Although I have been diligent about not referencing Star Wars in this blog (well, mostly*), I'm completely tossing that out the window for this entry.
What sort of Project Management techniques would go into building something along the lines of the Death Star? Without going into the engineering of such an immense project, here are some of the issues I see:
First of all, as discussed in Star Wars: A New Hope, there was nothing like this ever undertaking in the known galaxy. Next, the technology to destroy planets was completely new and probably difficult to test. Next, although there were millions of people involved and probably the GDP of multiple planets, it was kept secret. Next, the scope of the Death Star would have to include a complete ecosystem in order to process carbon dioxide and other waste. The failure of these systems would be catastrophic, so numerous safeguards and backups would be required. Next, building the framework to build something this large would be a massive undertaking in itself. Finally, the customers – Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader – are not likely to allow for flexibility in deadline.
From a back of the envelope assessment, I'd consider this a high risk project, loaded with new technologies that must have safeguards and backups, an unlimited scope, a hard deadline to murderous customers, and a budget that can not be measured in any way known to us.
Obviously a single person – or even an entire army – could not manage this project with any chance of keeping everything on track. The Risk Assessment alone would probably span more pages than I care to consider. A negative Feasibility Study is not something you'd want to present to these customers. With this many variables, no Gantt Chart or timeline could ever hope to hold it all. Without some of the systems being online – life support for one – Unit Testing in a production environment cannot even occur.
Like most large projects, it would require multiple Functional Area Teams – or maybe Armies – to design, develop, and test the various components in isolation while adhering to the specifications established by the Project Management Office. Frequent communication and testing of the specifications would have to occur to ensure that all groups were in compliance. Every group would be required to be informed of every decision potentially related to their area. Finally, a number of people too large to imagine would be required to bring all the pieces together, integrate, test, and confirm functionality. The scope of this is simply stunning. This changes a bit if there is slave labor but the possibility of sabotage or infiltration is quite high.
Add to the fact that approximately 20 years exists between Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: A New Hope, so in this time, an entire military structure was implemented and a space fleet was built and the impressiveness continues to grow.
* As an interesting side note, when I first posted that entry titled “Negotiating Deals and Lando Calrissian” I was briefly #8 on Google searches for “Lando Calrissian”. Since the newest movie was released last night, I have dropped to #11, but I am still amazed. I suspect that it happened because I spelled his name correctly.