Project Hanford

doing first things first


The Manhattan Project of World War II was one of the most significant engineering and management challenges in recent history. We at Hanford are proud of the role we played in that project and in the contribution we made to ending World War II and the Cold War. Now, however, our defense mission is completed, and we are faced with restoring the environment and managing the waste from our production years. And the challenges we face are just as significant as those of 50 years ago.

The Manhattan Project and the cleanup of the Hanford Site were and are huge efforts, requiring the nation's best talents. Both endeavors were doing things that had never been done before, and both required new technology and management techniques. There were two major differences, however, in these projects. The development of reactors and the production of plutonium were driven by the pressures of war. We are feeling a different pressure, that of making progress on the clean-up and in reducing the costs, while continuing to protect the public, our workers, and the environment. Also, Manhattan was top secret; we operate in a open forum, subject to citizen review.

In both these projects, success or failure depends largely on application of good project management techniques. I am proud to be able to share one of those that we are using at Project Hanford: defining the work.

Someone once said that “if you don't know where you're going, any path will get you there.” To ensure we know where we're going, we've taken steps to nail down exactly what work we'll have to do, when it will be done, and what it will cost. That way we can determine the relationships among the technical requirements, costs, and schedule and build a baseline of work that is technically feasible, publicly acceptable, and realistically achievable.

Defining the Technical Requirements

We start with the technical requirements. Our work requirements are determined by several factors. For example, policy is set by elected and appointed officials in Washington, D.C. There, Department of Energy (DOE) officials are responsible for cleaning up the entire complex. On some occasions, they make the decisions about technical work; on other occasions they leave it up to us. Regulators, especially the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Ecology, determine work requirements. For example, they set the clean-up standards and negotiate with us how and when those standards will be met. We at Hanford have led the Department in negotiating a Tri-Party Agreement among the DOE, EPA, and the State of Washington that sets milestones for the clean-up that are agreed upon by all parties.

Our public stakeholders and the tribal governments help determine our work requirements, as well. We are finding that unless we involve all the players in the decision-making process as early as possible, we are unlikely to make the progress everyone is demanding. My point is that it is not we, alone, who decide how and what we will do.

In many ways, technical requirements are driven by projected land use. Ideally, we would like to be able to say that a certain part of the Site will be used for such-and-such a purpose. And these purposes may range from unlimited residential or recreational use to restricted use. Obviously, the answer to the question “How clean is clean?” is related to that purpose. However, determining land use is a political process, one which ultimately will involve citizens and their representatives at national, state, and local levels. Final land use certainly is beyond the authority of the DOE.

An example illustrates my point. We recently declared that the least-contaminated half of the Site was cleaned up and ready for release for other purposes. These areas were essentially security and safety buffers used only for military operations. They had no radiological or significant chemical contamination. Nevertheless, while the land is theoretically ready for other uses, the ultimate uses to which those lands may be put is far from being determined. Some interests want the land for agriculture; others want it set aside as an ecological reserve; still others want some of the land turned over to them.

To address the question of “How clean is clean?,” we have to make some planning assumptions. These assumptions allow us to focus our planning efforts, while realizing that the political process may cause some of the assumptions to be incorrect. The idea, however, is to have an end state in mind when we develop the technical work to be accomplished to reach that end state.

Building the Technical Baseline

We are using systems engineering principles to define our technical logic. Our systems engineering “Center of Excellence” has defined the functions, requirements, assumptions, and products for all top-level technical work. At the same time, programs and projects are doing the same at all levels for their work. The product is a technical baseline that describes what needs to be done. Systems engineers at the Site level concentrate on identifying interfaces among programs and projects that require joint planning. We are also determining where the risks (health, safety, and environmental, as well as programmatic) are from a Site perspective.

One approach we have used is based upon material balances. By that I mean we have determined what the materials are we will have to deal with, how much we have of them, and how they will be converted into a final disposal state. For example, we know how much solid waste we have, its form, and approximately how much stored waste we will have after it has been treated, packaged, and disposed of properly. Thus, we can determine how large our solid waste handling facilities will be, how much infrastructure we will need to support those facilities, and how much storage capacity we will eventually require for solid waste. We are doing the same thing for contaminated soil, low-level waste, etc. The idea is to determine the work that has to be done to convert our waste into a form that is technically correct and publicly acceptable.

Determining the Schedule

It is not enough, of course, to know what we have to do; we also have to know when. We have identified work activities by scope and duration through systems engineering. The next step is to establish project plans that show the relationship among tasks and clarify interdependencies. A critical path is identified and a schedule baseline is developed. Often, we set planning milestones and begin negotiations with our stakeholders and the tribes on those milestones. The summary schedule for all our activities is readily available to the public.

Estimating the Costs

One of our toughest jobs is estimating costs. Since we are doing many things for the first time, we often don't have historical figures upon which to base the costs. This puts additional pressure on our managers, because our management framework of work, schedule, and costs will not stand up without good cost figures. One thing we're doing is getting our financial system under control by requiring program and project managers to lay out the work in greater and greater detail. Then, we are prioritizing among work activities by their contribution to Site, not just program goals.

Building the Integrated Baseline

Our final step in defining our work is building the complete technical baseline. This baseline is tied to schedule and budget, thus providing a complete picture of what will be done, when it will be done, and how much it will cost. Our stakeholders will have had a chance to influence that baseline, as well. Ultimately, as I said earlier, we want detailed plans that document a work scope that is technically feasible, publicly acceptable, and realistically affordable.

Old-timers around here say the Manhattan Project often had the work ahead of the detailed plans. They were often pouring concrete based upon the barest of blueprints. We are trying to ensure that everything we do is based upon well-thought-out and approved plans. We want to ensure we know where we're going, how we'll get there, and what it will cost.

John D. Wagoner is manager of the U.S. Department of Energy's Richland Operations Office. In this position he is responsible for the DOE's mission at the 560-square-mile Hanford Site.

PM Network • March 1995