The Titanic: A Project Management Lesson

You may have heard the news that an exact replica of the Titanic is being built, with its first cruise planned for 2022. Just as with the original, there will be first, second, and third class tickets available. It will have lifeboats for all passengers, though. Seemingly, colossal mistakes can be reattempted! And that brings project management to mind. Let us look at the Titanic, highlighting each project management lesson.

Project Management Lesson: Planning Matters

the titanic at southampton

The Titanic, seen from a project management perspective, was an obvious disaster waiting to happen.

Some of the highlights:

  • Due to delays in the building schedule, the ship was given a half day of sea trials, instead of the six to eight weeks that were planned.
  • Lifeboats were removed from the ship as to not block the view from the first class cabins
  • The lookout nest was not equipped with binoculars (!!!)

When planning a project, everything matters. Overlooking the obvious is a common mistake, but there’s never an excuse for it.

Project Management Lesson: Capacity, and Clarity, Matter

The Titanic famously received a warning about icebergs from other ships in the area, but the wireless operator ignored them. What people don’t necessarily know is why he ignored them. Jack Phillips ignored the warnings because he was sending customer messages out at the time, and felt pressured to finish them.

Why there was only one wireless operator is a good question – there turned out to be a capacity problem in the department. Jack Phillips on his own was not enough to handle the workflow.

The second issue here is clarity – it is a monumental mistake to prioritize customer messages over basic safety! Jack Phillips made a mistake in his priorities, but that comes from the top. If there was a better system in lace for prioritizing messages, the warning would have made it through.

When designing and managing projects, make sure you account for capacity issues, and that everyone has clarity for their tasks’ priority.

Project Management Lesson: Scope Creep Sinks Ships

titanic at the ocean floor

The Titanic was designed for luxury. The selling point for White Star Lines was supposed to be the experience aboard the ship. Other lines’ brands were built around speed. And yet, aboard the ship, chairman of White Star Lines J. Bruce Ismay pushed the captain to sail faster, knowing the speed of the maiden voyage would be a news item. When disaster struck, the speed of the ship meant there was less time to react, more damage caused by the iceberg, and ultimately, less time to save everyone aboard. The project management lesson here is: every small change matters, and if you’re being pushed in a different direction than the original stated goal, you need to speak up.

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