What the leap second delay can teach us about project management

Miree Le Roy - Thursday, July 05, 2012

If you happened to be booked on a Qantas flight last Sunday, you would have felt the full effects of the seemingly insignificant ’leap second’. In order to bring electronic clocks back into sync after slight changes in the Earth’s orbit over the past four years, one second was added to the world’s clocks at midnight AEST on Saturday. And the result was chaos for air travellers. The extra second was enough to cause Qantas’s booking system to crash, causing delays of up to an hour for both international and domestic travellers.

And Qantas wasn’t the only company to be affected.Internet sites such as LinkedIn, Reddit, Mozilla and Foursquare all reported technical difficulties, with people unable to log onto some of these popular websites at all for about 45 minutes.

Incidents like this just go to show how focussed our society has become on time. We rely so heavily on things like the internet, satellite navigation and air travel, and these things rely heavily on exact time codes and precise measures. Never before has time been more influential on us than in our technology driven and time poor age, where a one second addition can result in hours of disruption, delays and inconvenience for many.

This potential for something so seemingly small to blow out of proportion can also happen on projects. Small delays here and there, that at the time may seem just like adding one second to a clock, can and do accumulate and cause extensive delays and disruptions at the end of projects. That is why it is so important to manage your schedule effectively throughout the course of the project.

In our time poor world, it is often hard to recoup time you lose. But if you try to run your projects to pinpoint accuracy with little room to manoeuvre, small delays have a tendency to become much bigger problems than they need to be. The key is finding the balance between the two, and not ending up in a situation similar to Saturday’s, where one second ended up costing thousands of people hours of their precious time.


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