Author: Carmelo Dimotta
“Everything can happen and you need to be prepared”. I think this is the message that Mr. Renzo Simoni, Chief Executive Officer at AlpTransit Gotthard AG, wanted to convey.
The event was scheduled to start at 18:30 but lots of us reached the location well in advance. Waiting that the event could start, we had the opportunity to start networking. The feeling around was of high expectations – we were going to learn something from a 10bn CHF project! And Mr. Renzo Simoni did not disappoint us.
The Gotthard Base Tunnel project is one of the biggest, amazing and extraordinary projects I have ever experienced. Long lasting and of remarkable complexity, the project started officially in 1992, when the Swiss population decided democratically for it in a referendum. Key project milestones:
1992: Project started
1996: The construction work began
2004-2010: Excavation work
2010: The final breakthrough (completion of the drilling operations) in the east tube
2011: The final breakthrough in the west tube
2013: Operational tests
2014: Railway track installation completed
More interesting than the history itself, at the event we could hear the way how AlpTransit Gotthard AG brought the project to success. Needless to say, on a such long lasting project, the team had to face many scope changes and, therefore, a strong scope management approach was required. Communication also played an important role throughout the whole project lifecycle, especially with extended teams. However, key for this project success seems to me to be effective risk management. Mr. Simoni could barely mention words like issues or problems, whereas he was proud to refer several times to risk mitigations and alternative plans – for example describing the strategies of different excavation programs with the aim to parallelize the work, or what-if analysis performed to be prepared to face geology challenges, difficult to prevent.
As we all of us noticed, Mr. Simoni didn’t mention or refer directly to the project management as a discipline, which triggered quite few questions in the audience at the end of the presentation and, maybe, a bit of initial disappointment. Nevertheless, discussing furthermore on the topic and answering questions, we could learn, by examples, the importance of collaborative planning, the need of efficient communication, implementing strategies to optimize the project timeline and that, above all, preventing the emergence of major issues is the essential key for success. And I believe it applies also to our smaller projects.
My personal big thank you to Mr. Renzo Simoni for sharing his magnificent adventure and Prasanth for organizing it. Looking forward to participating at the next PMI event, I wish all the readers a happy and successful 2017.