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Project Management Blunders

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Project Management Blunders

Lessons from the Project that Built, Launched and Sank Titanic (New Edition)

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Unique View of the Disaster

The sinking of the RMS Titanic ranks as one of the most memorable and significant events of the 20th century and for one hundred years has fascinated countless generations. The events of that fateful voyage have been told and retold over the years; however, few have examined the actual building of the ship and how decisions made during that process directly contributed to the disaster. This book examines the Titanic story from a project management perspective and conclusively shows how the decisions made during design, construction, and sea trials (testing) compromised the ship’s integrity and left it vulnerable to disaster.

Titanic’s disaster has been put down to bad luck, an accident, and caused by the unforeseen forces of nature. The ship was sunk after glancing a blow with an iceberg. As a result, conventional wisdom is the situation was outside of the control of the captain and officers who were depicted as mere bystanders incapable of changing the course of events. The truth is very different. The seeds of disaster were sown as Titanic was designed, and there was a long chain of mistakes. This book puts forward a very different version of the disaster.

Paperback: 392 pages

Publisher: Multi-Media Publications Inc.; 1st edition (15 April 2012)

Language: English


ISBN-13: 9781554891221

Project Management Blunders book




Project Management Lens

Using the lens of modern Project Management best practices, this book begins a voyage of discovery, conspiracy, greed, ego, triumph and multiple crises. The lens focuses on the critical decisions and events that guided the ship to its fate. The lens becomes a mirror when looking at how blame for the sinking was assigned, and asks the reader to reflect on events today and see how little the world has changed. The early 20th century was marked by mega-projects (steamships, railroads, canals, etc) that were linked by a common faith in new uses of technology. The unspoken truth was that technology alone put many lives in harm’s way, a truth we still face today.

Evolution of the Series and Audience

This book replaces Titanic Lessons for IT Projects (ISBN 9781895186260). Building upon the popularity of the first book in the Lessons from History series, this book on Titanic examines the Olympic-class project in a great level of detail using the PMBOK knowledge areas (Integration, Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, Human Resources, Communications, Risk, and Procurement

). It provides today's project manager a fully recognizable project in today's language. It has has less technical material than Avoiding Project Disasters and so is well suited for project team members, and even stakeholders and sponsors. This book avoids technical jargon so much of the content can be understood by anyone with a business background. The content of this book could benefit all organizations that see project management as a critical component to the success of their organization.

Titanic Poster

Text Book Project

The White Star project for the three Olympic-class luxury mega ships (Olympic, Titanic, and Britannic) can be described as a text book project. It started off well with its initiation, and planning phases, but as it progressed its priority was on the esthetics and functionality. The project sponsor, Bruce Ismay, overstepped his role and in an obsessive way controlled the project to meet his agenda. Poor project management allowed major compromises to be made in every project stage - from design to construction to testing, and right into implementation and operation. Some compromises were more significant like those in the design and the shortened height of the bulkheads

, or the reduced number of lifeboats. In today's terms these are known as compromises in non-functional requirements


Olympic went into service first, nine months ahead of Titanic. In this period Olympic had a number of incidents that had a direct impact on Titanic’s project. Olympic's collision with H.M.S. Hawke (see photo below) played a significant part as it impacted Titanic's project schedule as major repairs had to be carried out. As the project ran into trouble the project team took greater risks to meet pre-set objectives. The scope of Titanic's sea trials (testing) was dramatically reduced so the maiden voyage could still be realized, after all the world's richest people had booked for the social event of 1912. As a result, Titanic was rushed into service.

The maiden voyage lacked preparation and had so many competing objectives, fundamental compromises, that a collision with ice was inevitable. Catastrophic mistakes were made like pushing the ship to its operational limits in a bid to beat Olympic's best crossing time. A calamitous failure in key feedback mechanism (ice bucket test, wireless operators overloaded with commercial traffic, confusion by the lookouts) resulted in grounding the ship onto an ice shelf.

The ship may have sat there on the ice shelf for up to 15 minutes as two assessment groups assessed the damage on board. Failing to adequately analyze the situation and succumbing to business pressures to save face in a moment of madness the crippled ship was restarted and limped off the ice shelf in the belief it could be returned to Halifax. The forward motion further ruptured Titanic's double hull and the design flaws compromised the ship as it could not handle the increased rate of flooding. According to the inquiries the ship was sailed forward at dead slow. This rash decision was made with complete arrogance and disregard for human life. This sealed Titanic’s fate. Bruce Ismay survived the disaster and then conspired to avoid landing in the U.S. knowing he would face an inquiry.

Construction Olympic & Titanic

project failure olympic damage after HMS Hawke



titanic grounding on ice

In the two Titanic inquiries (U.S. and British) a systematic cover up, by the White Star Director Bruce Ismay and the remaining officers, of their actions shifted the scrutiny away from the decision making that went on in the project and its implementation. It is here that we can mine critical lessons for today's projects

, project best practices, and how to avoid project disasters.

On April 19th 1912 (5 days after the disaster) U.S. Senator Rayner wrote to the New York Times that

“had Titanic been an American ship subject to our criminal procedure they [White Star Line owners] would be convicted of man-slaughter or even murder.”

But Titanic was an American ship, yet the U.S. inquiry seemed to skirt around it. White Star owner J.P. Morgan should have been put in the dock, and White Star Chairman Bruce Ismay should have been convicted of man-slaughter.

Ismay at Titanic inquiry

Truth Behind the Disaster

So why are we left with a skewed version of the truth 100 years later? There are several reasons. First, within a week or two of the disaster two full scale inquiries (U.S. and British) followed that interviewed hundreds of witnesses and experts. The British Inquiry forced out a no-fault-outcome for White Star. The U.S. Inquiry tried very hard but failed to get at the truth. Second, since the discovery of the wreck-site in 1985, there has been a preoccupation in finding the root causes to the disaster through the wreck with numerous dives. Important sources of evidence like the inquiries have remained over-looked. There has been reluctance in questioning the official version even though there are many anomalies.

Unique Characteristics of the Book

What makes the book unique? The focus is not just on the maiden voyage but principally on the four-year project that delivered the Olympic-class ships. It is based on the research completed in the last decade on the project, and how it was initiated, planned and executed. It is about the people in this project the sponsors, stakeholders, and the project team. It is about the characters, their vision, motivation, objectives, and agendas. It is about the branding, marketing, and selling that was much as part of the project as was the design, construction, and testing. The main motivation to write this book is that after a century a revision of the story is needed, and for the truth to come out. There are also some important lessons to be learned that would be useful for the program audience.

Titanic leaves Southampton

Original Book Reviews

The following reviews were posted on Gantthead.com:

  • The [book] was wonderful and fit together like a puzzle. Using the Titanic as an analogy is a great hook as well as teaching tool. (January 22, 2004)
  • This is totally on the mark! (January 30, 2004 )
  • I just read over all [of this book] and found it excellent. Many of us have ofter referred to the Titanic in working on projects, we now see how close we were. The lessons learned from this tragety can be applied to projects today. (September 18, 2004)
  • My congratulations go to the the author on a riveting [ebook]. I was glued to the screen, reading each part to discover ‘what happened at the end’. If [he is] in PM, maybe [he is] in the wrong trade. An excellent read. (May 24, 2005)






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