Monday, 10 November 2008

Wjat went wrong at T5?

Mention "Terminal 5" to an air traveller this year and you may well be greeted by a hollow laugh. The new terminal at Heathrow gummed up within a couple of hours of opening. The summary report states that:
"On the first day of operation alone, 36,584 passengers were frustrated by the 'Heathrow hassle' that Terminal 5 had been designed to eliminate." More than 600 flights were cancelled in the first 11 days, and "23,205 bags required manual sorting before being returned to their owners". The causes: "Insufficient communication between owner (BAA) and operator (British Airways, or BA), and poor staff training and system testing".
All this sounds strange, because the airline BA has one of the most efficient O.R. teams in the United Kingdom. (Yes I mean it, and am not hoping for freebies.) But the word "communication" is at the core of the problem, as a short extract from what Iggy Vaid (a shop steward for staff working on T5) said in an appraisal of the mess:
"I hate to say that about my own airline, but culturally the existing management structure is one where you cannot tell the emperor that he has no clothes; you have to say his clothes are beautiful. No supervisor or person can tell his or her boss that the system will not work. If you do you are not a team player; you are sidelined, so for that reason you say that it works and the emperor has beautiful clothes."
Even the most efficient O.R. work will not be successful if there is no way to communicate it.
Later in the report from which I am quoting (The Independent, Saturday 10th November 2008) another area of potential (inevitable) breakdown was highlighted:
"Should there be a failure in the system at any point it will not self-rectify."
Hidden in these words is a warning for every large O.R. project

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