Past, Present, Future

Peter ZukDinner at Legal          Seafood at Kendall SquareDaven MadsenDr. John Ross Snoderly

SDMers Convene for Fall Business Trip, Open House, and Alumni Conference

By Monica Nakamine
November 13, 2003

The SDM Open House kicked off the week during the SDM Fall Business Trip, from October 20-24, 2003. The Open House (held on Monday and Tuesday) was specifically for incoming SDM ‘04s to get a glimpse of what they should expect as an SDM student. It was a new addition to the various seminars and presentations that took place throughout the five days, coinciding and overlapping with the Fall Business Trip, then ending with the 2nd Annual SDM Alumni Conference (Thursday and Friday). The week’s itinerary allowed for past, present, and future SDMers to congregate while providing time for each group to assemble amongst themselves.

Open House

The first speaker at the Open House was Peter Zuk, currently one of the partners at Gadsby Hannah, LLP in Boston and former director of the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, otherwise known as the “Big Dig.” He discussed his experiences in managing the construction of the Big Dig while explaining its history, constructional phases, and leadership challenges.

“[Constructing the Big Dig] was like having open-heart surgery while playing tennis,” said Zuk, who was also the Vice President of Global Construction at Level 3 Communications. “I wish I had a magic bullet-point on project management leadership.”

According to Zuk (shown above), the Big Dig was conceived in the 1970s and early-1980 – the pre-design phase. In it, the project was defined, needs were identified, and initial funding was sought and approved. The second phase was the environmental permitting phase, 1983-1993, during which permits – all 10,000+ of them – were granted and an initial environmental impact statement was written. Designing the project, the third phase – 1985-2001 — came next and involved selected design firms as well as input from the project manager at the time. The fourth and final phase is the construction phase, which the project is still in. Beginning in 1991, construction of the Big Dig is expected to be complete in December 2005.

Although he faced many logistical and construction problems, Zuk’s leadership challenges had more to do with interpersonal issues between the various companies and organizations that were involved with the project. Each company or organization maintained tight control over the portion of the project that they worked on, which fostered a lack of communication and duplication of efforts, incurring additional costs.

“Once we got the teams aligned, we had a very resilient form of organization,” said Zuk. “They all managed to keep focused on program goals. The more we powered-down, the more productive we would be in our project goals.”

Zuk had an “open-door” policy, encouraging contractors and employees to talk to him whenever they felt it necessary. He also understood when people made mistakes and, instead of pointing fingers, he moved on to find a solution.

“The boss has to be diligent in being able to find bad news and encourage people to bring bad news to the floor,” said Zuk. “We were religious in never beginning a hunt for the guilty when a problem occurred on a project. We all make mistakes. How we deal with them is the province of good project leadership.”

“I thought he was an excellent speaker, providing useful and interesting insight into the complexity of managing such a large and unwieldy project that involves a diverse mix of people – politicians, contractors, engineering firms, city officials, city residents, the press, etc.,” said SDM student Michelle Stevens. “His talk was informative and added a good dose of reality to the amount of mudslingings generally associated with the Big Dig.”

Later, several current SDM students facilitated an informal question-and-answer session for incoming SDM ’04 students. Some of the attendees were also applicants who were accepted into the program but were using the Open House as a time to meet with professors, students, alumni, and staff to get a better feel for the program. They also got the chance to talk with each other later that evening over dinner at Legal Seafood at Kendall Square (pictured below).

Alumni Conference

More than 100 people were in attendance at the 2nd Annual SDM Alumni Conference held on campus October 23-24, 2003. As the keynote speaker, Dr. John Ross Snoderly (pictured top right), President of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), provided an overview of his organization. Formed in the early 1990s, INCOSE is an international body comprised of leading organizations and experts contributing to the body of knowledge on systems engineering. Through membership, the organization distributes a quarterly technical journal and provides access to conferences, tutorials, and symposiums. Currently, INCOSE’s membership consists of about 4,200, spanning 23 countries. The organization is working on finalizing a systems engineering certification that is primarily based on a systems engineering handbook that they also publish.

Captain Daven Madsen (shown below), Chief of the Architecture Development Division at the National Space Security Architect (NSSA) also spoke to the SDM alums, highlighting the NSSA’s architecting process.

Established in 1998, NSSA’s mission is to develop and integrate mid- and long-term space architectures across the Department of Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Community space mission areas, to conduct space program assessments, and assist with space and non-space trades; essentially, to establish strategic direction for national security space capabilities. The organization’s unique role includes various functions:

  • architecting integrated systems-of-systems
  • planning near/mid-term steps to achieve this
  • assessing programs for consistency with guidance and architectures, and
  • advising on budget and acquisition decisions