Friday, May 20, 2011

Program Management at Delta/Northwest

Wow! For a Project Manager, seeing a full-color picture of this in the paper is a treat indeed.

What was it? At first I thought it was a Work Breakdown Structure, but then I saw the swim lanes and thought it was a Process Map. Then I read the article and realized that this was a Program Management Plan. Each one of those stickies represented a project that together, resulted in the program to merge two airline. 

Turns out, the effort to merge two airlines is huge. From cultural changes like ringing two or four times on landing to the pilot contracts, there were millions of tasks.

From the Times article: Delta’s chief information officer, Theresa Wise, said the airline had to merge 1,199 computer systems down to about 600, including one — a component within the airline’s reservation system — dating from 1966.

The challenge, she said, was to switch the systems progressively so that passengers would not notice. Ms. Wise, who has a doctorate in applied mathematics, devised a low-tech solution: she set up a timeline of the steps that had to be performed by pinning colored Post-it notes on the wall of a conference room.

A major switch happened when the new airline canceled all Northwest’s bookings and transferred them to newly created Delta flights in January 2010. It required computer engineers to perform 8,856 separate steps stretched out over several days.

One other issue has apparently stumped everyone. Delta and Northwest each used different trash bags in their cabins. Northwest’s was large, held up better and was easy to use. Delta’s was smaller, like a high-end shopping bag. The airline is still working on finding the perfect bag.

“The amount of work is boring beyond belief,” Mr. Wilander said. “It is also critical to the airline.”

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