The Titanic Lessons
Slightly over a century ago, White Star Line allegedly sought to revolutionize travel with the notorious, perhaps first of its kind, luxury passenger ship, RMS Titanic.
If true, White Star wrongly assumed perfection—a fool-proof model without errors, apparently incapable of sinking. But logic prevailed. Ultimately, their argument failed, and thereto, sank with the Titanic. Therein, inter alia, rests a fatal, fundamental flaw: the unwarranted assumption of invincibility—neglecting technological limitations and/or unforeseen risks sufficient to subsequently precipitate its demise. Therefore, more than 100 years later, the following relevant lessons remain:
For starters, if White Star deemed the Titanic “unsinkable,” this attitude implies failure to consider all possible risks. Why? If Star thought the ship impossible to sink, perhaps they neglected precautions. For example, the wireless operator apparently overlooked “warning signs of ice,” and inadequate training evidenced in “half-full lifeboats launched” possibly exacerbated fatalities.[i] If accurate, these issues suggest a failure to mitigate reasonably foreseeable risks plausibly from overconfidence evident in unchallenged assumptions.
Scope creep denotes the failure to strategically address “time, costs, and resources,” in project scope. [ii] For example, the team ostensibly lacked communications, without “clearly defined roles” or “decision escalation procedures” in event of emergency. [iii] Additionally, stakeholders seemingly assumed economic viability on the basis of “luxury,” without any strategic goals. [iv] Consequently, these apparent deficiencies plausibly precipitated scope creep as design technicians supposedly compromised structural integrity for luxury by truncating Titanic’s “full height bulkheads” to expand the dining room. [v]
All aforementioned issues suggest a lack of planning—insufficiently memorialized Project Charter, Scope Statement, and Non-Conformance procedures consistent with reasonable standards in mitigating risks. Accordingly, assuming an “unsinkable ship” became the unsinkable argument for project failure. Therefore, dispelling this unsinkable assumption with written procedures substantiated by extensive testing represents an advisable, remedial recommendation for subsequent projects to circumvent similar disasters.
[i] Carmichael, James, Project Management Failures, Team Spark, Feb. 25, 2014, p. 2-3, http://www.teamspark.co/blog/2014/02/25/project-management-failures.
[ii] Pinto, Jeffrey, K., Project Management, Achieving Competitive Advantage, Third Edition—Glossary, Pearson, Inc. 2013, p. 497.
[iii] Baker, Colin, Titanic Lesson in Project Management, Association for Project Management, APM, Oct. 29, 2014, p. 2, https://www.apm.org.uk/news/titanic-lesson-project-management.
[iv] Stackhouse, Laura, Could Better Project Management Have Saved the Titanic?, Marine Trader, April 15, 2015, p. 3-4, http://readmt.com/analysis/article/2015/04/15/titanic-lessons-in-project-management/.
[v] Baker, Colin, Titanic Lesson in Project Management, Association for Project Management, APM, Oct. 29, 2014, p. 1, https://www.apm.org.uk/news/titanic-lesson-project-management.