WILY: Fyre, The Project That Never Happened

In yesterday’s PM Minute, I talked about my morbid fascination with the failed Fyre Music Festival and the documentaries that recently hit Netflix and Hulu. Particularly, Netflix’s Fyre: The Party That Never Happened. The Hulu movie is a good watch but seems to be more of a study of Billy McFarland. The Netflix version, however, spends a lot of time examining the genesis of the show and the effort to pull it off.

First off, as a Project Manager, the Netflix documentary is very difficult to watch. I was uncomfortable, my palms were sweating, and I’m not sure I didn’t have the heart palpitation or two. But, it’s also fascinating to see a project go so wrong despite super human effort from a lot of people. I’m sure your mileage may vary, but I believe that everyone thought had good intentions and believed that they could pull it off, myopic as that was. At least until the rain storm the night before. Except Billy. I stopped giving him the benefit of the doubt with the RF ID bracelets.

So, how does this relate to project management in general, and estimating a project in particular?

Let’s start with some background. McFarland and his partners started an app called Fyre. The app, like the internet has allowed time and again, disintermediated a market. In this case, it allowed talent to be booked directly through the app, without a middleman. Want Ja Rule to appear at your birthday party or corporate event? Book him straight through Fyre. The concept seemed like a good idea backed by sufficient demand.

Where did it go wrong? First by one of the most egregious cases of scope creep ever. The initial idea was to host a private event in the Bahamas to showcase the app to a small group of influencers and potential users and investors. If that’s the project, it’s relatively easy to pull off. Ja Rule was a partner. Book him to a private event at an existing facility, arrange transportation, invite everyone, and you’re off and running.

But, from there the scope went way out of control. First it became a music festival, then a music festival with all sorts of customizations and finally an oversold event that never was going to work at the chosen location. We know from our projects that in order to have an accurate estimate, we have to understand the scope.

Second, requirements were never clearly defined and the vague notions kept changing with the scope. How many people? Houses? Tents? Busses? Meals, etc. You get the idea. Anyone who tried to call attention to these shortcomings, even the pilot who noted that there weren’t enough toilets and sanitary infrastructure, was sent off the island. Again, to properly scope and estimate a project, you need to know the requirements.

Finally, in order to properly estimate, no matter what method, there has to be some baseline understanding of the work and the effort to complete it. In the case of Fyre, there was virtually no experience with putting on an event of this scale, so there was no way to effectively schedule or budget for the event. In one of the most hair-raising moments of the story, it was stated that the team effectively had 6-8 weeks to build the event and all the infrastructure.

Fyre is a masterclass in how not to run a project. And from the beginning was destined to fail if for no other reason than poor estimating that lead to a lack of planning.

Transcribed from this week’s episode of The Colocation Podcast. https://www.davidhersher.com/colocation