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04 April 2008

British Airways Heathrow Terminal 5 training fiasco

You must all have read about this project “go live” failure. It was due to a combination of problems but the central one was a lack of training!

Amazing, it was a high profile and expensive project requiring state of the art technologies and methods in all areas (architecture, logistics, ICTs, security, construction, etc...) forgot to effectively deal with a key component: the people that will have to work in this new place!
The lack of training was not just for one group of people and not just for one system or activity, it was found wanting all over! From hundreds of staff not finding the staff car park entrance to check-in staff struggling with the IT system, from security personnel being taken through new procedures in the morning in front of passengers to crews and ground staff getting lost in the huge building, it was as if everyone was expected to learn by trial and error by themselves.

The costs to BA alone are estimated at £16m! With a fraction of this money, they could have financed the most advanced training program ever conceived, with virtual reality technologies for example (maybe with a T5 sim in Second Life).

Now, why is this related to Organizational Knowledge and Knowledge Management?
Formalized training is an essential building block for leveraging organizational knowledge.
What this fiasco tells me is that British Airways is very unlikely to have a knowledge sharing and cooperative culture. It is very likely to boast a command and control (and shut-up) culture. Not only the necessary knowledge transfer was not provided but many warning bells were not given the attention they deserved. Some middle managers and staff representatives did warn of the lack of training weeks before the opening. A large simulation was also apparently attempted with staff but it didn’t go as planned, and instead of scheduling another one, it was assumed to be sufficient. I will even go further in stating that such a training-related project failure would never happen with a knowledge-driven organization with a participative culture, simply because the human element would naturally be given the importance it requires.

UPDATE: I found this article from the Telegraph that informs us that the £16m loss might mean that the BA staff will not get a annual bonus in May! If this happens, that would be another indication of a command & control culture where management can make the worse mistake and have the employees pay for it.
The article also mentions the possible strike action by the pilots and that "they are also understood to be planning to write a letter to major shareholders next week calling for a change of management. The letter to Government ministers, the CBI and City institutions will accuse Walsh of arrogance, mismanagement and bringing the British Airways brand into disrepute." Oh dear, never mind a cultural issue in BA, it seems to suffer a heated and tensed atmosphere about to blow-up!

Anyone wanting more detailed information about what happened on the opening day, I recommend Michael Krigsman's article on ZD Net.

7 Comments:

At 8:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

'What this fiasco tells me is that British Airways is very unlikely to have a knowledge sharing and cooperative culture. It is very likely to boast a command and control (and shut-up) culture'

Amazing you can tell this from just watching the news reports. I would like to confirm this is exactly the case as I found to my detriment. Pushed out after raising concerns. They like to use such examples as 'warning' to others. THe organisation is corrupt from top to bottom. I have concrete evidence in the form of a video demonstrating the type of organisation, if you would care to contact me regarding this please do on, ...@....com

When you have read this message can you delete the contact details. regards.

 
At 5:59 AM, Blogger Vahid said...

Good post. Lack of training, and a "you're supposed to know this stuff" cultural agenda are a wrong combination, aka "shooting yourself in the foot". Assuming people don't know and gently probing their knowledge and taking a seat in the training room works better in my experience.

It's hard to belive an organization the size of a world class airline would make that mistake. Did the previous comment turn out to be true or was is just a spammer doing his thing?

 
At 10:14 AM, Blogger Peter-Anthony Glick said...

Hello Vahid
Yes it is hard to believe and this is why I thought BA was victim of its internal culture which generated a kind of groupthink effect on the management team involved in the project.
The first comment seems to be real. I hopefully should meet with him to view his video evidence. Will blog about it then.
Peter

 
At 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Insightful post and I agree with the comments about training. Hard to believe they spent so much money and forgot that detail.

I also did a long post on the T5 failure:

http://blogs.zdnet.com/projectfailures/?p=681

Wish you included more links to your sources, however.

Michael Krigsman

 
At 2:13 PM, Blogger Peter-Anthony Glick said...

Thanks Michael.
I agree, I should have inserted my key sources as I usually do but in this case, this subject was so much in the news that I thought I could do without.
I read your very detailed and clear posts about what really happened that day. I didn't know about the large number of IT systems and providers, but knowing this now, I would consider this go-live as rather successful from a IT systems point of view. Again, it was the people not sufficiently familiar with the new systems that was the main problem.
I will add your link to my post.
Rgds
Peter

 
At 6:12 PM, Anonymous Allison said...

Such a great article which The lack of training was not just for one group of people and not just for one system or activity, it was found wanting all over! From hundreds of staff not finding the staff car park entrance to check-in staff struggling with the IT system, from security personnel being taken through new procedures in the morning in front of passengers to crews and ground staff getting lost in the huge building, it was as if everyone was expected to learn by trial and error by themselves.The costs to BA alone are estimated at £16m! With a fraction of this money, they could have financed the most advanced training program ever conceived, with virtual reality technologies. Thanks for sharing

 
At 1:03 AM, Anonymous Josh said...

Nice post which They like to use such examples as warning to others. THe organisation is corrupt from top to bottom.The letter to Government ministers, the CBI and City institutions will accuse Walsh of arrogance, mismanagement and bringing the British Airways brand into disrepute. Thanks a lot for posting this article.

 

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