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BN205-Occidental Engineering Case Study

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Occidental Engineering Case Study

Wayne Davidson is a software engineer in the aerospace division of Occidental Engineering, a large engineering firm. For the past two years he has been working as a test engineer for Operation Safe Skies, a project to build a prototype of the next generation air traffic control system. This project, which is funded by a contract from the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), is a very important one for Occidental. With all the cutbacks in defence spending, the aerospace division has been losing business. The Safe Skies project has provided much needed business, and could lead to a much larger contract if successful. Mindful of its strategic importance, the company had bid very aggressively for the original contract. In fact they had "lowballed" it, bidding less than it would take to do the work properly. They felt that was the only way they could beat out their competitors, who were just as hungry for the work. Because of their somewhat shaky financial position, the company was not willing to take a loss on the project, so the project has been underfunded and understaffed. Nevertheless those working on the project have made a heroic effort, working eighteen hour days seven days a week to meet the deadline, because they know how much it means to the company, not to mention their own jobs. They are now very close to success.
 
A version of the prototype has been completed and turned over to Wayne for testing. He has run extensive simulations on it and found that it works as it should except for one little problem. When there are too many aircraft in the system, it will sometimes lose track of one or more of them. The "forgotten" aircraft will simply disappear from the screen, there will be no trace of it anywhere, and it will be ignored by all of the collision avoidance and other safety tests. Wayne has been working with the software designers to identify the cause of the problem, and they have traced it to a subtle error in memory allocation and reuse. They are confident that they can fix it, but it will take a month or more to do the redesign, coding and testing.
 
Wayne meets with his boss, Deborah Shepherd, the project manager, to discuss the implications. She tells him that what he is asking for is impossible. The contract requires that the company deliver a fully certified, working version of the software in three days for system integration and test. The government has developed a new, get-tough policy on missed deadlines and cost overruns, and Occidental is afraid that if they miss this deadline, the government will make an example of them. They would be subject to fines and the loss of the remainder of the prototype contract; and they might not be allowed to bid on the contract for the full system. This would have a devastating effect on the aerospace division, resulting in thousands of lost jobs.
 
They consider whether they can do a quick patch to the software before turning it over, but Wayne adamantly refuses to release any code that has not been tested thoroughly. There is always a chance that the patch would interact with some other part of the program to create a new bug. BN205 Network Project Management Page 3 of 8 Prepared by: Samira Baho Moderated by: Dr Karthik Nagarajan July, 2018 "Then we'll have to deliver the software as is," Deborah says. "I can't jeopardize this project or the jobs of my people by missing that deadline."
 
"We can't do that!" exclaims Wayne. "That's like delivering a car with defective brakes."
 
"Don't worry," Deborah reassures him. "We have contacts in the FAA, so we know their testing plans. They will do a lot of simulations to make sure the software works with the hardware and has all the functionality in the specs. Then they will do live tests, but only at a small airport, with a backup system active at all times. There is no way they will overload the system in any of this. After that they will have some change requests. Even if they don't, we can give them an updated version of the program. We can slip the bug fix in there. They will never see the problem. Even if they do, we can claim it was a random occurrence that would not necessarily show up in our tests. The important thing is no one is in any danger." "Maybe they won't find the bug, but I know it's there. I would be lying if I said the system passed all the necessary tests. I can't do that. Anyway, it would be illegal and unprofessional." "You can certify that it is safe, because it is, the way they are going to use it."
 
And so he does. In the end Wayne signs off on the software. It is delivered to the FAA and makes it through all the preliminary tests, including live tests at a small airport in the Midwest. As a result of these tests, the FAA requests some changes in the user interface, and when Occidental delivers the new software it includes a robust solution to the problem of the disappearing aircraft. No one outside of Deborah's group ever learns of the problem. In fact Occidental's success with the prototype leads to major contracts for air traffic control software, giving much-needed business to the aerospace division. This saves hundreds of jobs, and allows the company to add hundreds more.
 
