Chilean Mining Rescue Miracle—A Program Success

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff, ProjectExperts CEO.
“Viva Chile!” Our World watched with awe, soaring hearts, and huge appreciation for the rescuers when the first two miners emerged from their Phoenix rescue capsule. We held off posting or celebrating project success until all the miners—and their rescuers—were safely above ground. And now, in addition to the backstories about the after-effects of 69 days underground, we can reflect on the magnificent Project Management performances of each participant in this most-watched rescue.

Just look at the many heroes, talented team members, inspiring leaders and willing families and pride-full citizens, all focused on one objective: Get our miners out safely. And it appears our entire World is the stakeholder group, as reports surface that this is one of the most-watched web events in history. This is such a lesson about not just passing an exam, but leaders and team members working in synch to successfully manage one of the most-important projects in recent history. With IPMA’s recent activities to certify competent Project Managers and Senior Project Managers in Chile, here is a great opportunity to identify clearly competent and performing end-to-end project managers; most might qualify for Senior Project Manager certification, demonstrating mastery in complex projects.

But was this a project? Two answers: Yes, of course it was, because any time mankind changes the path of fate, inertia, and the status quo, that is what the practice of competent project management brings to society. And no, not just a project, it was an entire complex program, consisting of many projects, some relatively simple (such as providing sufficient electrical power at this remote site), and some very complex, and all working together to achieve the objective: Get our miners out safely.

Repeatedly, the media has mentioned the flawless planning, the contingency actions, the attention to crucial details, the exquisite performance of the plan, and the individual heroics that accentuate success. Note that both the success and the tributes note the combination of technical aspects of project and program management with the contextual and behavioral aspects. This program of related projects will serve case studies for years after our starring miners have recovered from their ordeal. And what shall be the highlights of those case studies?

Denver Driller
Although the rescue effort has attracted huge attention and prayers for months now, the crescendo of interest spiked upward when Denver Driller Jeff Hart broke through with his drill into the target area of the mine. Hart points out that he was just one of the team of four Colorado drillers, including Matt Staffel, Doug Reeves and Jorge Herrera, who had been working the drill for 33 days, to set the stage for the rescue. Here we see some of the PM Performance that all organizations seek, including the “soft skills” that encourage sharing credit—something that all projects can benefit from.

Presidential Leadership
And speaking of soft skills, we see the leadership of Chile President Sebastian Pinera, who not only stood vigil during the rescues, but hugged and congratulated rescued miners, and voiced “Welcome to Life!” to the 15th miner, Victor Segvia, as he emerged from the 2000+ foot mineshaft. President Pinera offers a leadership example for Presidents of all nations, and for all top Executives of project-oriented organizations. Scanning through the Behavioral Competence (interpersonal skills) Elements of the IPMA Competence Baseline, President Pinera has demonstrated them all.

Inspiring Rescuers
Getting the miners out was one thing, but going down into the mine to help those who needed assistance requires a level of faith, dedication and selflessness that is rare today. They include Mining Rescue Specialist Manuel Gonzalez, Roberto Rios, 34, a Navy diver and medic; and Patricio Roblero, 36, a Navy diver. Others on standby to also descend, if needed, were; Pedro Riveros, 54, a firefighter, and Cristian Bugueno, 37, a Navy emergency expert. Expected service? Perhaps. Heroic? Absolutely!

Last One Home
Just as the Captain may be last to leave the ship, the shift leader who was on duty at the time of the collapse was Luis Urzua, 54, the last miner to ride the Phoenix capsule to the surface. He has been the chief go-between, speaking for his fellow miners to the would-be rescuers above. Reports are that there were arguments within the mining team about who should be last to be rescued. After all, the risk increased with each successful recovery round-trip of the Phoenix rescue capsule.

Measuring Success
Technical measures of success used by some pm practitioners pale in comparison to the clear measures that were expected, identified, and achieved, in this complex program: Get our miners out safely. This program shows the clear vision, goal focus and measured outcomes expected by the miners, their families, their rescuers, their proud nation, and our World. Circling back to our comments above about leadership, dedication and when needed, heroics, the Chilean Mining Rescue program illustrates project and program management at its best.

Lessons Learned
The people, companies and multiple project teams that were involved in the Chilean Mining Rescue will carefully study their Lessons Learned. Some will uncover areas where incidents can be prevented in the future. Others will identify the key actions, competences and performances of individuals that made the difference, such as: The talents of the drill operators; the willingness of the rescue workers; the pride and faith of the families; and the leadership of President Pinera.

Was it a miracle, or just competent project and program management? It does not matter: The miners, OUR minors, have been saved, due to the competent and performing change agents of Chile, and its friends.

And here is another lesson: The World has witnessed the power of competent and performing project and program managers and their incredibly effective project teams. This is essence of the mission of IPMA-USA, and our unique (in the USA) distinction in our pursuit of PM Performance. Some have never seen it in your organizations. Now you know it is possible. And just look at what this does for the pride of the Nation of Chile! “Viva Chile!”

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