- The superconducting supercollider (SSC) project did not deliver what was intended. A successful project is one that not only fulfils the constraints of time, cost, and technical performance, but fulfils other requirements such as minimal scope change and customer acceptance. Research in Kerzner, Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling (1995), the definition of a project success and identify which factors were not achieved in the SSC endeavour.
Even though there is popular belief if a project meets the Performance, Cost, Time and Scope (PCTS) requirements, the project would be considered as a success. However these can never be an adequate measure of the true success of a project as figures can never be a true measure of success. There are a number of projects that have met all these requirements and have failed. The SSC project however failed to meet some of these, while at the same time failed the main determinants of success.
Scope: the SSC project failed to nail down the scope of the project from the time of its inception. This meant that the project failed to lay down any measures through which project deliverables could be used to gauge the progress and milestones of the project. This also led to the project laying down a fixed and permanent cost schedule.
Deliverables: the project failed to lay down a given schedule through which deliverables can be gauged. This meant the project’s progress could not be measured, thus making it difficult to gauge the success of the project.
Political Fallout: every project has a political aspect to it, be it intra-departmental or, as in the case of the SSC project, National. The project managers failed to handle the political aspects of the project through marketing and selling the projects benefits, thus leading to a political fallout and the eventual demise of the project.
- Why did this project fail? Was the project’s failure inevitable? If not, what could have prevented the failure of the SSC?
Even though the project showed great prospect, the main reason for the failure of the project was all in the management of the SSC. The SCC project was an integration of top class construction and world-class science. However, it fails to integrate a critical component, i.e. world-class management. The magnitude of the project, its funding and the complexity of the project itself required world-class management. The management should have instituted management project management and control systems.
The failure of the project was not investable. If the SSC would have hired an effective, and professional management team to take charge of the execute/integrate functions of the project. This was done, however, it was done too late when the project had generated too much negative political attention.
- The case exposes many factors and reasons for the SSC failure. Which do you think were the real causes and problems not properly addressed by project management?
I believe the real problems of the SCC that the project management team did not address is the cost schedule. I believe if the project management team had come up with a definite and fixed project scope, characterized by little to no scope changes, then there would little to no need for the constant changing and fluctuating project budget. This was the trigger for all the negative political attention that the project solicited.
- If Congress had voted to continue funding on the SSC, what would you have recommended as mandatory changes required to receive this funding?
I would have recommended that the project management structure. This would have been mandatory to receive the funding. The project management team would have to be restructured in order to ensure that there is a developed project scope, and that the execute/integrate functions of the project would be handled in order to institute a fixed and valid budget.
- Public relations were mismanaged with this project. Is this the fault of the project’s management? How could the project have handled the public relations, given the uncertainty of the uses of the SSC?
The mismanagement of public relations falls squarely within the mandate of the project management team. It is therefore the fault of the project management team to neglect this function given the nature and magnitude of the SCC project. The project management team would have handled the public relations docket by marketing the practical uses of the different facets of the scientific developments entailed in the project. This would have included:
- Accelerated-generated proton beams are currently being used to treat certain types of cancer and other diseases.
- Superconducting magnet technology, like that developed for the SSC, is being used in prototype trains that levitate above the ground and travel at speeds up to 300 miles per hour.
- Other applications for the SSC technology are in the areas of computing, electronics, and the environmental sciences
Through selling the more practical applications of the technologies, the project management team would succeed in soliciting positive public and political reviews and perceptions of the project. This would have been more effective as opposed to the attempt to sell the theoretical facets of the project.
- Managing a project of this size requires the use of all areas of project management in order to guarantee the desired outcome. If you were in charge of a large project, on which of the nine identified processes of project management, PMBOK Guide, section 1.3.2, The Project Management Knowledge Areas, would you concentrate?
I would concentrate on scope management. Scope management is the virtual compass of a project. It defines the dos ad don’ts of the project, the size of the project and even defining the roles of the different units of the project in the form of contract management. This as seen in the case of the SSC project, is one of the most important facet of project management. Even the slightest changes in scope can lead to the failure of a project, as such scope management is vital for the success of any project.