Wayne Davidson, however, takes early retirement once the prototype project is finished, in order to write a book on software testing. He feels that the book should have a chapter on ethics, but he can never bring himself to write it.
 
What do you think about Wayne's decision? Was it ethical? 
 
 

Answer:

Introduction

This project undertakes a deep delved research in order to identify and analyse the ethical breaches in the course of the proceedings described in the case study. Identifying the potential ethical breaches, this report focuses at analysing the possible consequences that could have followed these unethical footsteps. The next part of the report is based on the research conducted to identify the articles from the code of ethics of the Project Management Institute. This report also makes possible recommendations regarding how Wayne and Deborah, the persons mostly concerned for this unethical practice as described in the case study should have actually acted in order to align their activities with business ethics.

Discussion

Identification of the Ethical Issues 

The first ethical issue identified from the case study is the “low balling” by means of which the company sanctioned the order. By doing this they took potential business risk that could affect the major stakeholders of the company including the business shareholders and the employees who are engaged in lifetime employment in the company. Underfunding and understaffing are other ethical issues of the case study. The company received the order for this prototype is provided by the government and the outcome of this project is significant towards the air traffic control system. Hence the prototype should be technically bug-less. Glitches in programming might have led to big hazards. However the major ethical issue have been the non-adhering to the exact outcomes of the simulation test which identified that the software of the prototype failed to track few of the aircrafts when many of them were on the radar of the system (McFarland, 2018). The collision avoidance signal could not be sent because few crafts would simply disappear. In this context, Deborah Shepherd planned that since the government deadline for the submission of the prototype in full working condition was in three days, they would submit the software with the bug. Later the government might want some change in designs, and by the time allocated to make the change, Wayne and team would fix the bug. This is a big ethical issue. 

 


If the government had not requested for any changes and adapted the software (testing in a small airport would not have identified the bug), some havoc dangers would be impending. Moreover, in case if anything such happened, the company would be blacklisted and not only employees, rather the whole organisations would have lost business in such circumstances. Hence, submission of a faulty program is not acceptable at all. This is not an ethical way of saving the back of the company. The company, since the advent of the project and bidding, had not considered the significance of the project and the consequences if they failed to deliver the software properly. They were concerned with the progress of their own business only.

Identification of the Potential Consequences to the stakeholders

There are chances of two potential consequences to the stakeholders. The first stakeholder who have to undergo the consequences are the internal stakeholders of the Occidental Engineering Company. Influenced from Eskerod, Huemann & Savage (2015), it can be opined that the company had already taken a big risk by underfunding and understaffing the project. The company, because of its shaky economic position could not afford to invest in the project properly. Hence the project was underfunded. Besides, the company was forced to make the limited number of workforce work for 18 hours per day to provide the work within deadline. As per Cicmil et al. (2016), this has been the reason for excessive workplace stress and this is possibly why the project was completed with one major glitch in the system. The basic part of the software was the detection of the air vehicles and the links to the other features followed. The glitch in the basic process like detecting the sir crafts made the other features (their availability and usage prospects) insignificant.

The government was supposed to conduct an integration test of the software on a small airport. The company had taken a big risk by submitting the faulty software to the government. This software was a stereotype that would be implemented in every air station by the FAA. In case if the software had not worked properly in the test period, it would have led to a terrible disaster. It could have led to live losses and huge destruction of property causing massive financial losses. Another fact is that if the FAA would have accepted the first model of the program and not resent for some designing changes, as Deborah had assumed, the software could have been the reason of plane crash or any other similar disaster. During the flight, the pilots need to consult the air station regarding various flight conditions, and if the software failed to track any air craft on an odd day, it could result in to disaster (McFarland, 2018). 

