Talent Management
This is how project management works! BER Airport <> St. Gotthard Tunnel

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This is how project management works!

BER Airport versus the St. Gotthard Tunnel

Drilling a tunnel through a mountain is a difficult project. – An enormous amount can go wrong. Especially when it’s the longest tunnel in the world. The nature of the rock inside a mountain cannot be predicted; water can be encountered, tunnels can collapse – there are many imponderables. If you then lay a railroad line through such a tunnel, safety is paramount and there is a lot to consider and pay attention to. In order to manage such a mega-project and keep to time and cost schedules, highly professional project management is required.

The builders of the St. Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland have vividly demonstrated that this works perfectly – indeed, that such a project of the century can even be completed ahead of schedule:
The tunnel was scheduled for completion in 2017, but in 2011 it was decided that it would be ready a year earlier – and that’s exactly what happened: the grand opening took place on June 1, 2016.

The costs were also kept in check: Although the costs exceeded the originally planned expenditure, the budget of around CHF 9.56 billion remained stable since 2007; the actual expenditure was even several hundred million less than assumed in 2007.
A world record – at 57 km, the Gotthard Base Tunnel is the longest railroad tunnel in the world. Even its predecessors, the first Gotthard railroad tunnel in 1882 and the Gotthard road tunnel almost a hundred years later in 1980, were the longest tunnels of their time.
The large-scale Swiss project is impressive – even by international standards. This shows top project management with overfulfillment of many goals, with the best quality and in less time than planned. Jobst Fiedler, Professor at the Berlin Hertie School of Governance, examined infrastructure projects in 36 countries in his study “Governance Report 2016”. He calls the Gotthard Base Tunnel project a prime example of “good governance”.

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The opposite of good project management – Master of disaster

Germany also has such major projects – BER airport, Stuttgart 21 and the Elbphilharmonie concert hall – but the country staggers from one disgrace to the next:
BER Airport is already 125% more expensive than originally planned. It is even worse than that: from the cost estimate of € 0.8 billion at the time of the operating license in 1991 to the release, costs of over € 5 billion are expected to have been incurred. In the end, the BER project duration will have quadrupled. The opening date will probably be before the end of this century, but no further details are reliably known. The successes for which the former airport boss Mehdorn pocketed €135,000 in bonuses remain questionable, but they are certainly not to be seen.

If you are looking for an example of poor project management, you can’t go past BER.
Yet it seems much easier, much more plannable to construct a building complex and a few runways than to drill through 2300 m high mountains and face geological unpredictability.

So why is it that BER project managers from politics and business fail time and time again?
Were the project managers and those responsible already unsuitable to fulfill the task assigned to them?
Or did they only develop their incompetence in the course of the project? We don’t know that. What we know: Good project management requires skills and competencies. And these can be measured. Unfortunately, this obviously did not happen in the case of BER.

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Project management and the operational reality

We all know this from our business reality: projects take longer than planned, milestones are elegantly torn, the budget is stretched step by step and finally, the result is simply retroactively declared the goal. You can do it like this. If external parties are involved in the project, measurable costs are visible. This results in a visible reaction.

It becomes interesting when internal staff are largely involved in the project and are responsible for it: What happens if the planning gets out of hand, budgets are blown and time frames are exceeded? Depending on the company culture, the failures are overlooked; alternatively, individuals are symbolically removed from their positions or the project is declared a great success despite the deviation from the original goal. And what happens next? Most of the time it’s business as usual.

In many companies, the aim is to learn from failures: talented employees are sent on training courses or advanced training programs to learn the craft and methodology of project management. All well and good – but unfortunately it is rarely checked whether and to what quality knowledge or even skills have been developed.
After attending a training course, the employee receives a lettered certificate. And with the receipt of the same, the project manager is usually assumed to have the ability to manage projects, even the overarching competence. But does he really have them?
We have dedicated an entire article to the topic of effective further training.

In other companies, people trust that a good expert will already know how to handle a project. Unfortunately, an expert is not necessarily a capable project manager. For this reason, the top performers should attend training courses and courses to become project managers on their own responsibility. Is that enough?

What both approaches have in common is the assumption that project managers are able to cope with the tasks assigned to them, but that they do not know for sure. At best, the projects run well until one fails with catastrophic consequences. These are the earliest possible indications of a different assessment of the project manager’s skills.

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So what can you do? – What can you do in your company?

Does it make sense to wait so long for important projects to fail?
Hardly, because you don’t fill up your car when you’re stranded on the highway for lack of gas.
Before you start your car, check its fuel level. – And before you start with a project manager, you should check their project management skills and competencies. – Trust is good – control is better.
This requires a yardstick, a measuring tool. In the car you have the fuel gauge. There are tools for determining potential for project managers, executives and experts.

There are many tools on the market. The only recommended tools are those for requirements-oriented potential diagnostics: the basis for assessing the requirements profile of an occupation are the characteristics and traits of people who are successful in this occupational field. This means that the potential of a potential project manager is measured against the characteristics of hundreds of already successful project managers.
For detailed explanations, read our article: “We already have well-founded personnel diagnostics” – Why well-founded is not always well-founded.

With this type of well-founded potential analysis, you can measure how well your current or future project managers meet the actual requirements of project management, instead of assuming or even just hoping. After all, you want to be able to rely on your project managers. Instead of vague statements about personality structure, inclinations and “types” or preferred brain areas, you will be given a method with which you can identify high-performing project managers or clearly identify areas of learning – based on scientific evidence.
This way, you can know in advance who is going to blow millions or who will bring projects to a successful conclusion like a Swiss watch.

Our recommendation:

We have been using the “Developer” tool for this purpose for many years. This enables us to successfully assess the management quality of our clients’ project managers and executives and determine the skills of experts and specialists. By the way, the developer is Swiss-Made…

Your project management: BER or St. Gotthard?
– If you would like to find out more about your options for measuring potential, please contact us.

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Agility: How agile project management & agile leadership work

Caught in the net:

Are you interested in project management and major projects? Then we have a few more links for you to read:

The authors

Kassandra Knebel
Susanne Grätsch
Berliner Team