Friday, 21 March 2014

The most expensive part of a project is the mistakes

Arches by Paul Ebbo
Arches, a photo by Paul Ebbo on Flickr.
The title of this blog post comes from a quote by the author Ken Follet in his book "The Pillars of the Earth".

Follet's book is a novel set against the background of cathedral-building in the Middle Ages, when cathedrals were the mega-projects of the time. The original quote, attributed to the fictional master-builder, is "The most expensive part of a building is the mistakes". The cathedral builders knew that any mistake would be massively costly in terms of time, labour and materials, and took great precautions to avoid error.

These precautions included using a modular design, where every bay in the cathedral was square, and each arch was identical. This allowed the design and build process to be perfected on the first bay and arches, and then re-used throughout the whole building project. Building components such as the falsework arches and the templates for the stones could be perfected once and re-applied a hundred times.

The same principle can be applied in other projects, including today's megaprojects. This blog has already argued for a combination of modularisation, standardisation and Knowledge Management as a way of reducing project mistakes to a minimum, and re-using designs and knowledge throughout. Use KM to perfect your approach on the first use of any module, through "learning while doing", so the knowledge can be safely re-used thereafter.

If your senior managers are still not convinced of the value of Knowledge Management, help them to see that the most expensive part of a project is the mistakes, and that effective "learning while doing" combined with a modular approach can reduce those mistakes to a minimum.

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