Big Projects

I once read that, in order to further your career, you had to latch on to a “big” project and make a visible contribution to its success. I’ve never been as callous as to do this intentionally, and for most of my career I had very little to do with the big projects.

The one exception being my involvement with the Mossgas / Mossref project at Iscor. But that since that came with the territory of being superintendent for the plate mill, that was not even a conscious decision. The other locally big project I was involved with was Ebbw Vale’s traffic light system, and that only became big by accident, because it happened to be the right solution for the situation we were in.

But most of the rest of the time I’ve seen big projects come and go from a distance, at times being tangentially involved with them, but never in the centre of things. The last one I saw in operation was the Cost of Liquid Steel (CLS) in cooperation with McKinsey. I could see that if you managed to get on top of producing steel at minimum cost, then that could only benefit the company’s bottom line.

However, another aspect of big projects is often overlooked, which is that it withdraws much needed resources (both in manpower and in money spent) from other projects. Meaning that the savvy ones start attaching their project to the big project on the flimsiest of pretexts, in order to make sure that they’re not starved of resources. Which then dilutes the impetus of the big project because it has become too padded and bulky to achieve its main objectives effectively.

Then again, maybe I’m being unfair towards CLS – after all, something appears to have worked in bringing the South Wales branch of Tata Steel into a small profit, and maybe that was not all due to exchange rates and international steel prices. Still, I’ll always have my doubts over projects that hog the majority of the resources: after all, what is the effect of not completing the projects that have suffered from lack of resources ?


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