b-school, Henley, Management, MBA, Project Management, Projects, Thoughts

From macro to micro (and backwards)

When you think of building a terminal you always think of huge construction works. And yes, that’s the bulk of the budget, and sometimes the most spectacular part. But in a 80/20 rule fashion, that 20% ends up entailing 80% of the work. As I like to say, the devil is in the details.

For example, in Barcelona’s airport, we started 2006 doing something like this:

The horizontal axis is roughly equivalent to one mile. The South Terminal was beginning to take shape. It was still divided into several parts instead of being a single building. That’s the way it was decided in the tendering process: there should be a few smaller cakes instead of a big one. A dilemma between having to co-ordinate or letting more companies participate. It was decided towards the latter… no wonder co-ordinating has been one of the main issues here.

But three years later, with the building almost done, we are focusing on a lot of different and much smaller things. Things like the following:

The white structure you see is inserted to the glass block. The purpose of the structure is to hold a couple of flat screens to be able to inform the passengers for the boarding process. It is thus provided by a different company than the one that is building the green glass block, the one that is providing the energy, the one that is providing the communications (that the screen will surely need in order to work), and the one that is providing things such as the air bridge or the cooling systems.

Yes, it’s all about interference again. In this case, as we get closer to the endgame, the different paths start to converge into one set of critical paths, all interrelated with each other. There’s no more unique critical path, but every single path becomes dependent on the others’ every delay: a web of interdependencies, a critical network instead of a path. 

My impression is that this part is much trickier than the other one. Finishing something is much more difficult than just going along with it. Slack has been consumed: the endpoint is not far anymore, pressure is increasing, hysteria is hovering, and we have to go down to every detail.

And studying for the final exam doesn’t help. In fact I sometimes arrive so tired that I don’t have the will to do anything. Still I have to. I strive to find some free time whenever, sometimes eating a quick sandwich and hurrying to imitate the waiting passengers in any available coach. The only difference is that they are waiting for something, just passing the time. I, on the other hand, I’m trying to use it. My macbook comes with me wherever I go, preview -for PDFs- and powerpoint to take notes always ready.

It’s funny how the process here is the other way around. When I studied the people, processes and financial modules, it was a matter of going into detail, of submerging into a wealth of information and trying to find the details, the reflections, the hidden wisdom, sometimes simply the stories behind, the assumptions, the reasoning. In fact that was a mistake because my teachers didn’t want me to prove that in the assignments: they just wanted to test that I knew the basic models. And I paid a price for going too far.

Now I’m going back to the basics. An exam is a place where you have to prove that you understand the basic reasoning, its assumptions, and apply it to some cases. It’s something like the terminal, but backwards, from detail to widely accepted models. That’s what they expect from me, and that’s what I should be giving them… I’ll try to refrain myself from doing otherwise.

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