High hopes


Cost and schedule overruns are causing trouble for two major military projects: the Stealth Joint Strike Fighter F-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon. Both projects were envisioned as cost-savers—the intention being to build a variety of aircrafts from one basic design.

The three incarnations of the F-35, a U.S. project to build the next-generation workhorse for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, the British military and the armies of seven partnering countries, will be used for conventional take-offs and landings, short take-offs and vertical landings, and carrier-based operations. The first F-35s are slated for delivery in 2007.

It seemed a good exercise to cut costs with multinational participation, but the need to meet the demands of nine countries and the different branches of the armed forces makes it hard for the project to meet its objectives, says Oliver F. Lehmann, PMP, vice president of professional development for PMI’s Troubled Projects Specific Interest Group.

Reporting on the splintering of the stakeholder countries, an April 2005 NewYork Times article stated that some nations feel the United States has broken its promise that the eight partner countries would gain access to Pentagon technologies. Erling H. Wang, defense policy counselor at the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C., USA, told the paper that his country, which invested $125 million, is “keeping all options open” and might consider buying European-made fighter jets instead.

Another military aircraft project is in a similar situation: The Eurofighter Typhoon, under development in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain. The first Tranche 1 aircrafts already have been assembled and handed over to the air forces of the countries that support the project but, like its U.S. counterpart, the Typhoon will be used to design a variety of models. Two even more sophisticated models are slated for delivery in 2006 and 2010, respectively.


“The Eurofighter also is experiencing problems as organizational complexity collides with intrinsic technical complexity,” Mr. Lehmann says. The initial decision to partner was a good one—the idea being to reduce costs by boosting production numbers, share know-how and create worldwide alliances. From the beginning, however, the relationships between the partnering countries have been complicated by each country's weaponry requirements as well as confusion surrounding financial commitments, work-share and the number of planes to be purchased by each partner's air force, according to a May 2005 article from the German magazine, Der Spiegel. The continuing negotiations have resulted in cost increases and delays—deliveries scheduled during the late 1980s being fulfilled as late as 2002.

“If project managers do not manage conflicting stakeholder expectations and ensure that they are realistic right from the beginning, they will find stakeholders whose eyes are bigger than their stomachs,” Mr. Lehmann says. While he acknowledged that most projects contain a natural learning curve for all parties, he asserts, “This should be no excuse to delay professional expectation management until the problems have outgrown the attainable.”

If you know of a troubled project in which a project manager could have (or did) save the day, share your lessons learned. Contact [email protected].


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