Posted: September 17th, 2017
Project Execution and Control
The Manhattan Project was unique in at least one respect; a major industrial enterprise was built in support of a totally new, untested product – one that it may not have been possible to build. Although scientists knew that heavy atoms like uranium spontaneously disintegrated, producing energetic radiation, it was by no means certain that the process could be scaled up to produce an explosion. The only way to find out was to try – and the only way to try was to first separate kilograms of U235 from tons of U238. (A parallel project was aimed at producing fissionable plutonium; both proceeded in parallel, because it was by no means certain that either project would succeed.)
The massive work of uranium separation and plutonium production took place concurrently with basic scientific research and technical weapons design. The first employed thousands of workers, most of them laborers with no scientific background whatsoever. The second employed hundreds of the greatest scientific minds of the day, including (in a supporting role) Albert Einstein.
The production work and the theoretical work required vastly different control mechanisms. The greatest need on the production side was secrecy. The mere fact that the United States had made uranium separation a high national priority would tell scientists in other countries much more than the American government wanted them to know. The greatest need on theoretical side was the free exchange of information among the scientists. If Physicist A wanted to discuss an idea with Physicist B, he wanted to talk to him directly – not draft a report, to be read, classified, and hand-delivered by Military Intelligence.
The solution was to create two entirely different organizations within the Manhattan Project; one managed by military officers, the second by a distinguished, charismatic physicist.
Q1: What were the organizations?
Q2: Who were the managers? How well were they suited to their jobs?
Based upon your detailed knowledge of modern project management techniques,
Q3: Could the control problems have been anticipated?
Q4: What, if anything, should have been done differently at the beginning of the Manhattan Project?
At the risk of giving too much away, we should note that one of the organizations still exists: Los Alamos National Laboratory of the US Department of Energy. Feel free to visit the website. No scientific organization in the world has a more interesting history, or a more distinguished pedigree.
AJ (2015). The Manhattan Project: Making the atomic bomb. (Index page. See the entire site.) Retrieved August 10, 2009 from http://www.atomicarchive.com/History/mp/index.shtml
NY Guide (2002c). Management’s Guide to Project Success. (Execution and control: Sec. 3.4) Retrieved from the New York State Chief Information Officer/Office for Technology’s Enterprise Program Management Office, June 6, 2009.
Wideman, M. (2015b). Project management case study: The Custom Woodworking Company – Woody 2000 project. Retrieved on 7 Feb 2015 from http://www.maxwideman.com/papers/woody2000/intro.htm
Hooke, F. (2013). The hidden cost of poor project management (Introductions – also see the linked pages.) Retrieved on 7 Feb 2015 http://www.maxwideman.com/guests/hidden/intro.htm
RoC (2008c). Public Procurement Best Practices Guide, (Execution and control: Chap. 7.5). Treasury of the Procurement Directorate of the Treasury of the Republic of Cyprus.. Retrieved August 10, 2009 from http://www.publicprocurementguides.treasury.gov.cy/OHS-EN/HTML/index.html?7_project_management.htm
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