In December 1998, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched the Mars Climate Orbiter. The unit was designed to land on Mars and undertake a scientific mission, including looking for water, monitoring the weather, and recording atmospheric effects. Once the mission was underway, however, NASA scientists discovered that a piece of software tasked with gathering critical information to guide the craft's thrusters was recording and transmitting data in metric units. Ground control was using imperial measurements.
The unit entered the Martian atmosphere much lower than anticipated, and the $125 million project disintegrated.
In 2005, the United Kingdom announced that it would spend £285 million to build an airport on the small Atlantic island of St. Helena, roughly 2,500 miles east of Rio de Janiero. However, when the airport opened in 2016, no commercial planes could take off or land from the facility. The volcanic mountain that dominates the island creates dangerous wind shear, making conditions treacherous for aircraft.
A 2017 House of Commons report on the airport noted that "while the airport has since handled a small number of flights, the wind conditions have precluded operation of the planned commercial service."
In 2015, the U.S. city of Flint, Michigan, decided to change its water source from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River to save $5 million. By January 2016, it became clear that the city's residents were being poisoned by lead contamination. An investigation revealed that city officials failed to mandate the use of chemicals known as corrosion inhibitors. These chemicals keep lead and other heavy metals from leaching out of old pipes into the water supply.
While the full cost of the contamination has not been tallied, victims have filed lawsuits against city officials for the poisoning of thousands of children, and the city's entire water system must be replaced.
Each of these costly mistakes could have been discovered and mitigated by implementing a thorough project management program. Though the process is not glamorous, it is effective at uncovering risks to the project, identifying a schedule, and organizing tasks and deliverables. All of these issues can be critical to a security project.
In this month's cover story, "Five Not-So-Easy Pieces," Nicholas D'Agostino, PSP, goes into detail about how security professionals can use project management techniques to ensure that a project is completed correctly, on time, and on budget. Using the example of a company replacing various legacy products with a new, unified security system, D'Agostino emphasizes: "In hopes of avoiding pitfalls, many organizations will hire project managers and consultants to spearhead alignment projects. This type of management, however, is usually complex and unpredictable work. Thus, one of the most useful attributes a security practitioner can have is experience in project management." our highest potential is not about survival of the fittest," writes Achor. "It is survival of the best fit."