Project Management

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The city of Denver selected two companies to assist in the project management process. The first was Greiner Engineering, an engineering, architecture, and airport planning firm. The second company was Morrison-Knudsen Engineering (MKE) which is a design-construct firm. The city of Denver and Greiner/MKE would function as the Project Management Team (PMT) responsible for schedule coordination, cost control, information management, and administration of approximately 100 design contracts, 160 general contractors, and more than 2000 subcontractors.

In the selection of architects, it became obvious that there would be a split between those who would operate the airport and the city's aspirations. Airport personnel were more interested in an "easy-to-clean" airport and convinced the city to hire a New Orleans-based architectural firm with whom Stapleton personnel had worked previously. The city wanted a "thing of beauty" rather than an easy-to-clean venture.

In an unusual split of responsibilities, the New Orleans firm was contracted to create standards that would unify the entire airport and to take the design of the main terminal only through schematics and design development, at which point it would be handed off to another firm. This sharing of the wealth with several firms would later prove more detrimental than beneficial.

The New Orleans architectural firm complained that the direction given by airport personnel focused on operational issues rather than aesthetic values. Furthermore, almost all decisions seemed to be made in reaction to maintenance or technical issues. This created a problem for the design team because the project's requirements specified that the design reflect a signature image for the airport, one that would capture the uniqueness of Denver and Colorado.

The New Orleans team designed a stepped-roof profile supported by an exposed truss system over a large central atrium, thus resembling the structure of train sheds. The intent was to bring the image of railroading, which was responsible for Denver's early growth, into the jet age.

The mayor, city council, and others were concerned that the design did not express a $2 billion project. A blue-ribbon commission was formed to study the matter. The city council eventually approved the design.

Financial analysis of the terminal indicated that the roof design would increase the cost of the project by $48 million and would push the project off schedule. A second architectural firm was hired. The final design was a peaked roof with Teflon-coated fabric designed to bring out the image of the Rocky Mountains. The second architectural firm had the additional responsibility to take the project from design development through to construction. The cost savings from the new design was so substantial that the city upgraded the floor finish in the terminal and doubled the size of the parking structure to 12,000 spaces.

The effectiveness of the project management team was being questioned. The PMT failed to sort out the differences between the city's aspirations and the maintenance orientation of the operators. It failed to detect the cost and constructability issues with the first design even though both PMT partners had vast in-house expertise. The burden of responsibility was falling on the shoulders of the architects. The PMT also did not appear to be aware that the first design may not have met the project's standards.

Throughout the design battle, no one heard from the airlines. Continental and United controlled 80% of the flights at Stapleton. Yet the airlines refused to participate in the design effort, hoping the project would be canceled. The city ordered the design teams to proceed for bids without any formal input from the users.

With a recession looming in the wings and Contentinal fighting for survival, the city needed the airlines to sign on. To entice the airlines to participate, the city agreed to a stunning range of design changes while assuring the bond rating agencies that the 1993 opening date would be kept. Continental convinced Denver to move the international gates away from the north side of the main terminal to terminal A, and to build a bridge from the main terminal to terminal A. This duplicated the function of a below-ground people-mover system. A basement was added the full length of the concourses. Service cores, located between gates, received a second level.

United's changes were more significant. It widened concourse B by 8 feet to accommodate two moving walkways in each direction. It added a second level of service cores, and had the roof redesigned to provide a clerestory of natural light. Most important, United wanted a destination-coded vehicle (DCV) baggage handling system where bags could be transferred between gates in less than 10 minutes, thus supporting short turnaround times. The DCV was to be on Concourse B (United) only. Within a few weeks thereafter, DIA proposed that the baggage handling system be extended to the entire airport. Yet even with these changes in place, United and Continental still did not sign a firm agreement with DIA, thus keeping bond interest expense at a higher than anticipated level. Some people contended that United and Continental were holding DIA hostage.

From a project management perspective, there was no question that disaster was on the horizon. Nobody knew what to do about the DCV system. The risks were unknown. Nobody realized the complexity of the system, especially the software requirements. By one account, the launch date should have been delayed by at least two years. The contract for DCV hadn't been awarded yet, and terminal construction was already under way. Everyone wanted to know why the design (and construction) was not delayed until after the airlines had signed on. How could DIA install and maintain the terminal's baseline design without having a design for the baggage handling system? Everyone felt that what they were now building would have to be ripped apart.

There were going to be massive scope changes. DIA persisted in its belief that the airport would open on time. Work in process was now $130 million per month. Acceleration costs, because of the scope changes, would be $30-$40 million. Three shifts were running at DIA with massive overtime. People were getting burned out to the point where they couldn't continue.

To reduce paperwork and maintain the schedule, architects became heavily involved during the construction phase, which was highly unusual. The PMT seemed to be abdicating control to the architects who would be responsible for coordination. The trust that had developed during the early phases began evaporating.

Even the car rental companies got into the act. They balked at the fees for their in-terminal location and said that servicing within the parking structures was inconvenient. They demanded and finally received a separate campus. Passengers would now be forced to take shuttle buses out of the terminal complex to rent or return vehicles.

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Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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