Christmas Tree Projects in Government

July 10, 2024

Yesterday the MBTA announced that come August 1st they will finally accept contactless payments from credit cards and smart phones. This project took over six years and billion dollars. The retrospectives and reports will no doubt show the money was used in useful or productive ways, or wasted with a vendor who is blamed for the mistakes. Nobody will be held accountable for prospectively putting together a project with a budget so large it was doomed from the start. The only reason it had to take six years is it can be a challenge to spend a billion dollars in a single year.

When I experienced projects like this working in government I realized they are Christmas trees. An idea arrives with an over-sized budget so mid-level managers see the opportunity to decorate them with their own ideas, dreams, and aspirations. The simple idea or directive from the top becomes lost. The project morphs into a death march as scope explodes and number of objectives becomes insurmountable. The lesson we learned from is the only way to tame this kind of beast is a directive from the top with people smart enough to see the whole system that are empowered to make hard choices.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.