 


It should also be considered what could have happened if the glitch in the software would have been detected in the integration test of the FAA. The company could have possible been blacklisted and the employees involved in the organisation would have found it difficult to get any alternative employment because of their association with any blacklisted company. Besides the company would have had to incur severe financial penalisation. In fact, Wayne was the only person who was concerned about the major ethical breach he was conducting by giving sanction to the software even after it failed in the simulation test. This project went exactly in the way that it should have and the company got the opportunity to fix the bug. However, what Wayne had done seemed unethical to him and he could not adjust himself with the organisation anymore and quitted his job. 

 

Identification of the Potential Breaches to the PMI ethical standards

Influenced from the findings of Khan & Rasheed (2015), it can be opined that the company had primarily violated the Article 1d of the Ethics guideline of the Project Management Institute. The Article 1d describes that any organisations should maintain the prestige associated with the profession by implementing dignified organisational practices. In the two cases namely “low balling” for gaining the bid. Secondly, the company violated the ideals of this article by submitting a project with glitch that could have caused a disaster. The article 2b is also violated by the company. The article prescribes that the company should invest proper resources and undertake any business project in planned and co-ordinated manner. The company violated this prospect when they underfunded and understaffed the project. As highlighted by Kerzner (2018), another article which do not conform to the project activities is 3a. The companies taking contracts from parent companies should remain faithful and loyally deliver the requisite to the company they have contract with. However the company did not consider the consequences of submitting a project with a bug. For similar reasons they have also violated the Article 3e. 

 

Recommendations

Deborah is more liable for the unethical move of the company. In the initial place the company should have calculated their potential beforehand before bidding for the project. The company had taken a big strategic risk in undertaking a government project where they do not have the adequate financial capital or the human capital to handle the project. Following the article 2e, Deborah should make renovations in the company so that the company can make itself competent to handle such projects comprehensively without having to take unethical steps. Deborah also violated ethics when she applied unethical steps to know how the integration test is going to be conducted from her internal connections. Wayne was also not supposed to give positive reports after the simulation check. He left the company after the completion of this project. However a more ethical footstep would have been standing up against Deborah’s unethical business management and make the company’s professionals understand the value of ethics.

Conclusion 

In the course of this report, it is evident that by underfunding and understaffing, the Occidental Engineering Company have made big violation of business ethics. However, the company also forced the employees to deliver extra labour for the cause of the organisation. Analysing the footsteps of Deborah and Wayne, it can be evidently concluded that the company stood a major chance of being blacklisted.  Besides, after analysing the possible consequences of this breach of ethics, it can be concluded that if the FAA had not referred for interface change, the software with the glitch would have been accepted by the FAA and would have ben commercially implemented.   

 

References

Cicmil, S., Williams, T., Thomas, J., & Hodgson, D. (2016). Rethinking project management: researching the actuality of projects. International journal of project management, 24(8), 675-686.

Eskerod, P., Huemann, M., & Savage, G. (2015). Project stakeholder management—Past and present. Project Management Journal, 46(6), 6-14.

Fleming, Q. W., & Koppelman, J. M. (2016, December). Earned value project management. Project Management Institute, 14(3), 1-12.

Heagney, J. (2016). Fundamentals of project management. Amacom.

Kerzner, H. (2018). Project management best practices: Achieving global excellence. John Wiley & Sons.

Khan, A. S., & Rasheed, F. (2015). Human resource management practices and project success, a moderating role of Islamic Work Ethics in Pakistani project-based organizations. International Journal of Project Management, 33(2), 435-445.

Lee, L., Reinicke, B., Sarkar, R., & Anderson, R. (2015). Learning through interactions: improving project management through communities of practice. Project Management Journal, 46(1), 40-52.

Nicholas, J. M., & Steyn, H. (2017). Project management for engineering, business and technology. Routledge.

McFarland, M. (2018). OEC - Occidental Engineering. Retrieved from https://www.onlineethics.org/Resources/Cases/OccidentalEng.aspx

OR

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