Project Management Institute

The best of the best


Dallas Cowboys Stadium

Dallas Cowboys Stadium



National Ignition Facility

National Ignition Facility



Norton Brownsboro Hospital

Norton Brownsboro Hospital



A stadium that breaks several world records. A major step toward a scientific breakthrough. And a state-of-the-art hospital in an underserved market. The three 2010 PMI Project of the Year finalists were each massive efforts. But it wasn't just the scope that sets these projects apart. The teams involved in each also had to deliver under the intense inspection of the stakeholders they served: the U.S. government, a rapidly growing community and some rather excitable sports fans.

Here's a sneak peak at the three contenders. Look for full case studies of each project in upcoming issues of PM Network. »


Locals like to brag that “everything's bigger in Texas.” And the Cowboys Stadium certainly lives up to that reputation. Home to the National Football League's Dallas Cowboys, it's the world's largest domed stadium. The facility also has the largest capacity of any venue in the league, as well as the world's largest column-free interior and largest high-definition video screen.

“The major challenge for us and our team was the sheer size,” says Mark Penny, project executive at Manhattan Construction Co., Dallas, Texas, USA, the lead contractor on the project. Along with the predictable project players—the football team, the owners, the city—the team had to contend with sponsors, team departments, more than 250 subcontractors and 16 artists creating onsite installations.

There was never any doubt, though, as to the most important stakeholder: the fans. “From the start, the ownership focused on how to make the fan experience even better,” Mr. Penny says.

But that focus on the end user translated to 1,500 modifications of the project's scope.

“Every change had some facet of increasing the quality of the fans' experience while at the facility,” he explains. The team decided, for example, to add additional video boards late in the project to ensure that everyone, no matter where they were sitting, could see a screen.

All those shifts led to a major increase in the construction budget, but the team wasn't given even a single day of leeway in the schedule.

“It really challenged us to have all of our processes in place as efficiently as possible so that each new issue could be tracked from the concept idea through final install, while being funded and fit into the schedule,” Mr. Penny says. “It was like a marathon. You feel like you have trained for it for years—but when you are actually in the middle of it, you realize nothing could really prepare you for the challenges that you face.”


Project: Build the world's largest domed stadium

Location: Arlington, Texas, USA

Key Project Players:

City of Arlington

Manhattan Construction Co.

Walter P. Moore Engineers and Consultants

HKS Inc.


1994: Dallas Cowboys football team owner Jerry Jones announces plans to build a stadium with additional seating and a retractable roof.

2005: The city of Arlington and the Dallas Cowboys select a location.

April 2006: The project team breaks ground.

6 June 2009: Cowboys Stadium officially opens.

Highlight: Even with 1,500 scope changes, the project was delivered on schedule.


For more than 50 years, scientists have worked to achieve a self-sustaining nuclear fusion reaction, known as “ignition in a laboratory.” Looking to speed that effort along, the U.S. Department of Energy launched its largest scientific construction project ever: the National Ignition Facility (NIF).

The 10-story building contains a lab with 192 lasers that aim to deliver at least 50 times more energy than any previous laser system.

That kind of power could be just what it takes to achieve ignition, marking “a major step toward developing inertial fusion energy as a clean, safe and virtually unlimited energy source for the future,” says Ed Moses, PhD, principal associate director, NIF.

One of the first steps was to institute a high level of communication and technical and scientific project integration with an international, interdisciplinary consortium of scientists and engineers, as well as thousands of vendors and suppliers.

The team knew it had a firm deadline for construction so equipment could be installed and testing completed, and it faced a wide variety of research and development, technology and engineering obstacles.

“A prime example was obtaining the optical components needed to build the lasers,” Dr. Moses says.

These weren't just any lasers. The project team set out to construct the largest optical instrument and largest laser in the world, along with a facility to contain the 8,000 large optics and about 30,000 smaller optics. But at the time of the groundbreaking, the capability to produce the needed laser glass and crystals—which triple the frequency of the laser beams—didn't even exist.

“To produce laser glass quickly enough to meet our schedules, NIF project managers worked closely with two optics vendors to develop a new production method that continuously melts and pours the glass,” Dr. Moses explains.

Ignition requires a very particular set of circumstances. Achieving that is “an engineering challenge of the first order, requiring rock-solid stability in the optics support systems, precise placement and alignment of components—despite a multitude of opportunities for errors to creep in—and a rigorously accurate computer timing system,” he says.

Since the facility opened in March 2009, initial experiments testify to the accuracy and reliability of the laser and the rigor of the project's risk management efforts. In January, the lab hit a target with a historic level of laser energy—about 30 times more than past efforts—in a few billionths of a second.


Project: Build a facility to help scientists get closer to achieving self-sustaining nuclear fusion

Location: Livermore, California, USA

Key Project Players: U.S. Department of Energy


1996: The project begins.

May 1997: Construction starts.

September 2001: Construction is complete.

February 2009: Instruments are installed and tested.

March 2009: The lab is certified by the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration.

June 2009: The first large-scale laser target experiments are performed.

Highlight: The project marks the largest scientific facility ever built by the U.S. Department of Energy.


For team members on the Norton Brownsboro Hospital project, construction was the easy part. The bigger challenges came when the team had to recruit and train a staff to serve patients in Kentucky's largest healthcare market. Each of the 700 new hires had to learn how to operate 51 information systems and 13 technologies, including a new nurse call system.

Twelve project managers were tasked with implementing the new processes and technologies and getting the staff up to speed, says Janice Weaver, system associate vice president of the enterprise program management office at Norton Healthcare.

To ensure the project was on track with patient needs, subject matter experts were brought in from other Norton facilities to review and refine the new hospital.

“We wanted to know if they were the patients, how would they want hospital processes and systems to work,” Ms. Weaver says. That kind of attention to the end user led to a new process for registration: Instead of waiting to be helped by an administrator at the desk, patients can register themselves at kiosks.

On 26 August 2009, Norton Brownsboro Hospital opened to the public—on schedule and US$2.9 million under budget.

“We got the operations people involved early on in the process. They were folded into the project and weekly project integration team meetings to ensure a smooth transition from this being a project to it being an operational hospital,” Ms. Weaver says. “We invited key operations people to meetings to hear any concerns or needs.”

Given the stakes, the team knew it had to deliver. “Every project manager feels if his or her project doesn't go well, it will be a ‘disaster,’” Ms. Weaver says. “But in healthcare, a project that delivers a malfunctioning piece of medical equipment, processes that are not streamlined, improperly tested software or poorly trained clinical staff can truly mean the difference between life and death for the patients who depend on the myriad of projects carried out daily. Failure is not an option in healthcare.” PM


Project: Construct the city's first new hospital in 25 years

Location: Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Key Project Player:

Norton Healthcare


July 2007: Construction begins.

January 2009: Training begins for new hospital staff.

26 August 2009: The hospital opens.

Highlight: The healthcare facility was completed US$2.9 million under budget.

»PMI Project of the Year will be presented at PMI Global Congress 2010—North America, scheduled to be held 9–12 October in Washington, D.C., USA. Visit to learn more.

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