Public projects are put in place to achieve certain objectives. However, as a result of different factors, both avoidable and unavoidable, such projects may end up failing or causing a catastrophe which may be associated with loss of life, property or both. Lack of risk management, unreliable estimates, over allocated resources, poor communication, scope creep and lack of monitoring and control are some of the reasons why projects fail. The 1990’s Denver International Airport Baggage Handling System Originally viewed as the most advanced system in the world is an example of a failed project(Crowder, Carbone & Demijohn,2015). This report aims at exploring the causes of failure of the project and options that could have been used to avert the failure of the project
1. The growing demand for Airport services in the United States led to the establishment of the Denver Airport which housed the largest baggage handling system in the world in the City of Denver. The Airport which was established on a 140 km area of land was intended to handle at least 50 million passengers on a yearly basis that would make Denver a hub for air transportation. With this significant number of anticipated clients, an automated baggage handling system became a necessity. The automation of baggage handling system would significantly lead to improved efficiency by lowering the aircraft turnaround to 30 minutes and hence making Denver airport, the airport of choice for many travelers (In Reussner,2016).
Although the aims of the automated baggage handling system were quite positive and would have transformed Denver Airport into one of the Best Airport not only in the United States of America but also globally, the underestimation of the complexities involved in the project transformed the project into one of the most humiliating project failures in the recent times for all the stakeholders involved. The automated system was anticipated to serve all the airlines and concourses of the Denver International Airport by facilitating movement of luggage between planes, from check-in to plane and from plane to baggage claim. Although there were some concerns over the complexities involved in the project which made it unfeasible according to some, these were not addressed before the implementation went on (Winch & Dawsonera, 2010). Involved were also constant project changes and challenges with the supply of electricity. An unplanned for media demonstration of 1994 was the biggest public display of the failures of the project team tasked with the implementation of the project. During the demonstration, the system was characterized by the collision of carts moving at high speed and crushing of bags and scattering of their content. After this incidence, the system was nicknamed the baggage system from hell. What followed was a blame game between the contractors and officials from the Airport (Hart & Gregor, 2005).
The project challenges that were experienced led to the postponement of the opening date for the Airport by a whole 16 months. The expenditure for maintaining the empty stadium escalated the cost of the project by $1.1M per day, costs which were pegged on the City of Denver. On the final day of the opening of the Airport, the complete system was just a shadow of the initial plan. While the project contained in the initial plan, had all the concourses and airlines of the Airport integrated into a single system, the complete system could only be used by a single airline, a single concourse and by Outbound flights only. Although intended to be fully automated the complete system relied on manual tug and trolley system and the use of conveyor belts which were hurriedly incorporated into the project on the realization that full automation was a distant reality. Although the shadow project remained in operation for ten years it missed its initial targets by far and required maintenance cost of $1 million per month which was not tenable, the project was abandoned entirely in 2005 and was replaced with a manual system (Hass, 2009).
2. Several factors should have been considered to facilitate the success of the project.
Addressing of Complexity concerns
It is clear that the failure of the Denver baggage handling system was as a result of failure to make critical decisions on the complexities involved in the project by the project team as well as underestimation of the complexities (Van & Punter, 2011). Although this issue was brought to the attention of the project team, the implementation process still went on without any changes. The project team should have taken sufficient time to analyze the technological challenges that were involved in the project from the planning phase without underestimation of any aspect of the system. This would have led to the identification and elimination of the complexity challenges experienced
Risk management strategies
Just like any other project risks are common phenomena but which can be mitigated. This, therefore, requires possible risks to be identified before the implementation of a project which should then be followed by identification of strategies that can be applied to manage any potential risks. The implementation of the project was characterized by numerous technical challenges including power fluctuations for which no allowances or remedy strategies had been put in place (Rebentisch & Prusak, 2017). The project team should have engaged in risk management activities to identify some of these possible challenges so that sufficient risk management strategies to address them would have been put in place in advance. This would have eliminated the delays experienced in the various stages of project implementation.
Implementation of the initial strategy
Change of strategy was one of the factors that led to the failure of the Denver project. In the initial planning before requesting of bids for the project, the strategy under consideration had each airline make individual baggage handling arrangements which hand prompted United Airline to proceed with a plan to implement their automated luggage handling system. However, two years before the official opening of the system, the project team changed the strategy and decided to implement the adoption a single luggage handling system for all the airlines to facilitate central control (Kock,2007). The schedule pressure experienced was partly because of the uninformed change of strategy. Although the change of strategy was appropriate for the project, its timing was wrong. The project team should have therefore set out the correct strategy for the project in the onset or avoided change of strategy in the in the middle of the implementation of the project
In conclusion, several factors need to be considered in any given project. Failure to weigh different options can lead to an absolute failure of a project or its inability to achieve its original objectives. Failure to consider the complexities involved in the Denver International Airport luggage system led to the realization of a shadow of the intended plan, which led to wastage of significant amounts of money, time and other resources. These challenges could have been avoided by putting in place risk management strategies, sticking to the original plan of the project and addressing the complexity related concerns that were raised before the implementation.
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