Last week I attended an interesting presentation by ARINC's Steve Andrews at PMI/Baltimore's Frederick MD meeting. Steve shared his challenging experience in managing a $25 million IT systems installation project for Terminal 3 at Cairo Airport.
It was fascinating to compare Steve's experiences as a project manager in Cairo from 2007-2009 with my own tour as a Foreign Service Officer with USAID in the late 1990s. On hearing of his upcoming assignment, a colleague in the Middle East had told Steve that he was not in for a job "but for a lifestyle"...an assessment with which I would agree!
During implementation, ARINC had to depend on another foreign firm to construct the Terminal buildings. ARINC's role was to design, test and install all the flight information systems, information kiosks, biometrics devices and other IT equipment and networks. ARINC also got involved in training some 560 local staff in the new IT systems at the Terminal. The numbers on the project are indeed impressive: 11 million passengers per year, 7,000 different data points in the IT network, and 110 check-in counters.
Despite all the challenges, the project was ultimately quite successful and opened in September 2009. ARINC continues to be involved in a follow-up maintenance contract for the Terminal. Here is a link to a well done public YouTube video, the first portion highlighting the Terminal 3 facility in Cairo.
Steve noted the frustrations in getting the project completed: the construction and other delays (his six month assignment in Cairo turned into two years!), adapting to local work processes, and his hassles with the bureaucracy. Overall, he found the Egyptians to be very friendly, got excellent support from a Cairo IT contractor, and seemed to value his experience with the country, its archeology...and even surviving Cairo traffic!. His keys to eventual successful project management in this challenging environment seemed to be forging good personal relationships, persistence and directness in tackling project problems...plus just coping with the sheer volume of work.
He ended his presentation with the staggering number of air miles, emails and other measures of his intense two year adventure. This was hardly a textbook PMBOK implementation!
I hope that future PMI events in the Washington D.C. area might offer other PM presentations on project management experiences overseas. The cultural and logistical complexities of these projects provide a whole new perspective!