Posted by: Adam Deane | 27/10/2010

Project Management – Success Story

Chilean MinersUntil recently, most people probably associated Chile with the military rule of General Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s and 1980s.
Now, it seems, they will associate it with the miners and their successful rescue.

Like everyone, I watched the human drama unfold, watched the media show the 33 miners, their families and even the president tell the story.
But there was one guy they didn’t show, whom I was curious to see and hear his story: The project manager in charge of the rescue mission.

Project Management is an ungrateful profession.

It doesn’t matter if you are the project manager of an IT project or a rescue project – It still is a project that needs to be managed correctly.
You are the one blamed for the project being late. You are the one blamed when the customer suddenly changes the requirements. You are the one.
All guts and no glory.

A lot of our IT projects fail to deliver on time, or fail to deliver on budget, or fail to solve the business pain.. or just plain fail.
Lots of post mortems discuss what went wrong. How could we have managed it better.
We are used to projects failing – It comes with the territory. We sit down and crucify the project manager.

That’s why we should stop for a moment and “enjoy a moment in the sunshine” when a project, like the rescue mission, succeeds.

Ahead of schedule, all targets achieved – 100% ROI.
That’s why I’m curious to see who this project manager is, hear his story, learn from his success.

The Risk of Failure
Think of the fear. The fear of failure.
Failure on IT projects means over-schedule and over-budget. You might even lose your job.
Failure on the rescue mission means you have to live the rest of your life with the guilt of 33 deaths.
Just think of the enormous pressure on this guy.

Project Kick-Off
The project kicked off in the worst possible way (people stuck down a mine), no months of planning (need to think on your feet), no stakeholders (they would join later), no glory.
To be honest, your chances of succeeding are better off in the mines than being the rescue project manager.

Yes, later on in the project he probably got an “open cheque” to help him along, but I’m pretty sure he started off with the tools he had, the dedication of his regular team, and his wits.

Unlike IT, where people are willing to accept project delivery of months – in the rescue mission there was no talk of agile vs. waterfall, no talk of phase 1 and phase 2. The families were screaming bloody murder. Like all projects – everyone wanted it completed “yesterday”.
They estimated that the miners would be reached by Christmas. In the end it took two months. Under-schedule.

A Job Well Done
The rescue mission wasn’t a miracle, and the rescue mission wasn’t built on luck.
It succeeded due to the dedication of the rescue team and the skills of their project manager.
So, mister project manager, whoever you are, let me tip my hat to you and say with great admiration – congratulations on a job well done!


  1. interesting as always.

    The boundary between project management and case management blurs in situations like this. Projects are generally considered larger: project being 10 to hundreds of people, while a case is smaller, 1 to 5 people active,and a few more passive. Other than size and complexity, there are a lot of parallels between these.

    I use an emergency search and rescue as an example of knowledge work in the first chapter of Mastering the Unpredictable. It is an unusual example because people don’t normal think of “rescue” and “knowledge” as similar career paths, but upon reflection it makes perfect sense.

    Your example is another excellent example of “knowledge work”. It demonstrate the best of emergent process, because it was not clear from the beginning exactly how the people would be rescued. The goal was clear, but the means for achieving that goal had to be worked out on the job. This is not always the case in “project management” which sometimes involves projects which can be entirely pre-planned, and still sometimes does involves an emergent process. So project management and case management are overlapped.

    It would be interesting to drill into this particular case, and find out exactly how the plan unfolded over time. This kind of knowledge work is the best example of the triumph of intelligence over a difficult situation.

  2. Well done for project management trade. Role of politicians and media questionable as usual. Sedi lepo Amat.

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