The International Space Station Project: Where no project manager has gone before

25 April 2014
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Any one of the seven wonders of the world can claim the title of most famous project on our planet, however probably the most famous project out of this world would be the International Space Station (ISS).  Although to be honest with you, there is not much competition beside the many orbiting satellites and their space junk friends which can qualify as potential candidates.  The ISS completion is a true example of an international project in which the vision, execution and outcome has evolved as the needs and wants of the many stakeholders involved has changed over time.

The IIS project delivers lessons in global cooperation and stakeholder management necessary to deliver the $100 Billion project out of this world.

Vision

The International Space Station (ISS) project was originally conceived in 1984 by US President Ronald Reagan as an international laboratory, observatory and factory in space.  As Reagan stated in his State of the Union address in 1984,  “We can follow our dreams to distant stars, living and working in space for peaceful economic and scientific gain.”  The idea was to leverage the environment of space to further science and space exploration, along with the idea to foster global diplomatic relations and stimulate the economy generated by the $100 Billion project.

As the visionary of the ISS project,  Reagan’s project eventually did come into fruition after many years of political wrangling, re-designs and billions of dollars leaving its mark as the most long lasting and extravagant man-made structure in space.

Execution

With support from 16 countries, following a number of years of talks and plans, the development of the ISS  began in 1993 leveraging NASA, ESA, and the Russian and Japanese space programs pooling their resources together to assemble the first pieces of the ISS in space in 1998.  For the next decade over 1 million pounds of hardware and over $100 Billion was invested in the space project with the US taking on the brunt of the investment at over $50 Billion.  To date, the station is equipped to support a crew of 7 at an estimated cost $7.5 million a day per person.  An incredible investment to set up  shop in space!

From an execution perspective, the project was plagued by many delays due to the involvement of the many stakeholder countries involved, political changes and volatile economic factors.  For example, it was not until 1993 that the Russians joined the program and the project finally got off its feet which only happened nine years following Reagan’s famous speech in 1984 that announced the project’s estimated completion date for 1994.  Although from a project manager’s point of view the IIS project busted every budget thinkable in terms of time, workload, specifications and cost, the project was the first multi-national major space project of its kind and the fact it was never killed is a success in itself.

Outcome

In the final analysis, the outcome of the International Space Station project was quite successful in achieving a greater goal which is to remain as a symbol very relevant to today’s world where globalization and technology are at the forefront of all aspects of society.  More than any other goal, the ISS serves as an educational and PR platform to promote the sciences and bridge the gap among different cultures around the planet.  Recently, in May of 2013  the ISS made music history with Chris Hadfield producing the first ever music video in space.  Much more than its economic goals (which remain to be seen), today the ISS is an excellent example of how people and technology are increasingly interconnected in all facets of life.

The final successful outcome of the ISS can be attributed to the sheer magnitude of the project.  The highly complex collaborative nature to complete this project demonstrates the importance stakeholder management plays in large-scale global projects.  The fact is, the success of large scale projects with multi-year timelines spread across multiple regions require years of persistence and a constant nurturing of all important parties that are responsible for a project’s final outcome.

Fun Fact – Did you know that the International Space Station upon completion weighed over 450 tons and took 136 flights on 7 different types of flight vehicles to be assembled?

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