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Integration readiness levels can help make sure all the project elements
play well with others.
BY BUD BAKER, PhD, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
QMy project isn’t dead yet, but it’s definitely fading fast. It shouldn’t be that way: We’re blending three proven technologies, our processes
are well-understood and we’ve
been attentive to risk management. I’m at a loss as to what
I could’ve done differently. Any
Sure, but to fully understand
you’ll need to meet the makers of
my new car. It’s hardly an exotic
machine, just a regular Buick
Enclave made in Detroit, Michigan, USA. But the people who
designed this car understand the
cause of your dismay: It’s all about
A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®
Guide)—Fourth Edition has a
pretty thorough discussion of integration management. In a nutshell, consider integration the
combining of multiple elements—components, processes, technologies—into a seamless unit. Experienced
project managers know that even having simple, well-proven subsystems is no guarantee that they’ll work together
seamlessly when they need to. Consider for a moment what
we’ve recently learned about the interaction between a car’s
carpet and its accelerator: Neither is overly complex, but
together they’re capable of all sorts of mischief.
So let’s go back to that new Buick. I am the lowest-tech person you know, but I know successful integration
when I see it, and this Buick has it. For example, when
the phone rings, it automatically lowers the radio volume.
Now that is integration: two separate components, working seamlessly and transparently together.
Now I bet many of you aren’t impressed by that.
You understand technology, and when you imagine any
new car work breakdown structure (WBS), the radio isn’t all
that far away from the phone.
Now consider this, you skeptics:
That same incoming phone call
prompts the car to lower the
speed of the heating and air
conditioning fan. Suddenly the
car is totally silent, with nothing to drown out the voice of
your caller. Now there’s a WBS
miracle: two systems with virtually nothing in common, likely
managed by project managers
in two separate groups, working
This isn’t just about automobiles, of course. I’m part of a
study right now for an aerospace
organization, examining root
causes of some recent project
failures. The story emerging is
a familiar one. The technologies
involved turned out to be nowhere near as stable as originally claimed. And when they were prematurely married
to other equally underdeveloped systems, the results were
predictable: disappointing performance, cost overruns,
schedule slips and bad publicity.
If successful integration is important to planes, trains
and automobiles, it’s even more critical for spacecraft,
where the opportunities for rework and repair are decidedly limited. So it may be no surprise to learn that over
the last 35 years, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space
Administration) has been developing one of the prime
tools to prevent these shortfalls.
Its technology readiness level (TRL) system starts with
TRL 1, the most rudimentary. They then make their way
through intermediate levels using increasingly faithful prototypes tested in ever-more-realistic environments. This