Generally, a macro project is easily recognized during the development of the scope statement; the key to its recognition lies in understanding the technologies involved in executing the project. If only one technology or methodology provides the foundation, it is generally a basic or a major project; the disk cleaning machine project was such a project. A framework of technology already existed to create this machine the organization where it was executed had completed many similar projects.
When several different technologies or methodologies are involved in executing a project, it generally is a macro project. The multi-technology characteristic emerges at the beginning of the work breakdown structure effort. Due to the complexity of such projects, this characteristic is recognized at the scope level. In addition, an interdisciplinary team, which is led by a project manager who has a broad knowledge base of the technologies involved, is appointed to recruit a project management team and technically competent specialists to create a statement of work and develop the project's specification. At this point, many project histories will be reviewed and many different subject matter experts will be consulted over questions of feasibility, risk, and resource availability, as the macro project management team explores the project's costs. A specification then will be written that precisely defines the measurable output of the completed project. This specification may very well become an extensive document, but sometimes the desired output of a massive project can be defined quite simply. An example of such a simple definition is: "Design and build an atomic-powered power plant that will have a capacity to deliver 1 million kilowatts at 1,500 volts." A very sophisticated project management team, after much thought, research, and discussion, might have developed such a specification.
The work breakdown structure at the highest level would have been developed as the project's feasibility, risk, resource availability, and cost were considered. For an atomic power plant, the work begins with the technical design. This design defines the energy output of the reactor that is needed to feed the heat exchanger (boiler), which supplies steam to the turbine(s) to drive the generator(s) that will deliver the specified output. The tasks of reactor design and development, heat exchange design and development, turbine design and development, and generator design and development are decomposed as macro projects and major projects. Because many atomic power plant reactors have been built and much is known about this technology, the larger project might be manageable as a major project with many basic projects. However, if any advance design elements are to be incorporated into the new power plant and it seems this always happens it is itself a macro project.
At this level, a sophisticated project management team will begin to treat the submacro projects and major projects like tasks in a basic project. The team will lay out an estimate macro project Gantt chart, complete with preliminary risk factors, to get a rough idea about its feasibility, cost, and project duration. These estimates are very rough. They will not be finalized until this project has been broken down all the way to the basic project level and the basic project project managers have led their teams in planning the basic projects.
Most macro projects get into trouble with time and cost estimates and technical feasibility because they commit to the estimates derived at the upper level of the work breakdown. This is particularly true when some advances in technical applications are included in achieving project success. However, it seems so tedious to carry macro project planning down to the basic project "level" and is so time consuming that macro project managing teams do not do it. They explain away their project difficulties and overruns based on histories that always seem to include overruns. The Limerick Atomic Power Plant, near Philadelphia, is a wonderful exception.
The Limerick nuclear power plant was completed and went "on line" January 8, 1990. It is still regarded as perhaps the best designed and constructed nuclear power plant in the world. In the United States and around the world, nuclear power plant construction consistently overruns its budget and completion schedules. The Limerick plant construction was very carefully planned and managed. The project began in February 1986. It was completed under budget, precisely when the project management team intended it to be completed. This is a very rare accomplishment for a project of this size and complexity. It illustrates that with careful and detailed planning and management a very complicated project can be completed to specifications, on time, and within budget.
 See P. M. Network, January 1991, Gotzis, T. P., "Limerick Generating Station No. 2".
The framework described here features several levels of projects and project management. At the lowest level is the basic project with its individual project manager. The specification that this project manager works with has moved down through several levels of work breakdown. At each level is a project manager or project management team that has received a specification from the previous level, and, working with the project managers who make up their project team, they have broken the specification down into lower level projects. Please note you can use the affinity diagram approach at all levels.
Intermediate projects within a macro project are managed by individuals or project management teams, depending on the number and complexity of the elements (projects) in the project that they manage. They have responsibility for helping subordinate project managers develop specifications (they act as project sponsors for these subordinates) and for coordinating the interactions and interdependencies among the subordinate projects. In addition, they attend the milestone meetings of these projects and hold milestone meetings with the project managers of their subordinate projects to ensure good communication and coordination.
Many project management organizations exist that contract to manage macro projects. These organizations also use a project manager team approach, leading or assisting the breaking down of the project into manageable levels. Each organization tends to define "manageable" differently; all create a plan and a Gantt chart covering the level to which they break down the project. Below that level, they depend upon the expertise of the project manager (often a contractor) to execute the project. A few of these organizations ask to see and be allowed to follow these subproject Gantt charts. Each project management organization coordinates the project through milestone meetings. The less breakdown used in the project, the more frequent and cumbersome the meetings, which often are scheduled weekly or even more often. These meetings substitute for the organization's lack of planning detail. Some project management firms use teams that are very good at coordination and communication (through frequent meetings), and at the "art" of expediting and adjusting plans. They do not generally get their projects finished on time, to specifications, and within budget, but they do generally get their projects finished.
Breaking macro projects down to the level of basic projects is sophisticated, but it is not fundamentally different from developing a basic project task list and Gantt chart. When this detailed level of planning is used, a structured project management hierarchy with good communication develops (see Figure 16-5). When this level of planning is done, projects can get finished to specifications, and be on time and within budget. The process is a simple, logical extension of IPM methodology.