can't teach a person to be a leader, or to have the charisma, personal power, and vision, to run a large project with a broadly skilled team. There are qualities that make or break the project manager and these are often discovered in times of extreme pressure or radical change.

11 September, 10:30 a.m. Enclosed in the lobby, filled with people breathing through white paper masks, the sky became light again. It was possible to make out the cars parked on the sidewalks outside. Some people stepped out to try making calls from their cell phones again without much success. Suddenly, for a second time that morning, the hundreds of people at 60 Broad Street heard an unnatural, hideous rumbling and explosion. Many thought the NY Stock Exchange, located a few buildings down the street, had been bombed. The sky blackened and someone announced the second tower had fallen. For the many native New Yorkers huddled in the lobby, the moment was described as feeling one has lost an arm.

Men and women sobbed. People hugged each other. ISE staff stayed gathered, together, in one area of the lobby by the glass doors. CRO Mike Simon sat against the wall with headphones on, listening to the only radio any of us had, reporting whatever news he heard. Friel dialed numbers for grateful staff on his Nextel phone, one of the few that was actually connecting calls.

Katz, Krell, Cooperman and Pombonyo, stood together in the center of all of this, looking around, asking people if they were all right again and again. Frank continually checked her list and lent out her phone.

There were no other rumblings that morning. No more explosions. The sky soon lightened and the sun shone down onto the sidewalk, on the cars covered with ash. Eventually, everyone would leave the building, joining the zombie-like mass of Wall Streeters heading north on foot.


Miraculously, all ISE employees were later accounted for, safe and alive.

The experience of 11 September was devastating emotionally for nearly everyone working in the Wall Street area. Nevertheless, there is nothing like chaos, fear and uncertainty to demonstrate the value of formal procedures and control in a time of crisis. Since the attacks, staff have a new appreciation for the strength of ISE leadership, and what just may be a more personal investment in the success of the project culture initiative.

Now that the ISE project methodology has been written, the PMO established, the Intranet site created, basic progress reporting in place and most of the staff trained, the ISE is entering Phase II of the project culture initiative: mentoring and reporting. ISE has set a goal of June 2002 to have most of the elements of the culture established, communicated and part of the process of managing every project.

The PMO will act as a project mentor to all new project managers and teams: mentoring staff on basic, formal project management techniques, as well as working with project managers and project support staff to use the document templates. The PMO will act as a guide, and also as a project quality assurance organization, for as long as necessary.

In addition, Phase II will see the evolution of ISE's project reporting capability. Issues will not just be gathered and reported, but will be consolidated and analyzed in order to discover both the company “hot spots” and more obscure problem areas. More comprehensive issue reporting should lead to improved issue resolution. Phase II is seen as an empowering of the staff through mentoring, and an empowering of the company, through increasing the availability and understanding of project information.

How does a company ensure the success of a project culture initiative? How does anyone make anything happen? With dedication, unbending intent, teamwork, support. Anyone can hire a project management professional to put the right elements of a project culture program in place. Not every company will succeed in making project management part of the culture. The key is to fuel the program from the senior management level. The key is inherently to have the character to teach project culture by example.

Will the project culture initiative be successfully implemented at the ISE? Undoubtedly yes. In fact, one could argue that the culture already exists. The project management techniques planned to be in place by June 2002 will just be icing on the cake. PM

Nicole Grace is director of project management at the International Securities Exchange in New York City. Previously president and CEO of Project Management Consulting & Sciences Corp., she has published numerous articles on project management-related topics, and has given presentations on project management all over the United States, from Fortune 100 corporations to the U.S. government and military.

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.




Related Content