Leading Edge

By Staying Agile, Three Teams Created Innovative Solutions to Pressing Problems


In the face of unprecedented disruption, organizations must adapt. This year's PMI® Project Excellence Award winners proved that, when teams embrace the need to pivot, they can deliver real value to their organizations—and customers. One provided faster access to prescription medication. Another created safe storage for nuclear waste. A third made it easier for people to exercise their legal rights.


From left, Roman Malysz, Grzegorz Dzik, Joanna Markiewicz, Rafal Szydlowski, Jacek Lisewski and Paulina Kieloch


The New NEUCA Distribution Center

Increasing delivery speed in Poland's pharmaceutical market not only had the potential to help patients—it could also create a business edge for NEUCA Group. So the company launched a project in 2016 to build a state-of-the-art prescription medication distribution center. In just 20 months, the team delivered an automated warehouse that can fill pharmacy orders in as little as two hours.

To construct the massive facility, the team had to integrate complex automation and software systems, secure multiple permits, and meet strict requirements for control and storage of regulated products. For instance, some medications must be kept cold until they reach the customer.

With the company's existing facilities already at capacity, the ultimate goal for the new warehouse was to create efficiencies, says Grzegorz Lizińczyk, director of the central logistics department and steering committee member at NEUCA. The automation software, for example, accelerated delivery and also tracked individual orders with greater precision.

The project plan needed to be lean, too. A clearly defined roadmap for progress helped the team save time by completing tasks in parallel, testing new technologies within the facility during construction, for instance.

“We are believers in project management. We believe that running a project in accordance with PMI guidelines leads to delivery of a higher-quality final product,” says Jacek Lisewski, senior project manager, NEUCA. “We believe that our clients will see positive change as well.”

Since the project closed in August 2018, customer complaints and the number of returned items have dropped significantly.

“We are running this equipment with the speed of more than nine boxes per second. That allows us to deliver over 130,000 order lines per day, which means more than 350,000 boxes per day,” Mr. Lizińczyk says.

Ultimately, NEUCA automated 85 percent of warehouse activities, and the new facility can distribute 10 times more product each month than a conventional warehouse—helping the company maintain an upper hand over competitors.

But all the disruptive tech can't entirely replace the human touch, says Mr. Lisewski. “It's a synergy of technology and people.”


Europe, Middle East, Africa




Torun, Poland


December 2016-August 2018


Build a centralized, automated pharmaceutical storage facility to expand capacity and accelerate delivery


The new facility holds up to US$100 million in inventory.



From left, Gerardo Islas-Rivera, Brett Welty, PMP, and Brady Orchard, PMP

Remote-Handled Low-Level Waste Disposal Project

The leading U.S. center for nuclear energy R&D, Idaho National Laboratory must manage large amounts of low-level radioactive waste generated by its nuclear energy and naval reactor activities. When existing waste capacity began approaching its limits in 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) commissioned a decadelong project to build a new underground disposal facility.

The project created and installed 446 precast concrete vaults to hold as many as 939 stainless steel waste canisters—enough to support waste disposal for at least 20 years. By building the facility near the lab, the team eliminated the need to transport radioactive material across public roadways and reduced disposal costs. But the team had to complete the project before DoE closed the old disposal facility.

“Delivery of this facility was incredibly complex,” says Brett Welty, PMP, project manager, Idaho National Laboratory.

To ensure no stakeholders would take a big hit if the cost of materials shifted during extended delays, project managers agreed up front to allow contractors to adjust their bid pricing based on changing market conditions. That helped get the project back on track after the government suspended funding midway through the project, shutting down all activities for more than a year.

Throughout the project, the team kept a close eye on safety. For instance, halfway through construction, a lifting device at a supplier's plant failed—sending a massive chunk of concrete crashing. With the same devices being used to move components on-site, the team chose to immediately halt construction and identify and implement alternative handling methods.

“We didn't continue to do any hoisting or rigging activities until we understood the root of the problem—and then found a corrective action to address that problem,” says Gerardo Islas-Rivera, federal project director, DoE.

The team completed the project six months ahead of schedule and nearly US$5 million under budget.

“You don't come into a project understanding every component. But if you're willing to dive in and help the individual project team members through their crises, through their challenges, then you build that relationship and they'll go to the end of the earth for you,” says Brady Orchard, PMP, project director, Idaho National Laboratory.


North America


U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Nuclear Energy


Idaho Falls, Idaho, USA


July 2009-September 2018


Build a permanent, underground disposal facility for low-level waste from nuclear energy test facilities and the U.S. Navy


Radioactive waste can be permanently disposed safely.

Resolving Disputes Digitally (ODR Pilot Program)



From left, Liz Griffiths, Ian Lulham and Madeline Oldfield

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) in Australia strives to make justice blind and accessible. But that can get complicated when people need to take a day off from work or travel great distances to appear in court.

Looking for ways to make it easier for people to exercise their legal rights, government leaders asked VCAT to explore the possibility of online dispute resolution to improve access to justice.

“One of the key outcomes of this project was to really test whether online dispute resolution would improve access to justice at VCAT as a tribunal, which sees cases that really everyday Victorians are trying to resolve,” says Liz Griffiths, viability stream lead at VCAT.

VCAT launched an AU$1.5 million pilot project to build an online dispute resolution (ODR) system and to gauge community response.

“We didn't want to invest a lot of time and money in inventing something that we thought would be the solution only to learn that it was solving a problem that wasn't actually the problem,” says Ian Lulham, deputy president, VCAT.

The team used agile to ensure it could respond quickly to stakeholder feedback while building the system, which helped strengthen support for the project across the organization.

“The skeptics came around. In fact, some of the people who perhaps were the most skeptical ended up being the greatest supporters and proponents of it,” says Justice Michelle Quigley, Supreme Court justice, State of Victoria, and president of VCAT. “So, the enthusiasm and embracing of the project of itself was I think seen as a great success.”

The team focused on five key principles linked to increasing access to justice: accessibility, appropriateness, equity, efficiency and effectiveness. And it worked with stakeholders to measure the project's benefits each step of the way.

“We were designing something that people actually wanted by using the human-centered design approach,” says Madeline Oldfield, program director for the ODR pilot.

Of the 85,000 cases VCAT sees each year, roughly 7,300 relate to small civil claims disputes. But academic research estimates suggest the true demand for small civil claims is closer to 630,000. By making it easier to navigate the legal system, this project may also make it more equitable—especially for Victoria's most vulnerable communities.

“The work that we've done here, I think, is really groundbreaking,” says Mary Amiridis, CEO, VCAT. “And it's setting us up to be able to service the demand that is actually out there.” PM


Asia Pacific


Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)


Melbourne, Australia


February 2018-October 2018


Investigate whether online dispute resolution could improve access to justice


It demonstrated that online dispute resolution improves access to justice.

The PMI Project Excellence Award recognizes complex projects with budgets less than US$100 million that best deliver superior performance of project management practices, superior organizational results and positive impacts on society.

Lights, Camera, Action!

Check out behind-the-scenes videos for each of this year's winners on PMI's YouTube channel.



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