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Bad (engineering) art and philosophy

The short story presented below is true. It was first published on the CD ROM containing the proceedings from the 1995 Canadian Geomatics Conference, as an illustration of the bad planning and execution of an important International Development Project.

Gary and his surveyors

The Project was located in western part of the New Guinea island and was part of the Transmigration Program administrated by the Directorate General of Settlement Preparation of Indonesia. The study was divided in two phases: Phase II - consisting of field confirmation of feasibility studies based on aerial photo-interpretation, and of Phase III - consisting of detailed topographic, soil and hydrological surveys and of agro-economical, sociological, engineering (infrastructures) investigations for planning of future transmigration villages.

Indonesia-Irian-Jaya-habitants-2.jpg (123299 bytes)The involvement of surveyors in Phase II activities was important but limited, however in Phase III it was essential. The Project started with Phase II activities. The Canadian Consultant was associated with an Indonesian Consulting Company. The bulk of field surveyors were Indonesian employees and Canada had to provide the expatriate supervising professionals. Four expatriate surveyors were budgeted but only one, the chief (Jock), was present on site since almost beginning.

Many plans of logistics and surveying activities were prepared but not one was accepted by Gary, the Project’s team leader. The Indonesian field surveyors were left to themselves in remote tropical jungle, far from the main duty station (200 km), with no appropriate transportation, lodging, scarce food, no appropriate equipment and no guidance what so ever. No one from the Project’s direction went to the field, even once, for almost a year! For all that period no valid surveying information was delivered to the head office.

After one full year of operation, the Project’s director has been warned by the Client that the Project is late on schedule and if this situation persists, its activities may be suspended or even cancelled. Immediately, the other three expatriate surveyors were called in (Roland, Ed and Chris) and sent immediately to the field. After two weeks spent in very hard conditions (no food and sleeping on bare planks) they decided to force Gary to come over and join them for a major meeting. They had discussed and noted a detailed plan to reorganize the logistics and surveying field operations.

Indonesia-Irian-Jaya-Tanahmerah-2.jpg (99333 bytes)Gary came over but did not take any decision. Because of Project’s difficulties, another delayed expert (Dave) was called in. He was a soil scientist with Ph.D. degree and Jock’s close friend. A kind of extra pressure was applied on Gary and he has finally accepted a slightly modified plan of three expatriate surveyors, Roland, Ed and Chris. All logistics planning, coordination and running was distributed among them.

Dave become the coordinator. Jock was given the responsibility for food and equipment purchase and sea, air and ground transport budgeting and organization. Roland was responsible for supervising construction of field camps and necessary helipads. Ed had to supervise local surveyors in the field and prepare a curriculum for planned informal surveying course. Indonésie-Irian-Jaya-jungle-3-hélicoptère.jpg (171882 bytes)Chris was given the responsibility for planning and executing reconnaissance flights with rented MAF (Missionary Aviation Fellowship) air crafts (helicopter and hydroplane) and running air and sea transportation of personnel, food and equipment from the Project’s duty station, to the main and flying camps, inside the jungle.

After six month of hard labor, the Project’s delay of Phase II studies was absorbed and the beginning of Phase III operations were authorized be the Client, in some selected areas. Two weeks surveying course was held in main river camp, in preparation for coming activities of the Phase III topographic surveys (base map with contours at 1:5000 scale). All was going well and the Project’s staff morale was high.

Unfortunately, this is not the end of the story. At the beginning of Phase III operations, Gary has decided that he will cumulate two Project’s positions: this of the Project’s team leader and this of the Phase III team leader.

Merauke-bosses.jpg (77489 bytes)As the second leader he retrieved almost all responsibilities from the expatriate surveyors. From now on they have to go to the field and follow his orders without discussion. The main river camp, still very important for logistics operations, was dismantled and abandoned for no apparent reason, all helicopter assistance was cancelled, even for emergency purposes. The orders and instructions to local surveyors were given directly by Gary, the "new" Phase III team leader.

Roland was first to leave. Two weeks later Ed has quit the Project. Jock, the official chief surveyor, resigned also. Chris was the last and only surveyor who remained. Trying to keep his job he proposed to discuss the situation with Gary and the new Project’s director, who recently arrived from Canada. During this discussion Chris learnt that a new chief surveyor was appointed and he had to go to the field and wait for his orders. After meeting with the new boss and few days of reflection Chris signed his resignation and has quit the Project too.

Chris-at-Bares.jpg (55431 bytes)Six months later, he was approached by the "brass" of the Canadian Company to return to Indonesia, on his conditions, and save the Project which, once again, was menaced of being closed with heavy financial penalties for both Consultants. After some negotiation Chris accepted, and returning to the site was met by the new Project's team leader (Dave). His arrival was followed by Roland’s return and both have worked very hard during eight months (three at the Consultants cost) to repair this mess done by the wrong decisions. One can wonder how big was the cost of this mess.

Text and photographs ©1995-2009 Christophe Serdakowski

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