Project Management Institute

Double duty


Cleaning up a contaminated nuclear weapons facility left no margin for error on risk management. Securing buy-in—and adapting to a dramatic scope change—for a facility to distribute drinking water to a drought-stricken region took stellar communications across multiple stakeholder groups. And designing a hospital stocked with state-of-the-art equipment—while integrating new stakeholder inputs and considerations—required aggressive change management. In all three cases, failure was not an option.

The 2013 PMI Project of the Year Award finalists not only achieved their business goals—they also improved communities. Here's an overview of these three extraordinary projects—and the project management practices that helped them get the job done. Watch for in-depth case studies on each project in upcoming issues of PM Network.

A Cleanup, Plus Jobs

The time of heightened nuclear standoffs has long passed, but the resulting nuclear waste is still present at the Savannah River Site (SRS) facility near Aiken, South Carolina, USA. Built by the U.S. government in the early 1950s, the plant at one time manufactured one-third of the nation's weapons-grade plutonium and all of its tritium, both critical ingredients of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear research and production is ongoing at SRS, but for the site to meet Department of Energy (DOE) standards, the radioactive waste buildup needed to be addressed. So Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS), which manages and operates the SRS, launched a US$1.4 billion clean-up project in April 2009.

Working with the DOE, the team established that meeting the agency's standards for decontamination would be the project scope. The resulting goal: Make 232 square miles (601 square kilometers)—75 percent of the entire SRS site—clean enough to no longer require regulatory oversight. To get there, the team would have to decontaminate and decommission 30 facilities and demolish a cooling tower.

The project also aimed to transfer the site's inventory of 5,000 cubic meters (176,573 cubic feet) of radioactive waste already amassed in more than 10,000 containers to a storage facility in Carlsbad, New Mexico, USA.

The massive undertaking would require workers—thousands of them. In addition to managing 800 SRNS employees, team leaders hired 1,400 new workers to execute the project. But most of these new hires had never worked in a nuclear facility before. An extensive training process embedded them with long-term employees who served as mentors. From the outset, the team knew an emphasis on work controls and safety was essential. An accident early on showed just how essential it was.

During the waste-remediation process, a worker suffered a puncture wound to his hand, causing internal radioactive contamination. He recovered, but the incident prompted the team to revise work processes, incorporating visual surveillance to increase oversight in the field. Lessons learned were also integrated into training. With updates in place, the remainder of the project was completed without injuries or incidents of contamination.

“We were under the microscope from day one. We were being graded on how quickly we could hire and get people to work, which was a big impetus for the whole project.”

—Paul Hunt, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, Aiken, South Carolina, USA



Along with keeping everything safe and secure, the project team had to deliver on another key business goal. Because its funding was authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the SRS project needed to create jobs and pump money into a struggling local economy. The situation prompted increased scrutiny on the already high-profile project, says Paul Hunt, senior vice president of environmental management operations at SRNS.

“We were under the microscope from day one. We were being graded on how quickly we could hire and get people to work, which was a big impetus for the whole project.”

By October 2010, the SRS project had created or retained more than 4,600 local jobs, with a regional economic impact of more than US$525 million, according to a study by the University of South Carolina.

Despite original estimates the project would take eight years, the team safely compressed its work into 45 months, closing the project in December 2012. The team even surpassed one of its key goals, reducing the contaminated footprint by 262 square miles (679 square kilometers) or 85 percent. Finding ways to work faster and cut costs—while still keeping safety top of mind—allowed the team to exceed expectations, says Mr. Hunt.

“We delivered an additional approximately US$100 million worth of scope that wasn't in the baseline. That super-stretch work was a huge success both for our customer, the Department of Energy, and for our companies.”


Project: Reduce contamination levels and remediate radioactive waste in a nuclear-facility site while bolstering the regional economy

Budget: US$1.4 billion

Location: Aiken, South Carolina, USA

Key Project Players: U.S. Department of Energy, White House Office of Management and Budget, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions

Highlight: The project team exceeded its goals—reducing the site's contaminated footprint by 13 percent more than planned—while creating or retaining 4,600 jobs.


Project: Construct a 100-gigaliter (26-billion-gallon) water desalination plant

Budget: AU$1.8 billion

Location: Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Key Project Players: South Australian Water Corp., AdelaideAqua, South Australian and Australian governments, and the Kaurna community

Highlights: Though the original capacity of the desalination plant doubled during execution, the project closed 19 days ahead of schedule and 1 percent under budget.

Water—On the Double

Adrought that gripped southern Australia in the mid-2000s was the worst on record. Rainfalls hit all-time lows and riverbeds began to dry up.

Government leaders knew they needed to create climate-independent sources of drinking water—and there was little time to waste. The South Australian Water Corp. (SA Water) responded with an audacious plan to build an AU$1.8 billion desalination plant in Adelaide, South Australia.

Launched in February 2008, the project originally aimed to construct a 50-gigaliter (13-billion-gallon) sea-water desalination facility with the capacity to meet 25 percent of Adelaide's annual water needs.

Securing early buy-in from government stakeholders allowed the organization to acquire quick approval for contracts and permits, all of which were secured within a year of the project announcement, says Milind Kumar, project director of SA Water. “Obtaining major development approval and getting all contracts in place in less than 12 months was an unheard-of achievement,” he says.

