Project Management and the Discovery of the Titanic

Project Management and the Discovery of the Titanic
How are April 14, 1912 and September 1, 1985 tied together? The former is the last time the survivors of the Titanic saw her as she sank beneath the tranquil Atlantic Ocean on that fateful night and the latter is the next time she was seen on the bottom of the Atlantic in a depth over 2.5 miles by an expedition led by Dr. Robert Ballard.

Early on the morning of the discovery Dr. Ballard’s team aboard the research vessel, the Knorr, scanned the seabed in the vicinity known as to have been the site of the sinking 73 years earlier. The search was conducted with a sled like device called “Argo”, which was laden with TV cameras and towed just above the sea bed looking for debris from the wreck. The pictures sent back to the ship were seen “live” from a small booth on the Knorr, watched for hours on end by the ever alert scientists. The search settled down into relentless back and forth sweeps of the ocean floor, known as “mowing the lawn”.

Early in the morning of September 1st, 1985, the bottom of the seabed looked to be a little different from usual-instead of the never ending curves and ripples of the mud and sand, unusual marks, coupled with small chunks of what were obviously man-made debris began to appear before the amazed scientists who were glued to their screens. Before long, larger items came into view, including the Titanic’s massive boiler. The Titanic, elusive for so long and considered to be always a part of the past was now a part of the present.

How is project management related to the discovery of the Titanic, you may ask? Without it, the famous ship would never have been discovered. Let’s follow the 12 step project implementation success factor model as it relates to the discovery of the Titanic.

Step 1. Obtain top management support and establish metrics.

The project sponsors who fully supported the venture were the Woods Hole Deep Submergence Lab and the French Institute Francais de Recherche pour l’Explotation.

Step 2. Select a competent project manager

Dr. Robert Ballard was selected as project manager from the Woods Hole Deep Submergence Lab and Jean Jarry was selected from the French Institute as direct support to Dr. Ballard. Both had extensive experience in prior attempts to locate the doomed ship.

Step 3. Select competent project team members and establish project metrics

Scientists were handpicked for this search mission with vast experience in this field and great knowledge in using the state-of-the art underwater visual-imaging technology that eventually made locating the ship possible.

Step 4. Clearly define project scope and objectives

The project manager clearly documented to the project team members the project scope, business objectives and expectations-that was-find the Titanic!!!

Step 5. Ensure sufficient resource allocation

Prior to the search beginning on the Knorr it was confirmed with the sponsors as to what resources would be needed including money, personnel time and equipment. Since this was going to be potentially very expensive and time consuming a detailed outline was presented to the sponsors for their review and approval.

Step 6. Develop a detailed project plan

On a daily basis there were innumerable tasks that needed to be done prior to any search being done on the ocean floor. Project team members knew exactly who was to complete each specific task as outlined by the project manager. And once all the equipment was ready and the ship was in the proper search quadrant, project team members knew exactly who needed to accomplish specific tasks to complete the search for that day.

Step 7. Establish adequate communication channels

The project manager was responsible to communicate daily with the project stakeholders. This information included the status of the search from that day and what the next steps would be completed the following day. The project manager also would speak directly to team members regarding any issues, problems, concerns and successes.

Step 8. Initiate project control mechanisms

The project manager on a daily basis conducted project status meetings with the team members to discuss any problems and successes from the prior day. Conflicts among team members were dealt with the day of the problem by the project manager.

Step 9. Foster an open communications environment

The project manager created an environment with the project stakeholders so they could review project information and make suggestions to improve any project component. This kept the Woods Hole Lab and the French Institute from insulating themselves from the project.

Step 10. Celebrate project successes

Obviously, the discovery of the Titanic was the biggest success. However, to have reached this ultimate goal there were many successes along the way including but not limited to the success of the technology that enabled the scientists to find the ship. Dr. Ballard and Mr. Jarry made sure the project team members were recognized for milestones and achievements attained. This was important for the team’s morale as they were in the Atlantic searching for 2 months before the Titanic was found.

Step 11. Conduct project closeout

Finding the Titanic closed out this portion of the project. However, 12 months later, Dr. Ballard and his crew returned to the wreck site with a deep-sea submersible to view the Titanic first hand and close-up.

As you can see the finding of the Titanic was due to a detailed and knowledgeable project manager, an experienced and task oriented project team and project sponsors that were as dedicated to the mission’s success as everyone else. These elements are the fuel to success for any project.