D-Day: Talk About Project Planning!

As project managers we go about our daily business applying all the things that we have learned about projects as we complete project upon project.  We gather the requirements and, with our project team (if we have one), plan the project through time and task tools and then execute that plan to the (hopeful) closure of the plan.  We may use different methodologies, but the bottom line is that we want to complete the project and ensure it stays within the confines of the schedule and budget.  Well let’s say that you are a project manager and someone comes into your office with the following requirements (http://www.itv.com/news/2014-06-06/d-day-in-numbers-the-remarkable-statistics-behind-the-largest-seaborne-invasion-in-history/):

  1. You must conduct a logistics project that transports 150,000 men composed of 13 countries
  2. You must do this via boat and plane with the boats transporting to a safe distance from the shore and disembarking the individuals on smaller boats to the shore; the planes will carry paratroopers which will jump out of the planes at designated points.  You have 5,000 ships and 11,000 planes for this purpose.
  3. You must ensure that the ships and planes above are maintained and ready for a spontaneous departure that also must be conducted in a very organized fashion.
  4. You must arrive at the different disembarking points at a precise time, following other preparations for this arrival, including planes flying over the arrival points and ships carrying out precise operations.
  5. You must ensure that any obstacles that are blocking the disembarking arrivals are gone and that any resistance to the arriving individuals are at a minimum.
  6.  You are to ensure that the disembarking individuals are well prepared for the event, providing them with the necessary equipment to counter any resistance.
  7. You only have a certain amount of time to get the first wave of disembarking individuals on shore and in place in order to follow-up with other disembarking support equipment.
  8. Most importantly, you must do this secretly, ensuring that the operations are done with confidentiality in mind – which means that most individuals will not know of the impending departure or where they will get to shore.
  9. Oh, and one more thing, you are going to be met with a force of approximately 300,000 trained and armed enemy forces that were behind concrete bunkers and walls still standing even after aerial and naval bombing.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what the military planners were facing when planning the Overlord Invasion (Commonly called D-Day) on June 6, 1944.  Today marks the 72nd anniversary of that event where over 4,000 service members died during the invasion alone.  If you want to see one version of the invasion, watch the first few minutes of “Saving Private Ryan.”  Every time I see those scenes I start to tear up thinking about how these young men (and I do mean young, with many 17, 18, and 19 years old) sacrificed their lives for a higher cause (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normandy_landings).

I guess the thing that I forgot in all this project planning was the option – project failure.  If this project would fail it would embolden the enemy to build more defenses, reallocate their forces and prolong a war that had cost millions of lives up to that point.  This project could not fail, but had to succeed to kick off other sub-projects that would lay the groundwork for our eventual project success — and the end of the war!

The reward for the project success?  Well, there were no bonuses, no additional time off, nothing except maybe a medal, a possible promotion, but for many the reward of knowing that they defeated what was considered to be an enemy full of bravado and resources, and had most of Europe under their fist.

So, today, as with most other days, if you see a veteran please remember that they are part of a larger plan to keep the rest of us safe from others that would take away our way of life.  Also please take a moment to remember those brave men and women that fought in that battle (and others) in that far away place on June 6. 1944 where they went into a place they had never seen before meeting bullets and explosions some for the first time in their young lives.  They had no idea the heroes they would become, but they set the stage for a free Europe and a free world.  Sure, our world is not perfect, but it is more free than it would have been under one dictator.

And as for you project managers out there, once you see the requirements above, will the project you are undertaking put thousands of lives at risk and its possible failure destroy the world as we know it?   I am sure the D-Day planners had many sleepless nights before, during, and after the operation.  This put everything in perspective.  I thank God that the men and women in D-Day were brave.  I also remember people like my father’s friends like Petey, Floyd, and Vini who were in World War II and for some like Petey who was a paratrooper who jumped into danger as the ships were making their way to the enemy shore.  Every year we should honor these heroes.  Every year.

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