Project Management Case Study
Boeing's Virtual Fence(Barriers)
Dr LRS Mani
Brief profile of case
• The Boeing’s Virtual Fence Project was initiated by the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) to stem the continual flow of illegal border
crossing along the Mexican Border which had reached epidemic
proportions. The main driving force behind the construction of
project was the threat of illegal aliens, terrorists, and drug smugglers,
which had sparked national security concerns. The Department of
Homeland Security had been charged with the sole responsibility of
monitoring illegal crossings in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
Giving the size and complexity of the project, Boeing was contracted
to successfully complete the project at an initial estimate of $1.1
billion which was later revised to $8.0 billion. However, a
congressional watchdog group argued that the project cost estimate
could rise as much as $30.0 billion.
The Virtual Fence project lacked a comprehensive and a robust
integration management systems that ensured that all the 100
subcontractors that had been contracted by Boeing, the main
contractor on the project, would work in a unified and team-oriented
fashion to complete the multi-billion security project ahead of both
schedule and cost.
The original cause of the problem could be credited to the DHS
formulating the entire project as a turnkey where all the work and
oversight will be conducted by the contractor Boeing. There was a clear
conflict of interest at the initiation of the project.
• Project scope management is a process that helps in determining and
documenting the list of all the project goals, tasks, deliverables,
deadlines, and budgets as a part of the planning process. In project
management, it is common for a big project to have modifications
along the way.
• With the scope in the project management defined right in the
beginning, it becomes much easier for project teams to manage and
make the required changes.
A well-defined project scope management helps avoid common issues like:
• Constantly changing requirements
• Turning the project direction when you are already mid-way
• Realizing that the final outcome isn’t what was expected
• Going over the discussed budget
• Falling behind the project deadlines
• The scope is defined by understanding the project requirements and the
client’s expectations. The scope statement usually contains,
• project objectives
• project deliverables
• project constraints and
• project assumptions.
BOEING’S VIRTUAL FENCE
Strengths: Not afraid to scrap projects that cost too much, Boeing is very
determined, very influential and credible.
Weaknesses: Terrible project management skills, constant ballooning costs,
terrible timeline, Boeing had never attempted anything like this before.
Opportunity: Chance to create an amazing technology, attempting
something Boeing has never done before could really put them ahead of
Threats: Ballooning costs could get the project shut-down, unexpected 7
year delay, 2,000 mile border could be too much work for something never
attempted by this company before.
Questions: 1) What problems do you see emerging from a project such as
SBInet where the government allows the contractor to determine scope,
manage all contractor relations, and decide how to share project status
information with oversight bodies?
• Oversight, particularly early in the project’s development, is critical.
• It is during the early phases of the project that most technical decisions are made, that
overall project scope is frozen, and that project capabilities and standards for
evaluation are determined.
• Thus, when the government gave this power to the contractor without sufficient
checks and balances, they opened the way for overruns, poor technical quality, and
loss of accountability.
• In retrospect, it is actually surprising that the project was cancelled as early as it was.
Under similar circumstances, federally funded projects have been much bigger black
holes for budget and schedule overruns.
2) Consider the following two arguments: “The failure of SBInet was due to
poor scope management,” versus “SBInet failed because of poor oversight
and project controls.” Take one side or the other in this argument, and justify
your response. A case can be made for either position in this example.
The project was poorly scoped, mainly due to an inadequate understanding of
the technical requirements for developing and maintaining a virtual fence
across a long border.
Even the pilot project on the 28-miletest section of the border was not
technically sound and demonstrated a number of flaws within the system.
On the other hand, there was a continued lack of oversight of the project
through much of the early qualification phases, when Boeing was scrutinizing
suppliers, trying to determine the project’s scope, and creating a management
structure that seemed designed to promote overruns and poor quality.