Hitting the promised completion dates on a project as complex as the Jubilee Line Extension, Bechtel project director Clifford Mumm says, is like jumping out of an aeroplane at very high altitude and trying to land on the X.
'I've been using the word smear - and I hate the word - but we are aiming to smear across the finishing line.' So while he is happy to give deadlines, getting them precisely right is not always realistic.
But Mumm maintains that the whole project will be open on time for the millennium. His prediction is to have trains running linewide by the start of November and Southwark Station open later that month. This will leave just Westminster Station which should be ready to hand over to London Underground by the end of November for trial operations, and opened to the public in December. 'I worry about this constantly - simply because of the smear factor of hitting the deadline.'
He worries because by getting involved with the JLE he has put Bechtel's reputation as an international construction firm at stake - and his own. 'You sure don't want to be the guy that toppled over,' he says. 'Particularly in the UK because if you shame yourselves, boy does the press get on to it.'
Mumm is American, of course, but he says that having worked in the UK for the last six years he enjoys it. But he has no illusions about riding off into the sunset taking the credit for building the JLE. 'Denis Tunnicliffe and the people beneath him at LUL are the ones that have taken the beating and stayed at the grindstone. They deserve the credit.'
'This is a monumental project,' he adds. 'It is incredibly complicated. As a project manager you only get one, perhaps two of these in a lifetime,' he says, likening it to the Boston Artery and Three Gorges Dam projects in terms of scale.
Whether the delayed opening really matters is a moot point as far as he is concerned. While he knows that the public's attitude to the JLE is of a project delivered late and over budget, he is convinced that when they see the scale of what has been achieved this will change.
'A year from now people will start pointing at the JLE as an example of what they want the rest of the system to be like,' he predicts.
Mumm has made many changes to the project delivery and commission team and believes that the final hurdles are being cleared. But commissioning a railway, he points out, requires completely different skills to constructing it.
'I think the project did try to focus on the commissioning phase at the beginning but my guess is that they got into the complexity of the civil work - the tunnels, concrete, all of that stuff - and said 'we'll worry about all the rest when we come to it'.' The JLE should have set up an under-project to keep an eye on the commissioning, he adds. 'I think they just let it go.'
Mumm set up an integrated schedule to control the work of the designated contractors straight away, a complex task and one that had not really been tackled before. The result gave a much clearer view on the project's priorities.
Phased opening, he says, is the only realistic way to get a project like the JLE up and running. 'I suspect that the original plan was to open the line in phases but as the schedule closed in this became impossible,' says Mumm. 'But to think about bringing the whole thing on line in one go was nuts.'
Mumm accepts that there will be haggling over claims once the job is complete but feels there is a willingness to finish the job and sort things out. He adds that he has a programme to resolve each of the claims within a set time scale. 'We have a finite amount of money and have regular and often boisterous meetings to justify the costs. We have put new programmes in place to stop the costs escalating.' He says the advantage of making a change on a project is that you are able to clear the baggage and get everything out on the table. 'It is a great catharsis for everyone,' he says. 'Change the team a bit, get rid of some of the problems from history.'
He is also quiet about how much Bechtel is being paid to bring the project home but admits that it is on a fee and incentive basis for hitting target. 'All I know is that it feels like whatever we make it should be four times higher,' he jokes. 'Right now I am concentrating on getting the job done and assuming that at the end we will get paid commensurate to the work we've done.