After last week’s disaster at Terminal 5, the accusations are starting to fly.
It appears that staff at BA and BAA warned their bosses that the new systems and processes would not work but their concerns were batted away with it’ll-be-alright-on-the-night assurances. I have seen this happen before on projects. Everyone gets so carried away with having to meet the deadlines and with the frenetic energy that builds up as the go-live date nears, that dissenters are either ignored or slapped down. The bigger and more prestigious the project, the less the bosses want to hear from nay-sayers.
Throughout this project, the staff consultation seems to have been poorly managed. Donald Clark places Veronica Kumar, BAA’s senior HR manager in T5, at the top of his blame list. Apparently, staff were invited into the new terminal to watch films and upbeat presentations, where they were given bags of popcorn and mock boarding cards asking ‘Are you up for it? This is all good Appreciative Inquiry stuff and very much in vogue amongst employee communications consultants. The trouble is, unless you get staff working on the nuts and bolts, testing the new systems to breaking point, all the rah-rah motivational events are superfluous.
Now If you read this blog regularly, you may remember that Veronica Kumar upset the unions at Heathrow when she said that her aim was a de-unionised Terminal 5. I wonder if she is regretting that, now that BA and BAA need all the staff goodwill they can get as they appeal for volunteers to come in and help sort out the mess.
This, too, is an unfortunate feature of high-profile projects. Managers like to get their names in the press by using state-of-the-art methods and showing that they are consigning the old ways of working to the dustbin. Alas, if you don’t get the basics right, this is like putting icing on a mouldy cake. Flashy methodologies and gung-ho attacks on trade unions might get your picture in HR Magazine but they are no substitute for the slow grind of thorough user acceptance testing.
T5 was seen as an opportunity to build new and more productive relationships between BA and BAA and between management and staff. Instead, it has probably done long-term damage to both and made Heathrow a global laughingstock into the bargain.
When a project goes so wrong that it delivers the exact opposite of what was intended, enlightened managers will sit down and try to work out just why this happened. Let’s hope that BA and BAA have such leaders and that they can stop blaming each other for long enough to make sure that a similar fiasco never happens again.