Sasol was a large South African conglomerate that focused on engineering processes, particularly focusing on the conversion of coal to other products such as oil and chemicals. The Benfield Column Project was based (caused) on an accident: a raging fire started in a regeneration column in the Benfield Unit- a factory associated with the firm. The fire severely damaged the column: The column, approximately 70 meters high, leaned to one side after the fire, necessitating immediate repair. In particular, the column needed the damaged portion of the column shell to be cut out of the existing configuration and replaced in the time period of 47 days.
A project team was assembled to take on the task: There was a total of 27 members; the team came from around the world. There were numerous inherent risks in the project based on the team’s strategy. One of the main risks was cost: The project managers decided they would not select cost as a key metric for selection. In fact, they would only focus on the project’s schedule, attempting to complete the repairs as soon as possible in order to prevent further financial loss. By focusing on the timing, however, project managers exposed themselves to tremendous financial risk, in that, the project may choose to “waste” resources in order to make the timeline.
The project managers, however, adopted other principles that could have conflicted with other stated principles, and thereby leading to amplified risks. For example, while project managers stated that the project would be schedule-driven and not cost driven, they also stated that quality and safety would not be compromised. This introduced numerous risks including the fact that the schedule itself would not be met if the main metrics for the project depended on time. The tradeoff between time and other considerations was a main matrix for risks.
Third, the project managers did not include any extra time (or float) into the scheduling of the project. This essentially amplified the risks inherent in the ability to meet the deadlines in the project with the already noted emphases on both time and quality. The fact that no extra time was included in the project could have easily led to problems in both the construction of the pillar and the ultimate quality of the pillar if it needed additional resources and work that were not originally budgeted into the process.
Fourth, project communication would involve all major stakeholders; it would not be limited to within sub-divisions or silos of the project management team. This was a big decision and risk because the need to align communication across the project with the noted limitations on time and no plans to extend time for other parts of the project. The need for communication across all teams also increased the risk of friction and or miscommunication if people involved in the project did not understand what was happening. The fracturing of teams, and its knock-on effect on teamwork, was a potential risk in trying to keep everyone together.
The final risk involved in the project was the risk of failure. Although this risk was inherent in any of the strategies selected by the firm, the probability of its occurrence was increased by the single minded focus of the program.
Overall, this paper has identified five risks involved with how the project was managed. At the end of the day, we know that the project managers were not only able to manage these risks effectively, but they were able to finish before the projected deadline and under budget cost. Thus, there may be ultimately something said about focusing on one or two discrete outcomes in project management, rather than merely focusing on cost and other potential drivers.
Boggon, “The Benfield Column Repair Project,” PM Network 10, no. 2 (February 1996): 25-30.
Boggon, I.(1996). South African Repair Success through Teamwork. In J.Meredith & S. Mantel, Project Management. (pp.221-222).Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.