At the same time, the organization launched a stakeholder engagement plan to communicate the project's benefits to the surrounding community, specifically the Kaurna indigenous population that had long occupied the area. The project team worked closely with the community's leaders to ensure they were on board with the development plan. As part of this collaboration, the team integrated Kaurna artifacts and information about their cultural history in the on-site visitors’ center. This facility has attracted more than 6,000 people.



“Obtaining major development approval in less than 12 months was an unheard-of achievement.”

—Milind Kumar, SA Water, Adelaide, South Australia

To keep the project moving at a steady clip, the SA Water delivery team followed a strict risk-assessment process. Mr. Kumar created an inspection team that regularly reviewed key packages, such as the seawater intake structure, to make sure all requirements were being met. “These assessments helped to focus effort on the elements of the project that required the greatest oversight and support,” he explains.

The processes initially kept the project team on its aggressive five-year schedule. But less than two years into the project, the drought worsened and the River Murray, Adelaide's main water supply, ceased to flow in certain areas. That prompted the government to double the plant's planned capacity—but keep the original completion date of June 2012.

“Doubling the plant capacity while addressing the environmental sensitivity, geology, scale and risks associated with the groundwater, tunneling and marine works was a huge challenge,” says Mr. Kumar.

Though the Australian government added AU$328 million to the budget, the team still had to figure out how to accommodate more than 13,000 activities required to complete the facility.

One solution was to expedite shipments of critical equipment, such as tunnel boring machines. Mr. Kumar and his team also added more construction crews as well as afternoon and nighttime shifts for the project's final 18 months.

Since the project was passed to the operations team in December 2012, the facility has supplied the region with 45 billion liters (12 billion gallons) of drinking water, enough to fill 18,000 Olympic swimming pools.

“Delivering an incredibly complex project 19 days earlier than the original approved timeline, within the original approved budget and to an outstanding degree of quality is a significant accomplishment,” Mr. Kumar says. “This sets a new precedent.”

Treating Children, Pleasing Families

Attending to kids’ medical problems typically means shuttling them between a network of different hospitals and offices. The not-for-profit Nemours Foundation had an altogether different vision.

Launched in 2005, its US$380 million Nemours Children's Hospital Project in Orlando, Florida sought to create an integrated system for children with complex medical conditions, combining the clinical setting and the hospital setting under one roof.

From the start, Nemours knew it didn't just want to build a new children's hospital. It wanted to create a children's hospital built by families, for families. To that end, an advisory council of patients and parents provided input on an off-site preview center, with inpatient and outpatient rooms and an emergency department. Those discussions fueled the look and feel of the actual facility, right down to the furniture and paint colors.

Families weren't the only community stakeholders the project team had to consult. From 2009 to 2012, the team promoted regional awareness and support of the hospital by communicating with community leaders, elected officials, area physicians and residents.

Yet many decision makers, including physicians and management team members, weren't hired until the final year of the project—leaving them out of the initial feedback loop.

“We were designing a hospital, creating all the operational processes, starting to procure equipment, procure and install IT systems, go through regulatory processes, designing space and creating space—all without the input of the key physicians and clinicians who would actually be using the space,” says Susan Voltz, PMP, senior director of strategy and project management at Nemours.

Each of these hires brought knowledge and expertise that changed the scope of critical project components. So the Nemours project team implemented a change-control process to help stakeholders differentiate nice-to-haves from must-haves, such as a pharmacy and radiation machines. “A must-have impacted the care of the child,” Ms. Voltz explains.

“We were designing a hospital, creating all the operational processes, starting to procure equipment, go through regulatory processes—all without the input of the key physicians and clinicians who would actually be using the space,”

—Susan Voltz, PMP, Nemours, Orlando, Florida, USA



One core need was state-of-the-art medical equipment, although much of that evolved during the project timeline. When the equipment list was compiled in 2008, it included 9,000 pieces that cost a total of US$32 million. By the time most of the equipment was purchased in 2012, however, the prices, sizes and specifications of many of those items had changed. To manage these moving targets, the team relied on a collaborative change management system to review and approve all equipment changes, such as the addition of touch-screen panels at the entrance of every hospital room.

In October 2012, the 630,000-square-foot (58,529-square-meter), 137-bed hospital opened—on time, within budget and ready to serve children and their families on day one.

“The first day that we opened the hospital, within the first hour, an ambulance pulled up to the emergency department,” says Ms. Voltz. “And while you don't like to see a child coming in and thankfully it wasn't life-threatening, it was a very satisfying feeling to see, okay, we've built the hospital. We're ready to go.” PM


Project: Build a top-tier children's hospital that fully integrates specialty pediatric care

Budget: US$380 million

Location: Orlando, Florida, USA

Key Project Players: Nemours Foundation, community leaders, physicians, families

Highlight: Though changes related to new stakeholders and evolving technologies were introduced in the final phases of execution, the hospital opened on time and within budget.

And the winner is…

Find out on 26 October by attending the PMI Awards Ceremony and Reception, which takes place just prior to PMI Global Congress 2013—North America, to be held in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. Learn more about the professional development and networking possibilities of the congress at

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