Michael McFarland, S.J.
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 "low- balled" 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.
"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?
Prepare a report that gives an ethical analysis of the issues raised in the case study.
The report describes the ethical issues that took place in the Occidental engineering case and identifies the potential consequences of the issues. The Occidental engineering is working on a project to make a prototype of the air traffic control system that is funded through a contract from Federal Aviation Agency (Valavanis & Vachtsevanos, 2015). The company obtained the project by bidding for it at an extremely less amount. The prototype is tested by Wayne Davidson after completion and he found an error in the prototype that could make the system lose the track of aircraft. The project manager, Deborah Shepherd, advises Davidson to deliver the project as it as they cannot miss the deadline. Davidson finds it unsafe, however Shepherd assures him that they will make the changes after FAA requests for changes. The project was delivered without any modification. The report identifies the potential breaches of the ethical standards of the Project Management Institute.
There are several ethical issues that took place due to the Safe Skies project of building a prototype for air traffic control system that was accepted by the Occidental engineering firm. The company obtained the project by accepting the project at low bid that is an ethical issue as it may affect the employees working on that project. The company did not have sufficient financial resources to make the project as it was accepted at low bid. The lack of resources affected the organisational culture as less number of workers were burdened with huge amount of work (Kerzner & Kerzner, 2017). It was against the ethics of the company as the organisations are required to indulge sufficient employees for a work. Another ethical issue that took place was delivering of the erroneous project. The company was required to provide an efficient project, however an error was detected by Davidson in the prototype. Deborah Shepherd insisted Davidson to deliver the project without correcting the error to submit it on time and protect the jobs of the people. However, it was unethical as the company knowingly delivered the erroneous project. Shepherd ensured Davidson that the FAA tests every project before implementing it, therefore the company will correct the error when FAA will request for change. However, this was against the ethics of the company as it was illegal and unprofessional to deliver erroneous project intentionally.
The Occidental engineering firm knew the importance of the project and therefore, it obtained the project by bidding for it at an extremely lesser amount than it would require for making the efficient project. The consequences that the stakeholders will have to face due to the aggressive bid is the financial instability, less resources for the project and less fund for the project (McFarland, 2018). The stakeholders will not be able to provide sufficient resources to the workers to complete the task in an efficient manner, as the fund for the project is low. Another consequence that the stakeholders might face is loss on the project as it was underfunded due to the bidding at low amount. However, the company indulged less number of workers in the project to avoid the loss on the project. The other risks that are involved in the project are that the employees were burdened with the high amount of work as the less number of workers were indulged in the project due low fund (Caron, 2013). Shepherd insisted Davidson to deliver the erroneous project that could harm the reputation of the company and the prototype that was tested by Wayne could harm the safety of the aircraft as the system might lose tracks of them if that prototype is implemented in the system.
The ethical standards of the Project Management Institute are based on several values of ethics and standards (Muller, 2017). In the Occidental engineering firm case, the ethical standards of PMI were breached for the accomplishment of the project. The following paragraphs identify the potential breaches of PMI ethical standards by the project management team of the company.
The team members gave their full effort in the project, as they understood the importance of the project for their company. However, the project manager did not fulfil her responsibility as she insisted Davidson to deliver the erroneous prototype. It was responsibility of the project manager to ensure that her company is delivering an efficient project.
The companies are required to be honest with their clients according to ethical standards of PMI (Garel, 2013). However, in Occidental Engineering case, this ethical standard of PMI was violated as Shepherd knowingly delivered the erroneous prototype without informing the FAA.
The company obtained the project at an extremely low bid that was not a fair decision as the company was going through a shaky financial condition (Too & Weaver, 2014). Therefore, the project went underfunded and understaffed due to which less number of workers were burdened with large amount of work.
The company could have requested the Federal Aviation Agency for some more time instead of delivering the flawed project on time to avoid violation of ethical code. The company accepted the project by bidding for it in the amount that was less than the amount required for making an efficient project. They should have provided sufficient resources and staffs to the team that was working on the project. It was required by Davidson to remain stuck to his decision as he was responsible for testing the projects before delivering them (Richardson, 2014). Shepherd was the project manager and it was her duty to provide efficient project to FAA. Therefore, she should not have passed the flawed project.
It can be concluded from the above discussion that the measure taken by Occidental engineering firm to get the project was unethical as it affected the workers of the project team. They had to work for eighteen hours a day to complete the work within the deadline as the project was understaffed and underfunded. The project manager, Deborah Shepherd insisted Wayne Davidson to deliver the flawed project without modifying the errors to meet the deadline. This decision taken by the project manager was unethical. The ethical standards of the Project Management Institute were also violated due to the measures that were taken by the company.
Caron, F. (2013). Introduction to Project Risk. In Managing the Continuum: Certainty, Uncertainty, Unpredictability in Large Engineering Projects (pp. 51-56). Springer, Milano.
Garel, G. (2013). A history of project management models: From pre-models to the standard models. International Journal of Project Management, 31(5), 663-669.
Kerzner, H., & Kerzner, H. R. (2017). Project management: a systems approach to planning, scheduling, and controlling. John Wiley & Sons.
McFarland, M. (2018). Occidental Engineering Case Study: Part 1. Retrieved from https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/more/engineering-ethics/engineering-ethics-cases/occidental-engineering-case-study-part-1/
Muller, R. (2017). Project governance. Routledge.
Richardson, G. L. (2014). Project management theory and practice. Auerbach Publications.
Too, E. G., & Weaver, P. (2014). The management of project management: A conceptual framework for project governance. International Journal of Project Management, 32(8), 1382-1394.
Valavanis, K. P., & Vachtsevanos, G. J. (2015). Future of unmanned aviation. In Handbook of unmanned aerial vehicles(pp. 2993-3009). Springer, Dordrecht.
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:
My Assignment Help. (2020). Ethical Analysis Of Occidental Engineering Case Study Essay.. Retrieved from https://myassignmenthelp.com/free-samples/bn205-project-management/the-ethical-issues-in-the-occidental-engineering.html.
"Ethical Analysis Of Occidental Engineering Case Study Essay.." My Assignment Help, 2020, https://myassignmenthelp.com/free-samples/bn205-project-management/the-ethical-issues-in-the-occidental-engineering.html.
My Assignment Help (2020) Ethical Analysis Of Occidental Engineering Case Study Essay. [Online]. Available from: https://myassignmenthelp.com/free-samples/bn205-project-management/the-ethical-issues-in-the-occidental-engineering.html
[Accessed 30 November 2023].
My Assignment Help. 'Ethical Analysis Of Occidental Engineering Case Study Essay.' (My Assignment Help, 2020) <https://myassignmenthelp.com/free-samples/bn205-project-management/the-ethical-issues-in-the-occidental-engineering.html> accessed 30 November 2023.
My Assignment Help. Ethical Analysis Of Occidental Engineering Case Study Essay. [Internet]. My Assignment Help. 2020 [cited 30 November 2023]. Available from: https://myassignmenthelp.com/free-samples/bn205-project-management/the-ethical-issues-in-the-occidental-engineering.html.