06 April 2008

The British Airways T5 fiasco (update)

See my previous post as I have added some info (and read the interesting comments as well).

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.