All of Life is Not a Project or How Business School thinking led to the Katrina Disaster in the US Michael Lissack October, 2005
Other Subtitles: What the US never learned from the river floods in Central Europe A complexity view of project management Fix your thinking before its too late
Context: Business School Thinking: – Net Present Value – Consideration of Tradeoffs – Creation and Exploitation of Externalities – Use of Project Management
Our main question: Project Management has become a real buzzword in the modern corporate world. It suggests cost efficiency, optimal solutions and immediate results. Is it really such a panacea? When and why or why not?
Our Agenda: 1. Describe Katrina Situation 2. Compare New Orleans to Rhine/Danube 3. The Prelude 4. The Event
Agenda (2) 5. The immediate aftermath 6. Rita contrast 7. Lessons that could have been learned, but were not 8. General lessons
Katrina Category 5 Hurricane Near Direct Hit on New Orleans
Katrina First forecast on August 24. By August 26 the possibility of "unprecedented cataclysm" was already being considered. Some computer models were putting New Orleans right in the center of their track probabilities, and the chances of a direct hit were forecast at nearly 90%. The Governor of Louisiana declared a state of emergency for state agencies. On August 27, after Katrina crossed southern Florida and strengthened to Category 3, President George W. Bush declared a state of emergency in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi two days before the hurricane made landfall. On August 28 the National Weather Service issued a bulletin predicting "devastating" damage rivaling the intensity of Hurricane Camille. New Orleans Mayor Nagin ordered an unprecedented mandatory evacuation of the city. Unfortunately, the ordered mandatory evacuation was too late and just an order.
New Orleans compared to Rhine/Danube/Central Europe
River flooding is usually predicted days in advance River basin has a well documented emergency plan River basin residents have lived through many variants of the Rhine/Danube floods
New Orleans compared to Rhine/Danube/Central Europe Storm Surge was predicted days in advance New Orleans had a well documented emergency plan New Orleans had practiced this very scenario in 2002 right after the Danube floods
New Orleans compared to Rhine/Danube/Central Europe Differences: Mindset of residents Lines of Authority Mandatory evacuation order Pre-disaster equipment preparation Cooperation of mass media Willingness of authorities to implement plans and orders
New Orleans compared to Rhine/Danube/Central Europe Petőfi Sándor: A Tisza - részlet- Mint az őrült, ki letépte láncát, Vágtatott a Tisza a rónán át, Zúgva, bőgve törte át a gátot, El akarta nyelni a világot!
New Orleans compared to Rhine/Danube/Central Europe
The Prelude Fragmentation Externalities Averages versus Long Tails Words versus Actions Abstractions versus Embodiment Lack of reading Project mentality
Fragmentation Authority is massively distributed amongst a variety of agencies No central body to declare a “disaster” No central repository of supplies or equipment Every man for himself
Externalities Can costs be imposed on another person, company, or level of government? Can boundaries be drawn so that costs go away from my little corner of the world? Can flood prevention be treated as a deferred maintenance item to pay for other goods and services?
Externalities Businesses learn to exploit externalities
Averages versus Long Tails We learn that statistics “tell” us that we need only to plan for events within 3 standard deviations We do not learn (though we are often told) that these statistics only apply to “independent” items with no correlations
These “independent” items however sometimes get correlated in “networks” Within networks the degree of the autocorrelation present is an example of what is known as a “power law” distribution Power laws have infinitely long tails
Averages versus Long Tails When you combine averages thinking with net present value
Averages versus Long Tails The result is often: deferred maintenance
Averages versus Long Tails Which makes the accountants happy – but at what cost?
Words versus Actions Evacuation was discussed but not put into effect Shelters were “designated” but not supplied nor staffed The existence of plans was always mentioned, but the plans themselves were not followed
Words versus Actions “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” —Lewis Carroll
Abstractions versus Embodiment Evacuate Shelter Plan Supply Fortify Protect Warn
Lack of reading The history of planning and prediction of the “big one” in New Orleans was decades old The Mayor and the Governor had never read the emergency plan before August 24 The media was never copied on the plans or appraised of their contents
Project mentality Assigned tasks were treated as “projects” to be carried out by project teams and judged from the perspective of project metrics Evacuation and shelter were just another project to get accomplished
Implications –constraints and risks –focus on costs, schedules performance outcomes Demands Boundaries
Good Project Management The project manager should: Understand the project requirements and ensure they are thoroughly and unambiguously documented; Prepare a project plan with achievable cost, schedule, and performance goals; Identify and manage project risks; Ensure the project team is well- organized, adequately staffed, and working well together;
Lack of Communication A 2004 report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that more than 80 percent of cities said they did not have two-way radio communications with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Customs and other federal agencies or bureaus.
A Sad Example The Scenario: A Barge needing safe anchorage during a forecast storm The Project Response: Find a Safe Port, Secure the Cargo, Secure the Ship, Evacuate the Crew and establish Communications and Transport for after the Storm
Lessons that could have been learned, but were not Situationalism Cross Functionalism Deployment of Media Long tails Communication Chain of Command
Situationalism Judgment of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed.
Situationalism Situations represent the most complete way of understanding our experience of the surrounding world and the human qualities of the world They also endow experience with durability in relation to which other experiences can acquire meaning and can form our memory and history. The temporal dimension makes the process of differentiating and stabilizing situations more comprehensible. The deeper we move into history, the more situations have in common until we reach the level of myth, which is their ultimate comprehensible foundation. Myth is the dimension of culture that opens the way to the unity of our experience and to the unity of our world. The persistence of primary symbols contributes decisively to the formation of secondary symbols and finally to the formation of paradigmatic situations. Paradigmatic situations are similar in nature to institutions, deep structures, and archetypes. Dalibor Vesely
Cross Functionalism What Good Is A Beautifully-Designed Building If It Has A Weak Foundation and Lousy Plumbing?
Complex Systems Thinking We live in a time that is exemplified by fleeting messages, complex shifting meanings and mercurial contexts. William Seaman Our identities are constructed along narrative principles, and often constructed and reconstructed in the actual telling of stories about ourselves in daily life, in family groups, etc Jerome Bruner ‘we tell our lives as narratives, but we experience them as hypertexts’. Jay Lemke The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is never the less the map that proceeds the territory — precession of simulacra- that engenders the territory. Jean Baudrillard
Boundaries are a big issue Complexity thinking worries about compartmentalization Identity of actors, situations, and contexts is seldom stable and often time proceeds in multiple directions Emergence and weak signals raise questions about metrics, baselines, and goals
Implications for Project Mgmt –constraints and risks –focus on costs, schedules performance outcomes Demands Boundaries
Complexity raises doubts about traceable baselines unambiguous requirements defined plan considered risks identified team meaningful metrics
So what does this mean for PM? unambiguous requirements -- maybe defined plan – at risk of redefinition considered risks – but more could arise identified team – may be inadequate traceable baselines – may need revision meaningful metrics – about the wrong things? meaningful communications – more difficult attain goals -- maybe
Outside the licensed domains of literature and jokes, the uncontrollable manifestations of parapraxes and dreams, the possibilities of meaning in a word are stringently limited by its context. The more that context bears down upon the word, the less the word will quiver with signification; until we reach a fully determining context, under whose pressure the word will lie inert, pinned down, proffering its single meaning... But at this point something else will have happened to it: it will have become completely redundant. The context will now allow only one meaning to be perceived in the gap which it occupies and anything — or nothing at all — will be interpreted as providing that meaning. Derek Attridge
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