Seven years had passed since the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency gave engineering firm URS a 1 percent chance of meeting a global treaty deadline to destroy 220,000 chemical weapons.
But on 20 October at PMI® Global Congress 2012 -- North America, the URS project team accepted the 2012 PMI Project of the Year Award -- a high honor showing excellent project management can defy the odds.
Steven Warren, PhD, PMP, project general manager at URS, called the project a "massive undertaking."
The company would be destroying the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the United States.
To reduce the risks on the eight-year project, the team packaged each nerve agent into different "campaigns," during which only the designated chemical could be incinerated. For instance, from September 2004 to July 2007, only sarin gas munitions were destroyed.
Given the volatility, safety aspects were featured prominently at meetings. And around the facility, the team placed safety signage with a "safety message of the day" along with updated statistics, such as the number of hours since the last work injury.
Despite the extensive safety precautions, in March 2010 a worker ignored protocols and was exposed to mustard agent. Though the worker only suffered minor injuries, the mistake could have been fatal. The accident prompted regulators to shut down the site for a month as they investigated.
In response, the team created a position dedicated to identifying potential safety issues throughout the facility. Empowered to escalate problems to management, this team member circulated weekly safety reports among the highest-ranking members of the team.
The project was ultimately delivered under budget and early -- a powerful, true team effort.
"On behalf of URS; our contractors; our client, the U.S. Army; our stakeholders; and even, to a lesser extent our regulators, thank you," Mr. Warren said in accepting the award.
The winning project was honored along with two finalists: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Capability Replacement Laboratories project, Richland, Washington, USA; and Procter & Gamble, ordering, shipping and billing process project, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.
Look for video case studies of all the finalists, more awards coverage and a full list of winners on PMI.org.