Project Management Lessons From the TEPCO Tsunami Mess

Project Management Lessons From the TEPCO Tsunami Mess

The Associated Press now has a copy of the tsunami plan for the TEPCO Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex.

It's two pages long and ten years old. (The AP calls it one page, but it's a double-size page.)

There's some discussion of whether two pages was enough. From a project management perspective,1 that's the wrong discussion.

Two pages is plenty of room to catalog and categorize tsunami risks, especially with cross-references to external data. Even throw in the inevitable boilerplate on a report of this type, and there would have been room to cover the key risks.

The project-management problems are these:

  1. They missed a major risk - possibly a black-swan type of risk, but a major risk nonetheless.
  2. They failed to account for a single-point-of-failure issue... an item that is notorious for failing when you need it most.
  3. They didn't review the risk plan regularly.

The first is a human failure that happens regularly. We all miss black-swan risks. The other two are, to my way of thinking, much heftier contributors to the big problem. Both were easily avoidable with good project management practices. Had they done either, the failure ten years ago to account for a really big wave wouldn't have had the impact it did.

I'll take up each of these three points in separate articles over the coming days.

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1To be clear, I do not read Japanese, and I cannot find online a full translation of the report. Also, while I have considerable expertise and experience in project management, I'm not the go-to guy by any means on nuclear power plants.