Sharpening Galileo’s Quill: My Amazing Trip to ALMA in Chile

At the ALMA "high site" in front of one of the telescopes in the array.
(I'm the one on the left with the fashionable belly bag.)

A couple of weeks ago I returned from one of my most exciting client engagements ever: Teaching a three-day PM Basics workshop for some of the ALMA team based in Santiago, Chile.  ALMA is “The world’s most advanced radio astronomy observatory currently under construction at 5,000 meters [16,400 feet] of altitude in the Chilean Andes” and it is designed to go “in search of our cosmic origins.” [Check out my annotated online photo album documenting my whole adventure!]

ALMA stands for Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array — In other words, it’s an array (collection) of radio telescopes (63, to be exact!) under construction in the Atacama desert by a multi-national team of construction people, engineers, scientists, IT people and other specialists.  (See for more.) If you’ve ever seen the movie Contact with Jodie Foster, you have an idea of what such an array is about.

I was working with the people who will be assuring that the technical services function smoothly when the array begins serving the world’s scientific community. What an amazing, brilliant, and dedicated group of people! A science fiction fan, I was in awe of what they were doing. But I had no illusions about my ability to fully comprehend their work.  Still, while I didn’t know the science, nor could I completely grasp the ground-breaking technical specifications they were trying achieve with their equipment, I hoped to be able to help them get some of their projects a little better organized.  Thus, in my small way, I could support their efforts to go “in search of our cosmic origins.” I would be, in effect, sharpening Galileo’s quill! (And how cool is that?!)

It turns out that we had a successful class.  We worked together to create PM processes, artifacts, and plans that would help them better organize the work products and projects undertaken by some of the great big brains who are behind this effort.

One of the best things about this trip was that I arrived a few days early and was given a guided tour of the ALMA desert sites by my client. This helped me understand the challenges the class participants were facing. In addition, the ALMA team also arranged a guided tour of Santiago, Chile (since it was my first visit there).  All-in-all, this was one of the most fascinating,  challenging, and gratifying business trips ever! And I am extremely grateful to the ALMA team who worked so hard to make it so.

Since I’ve had several requests from friends and colleagues who wanted to see pictures of my trip, I prepared this special annotated Google Photo album documenting it. Enjoy!  Go to:


Update: Comment from Richard Prestage (appears in photo above, center)
January 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Hi Mike –

Thanks for posting a very complimentary (but I would say accurate!) description of your trip. We also thought it was extremely successful, and we really benefited from your expertise. You are very modest; you did an excellent job of relating your PM expertise and processes to our situation.

(As a very minor nit-pick, we hope to have 66 antennas when we are finished!)


Richard Prestage
Head of Technical Services
Joint ALMA Observatory


Reply from Michael Greer
January 1, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Thanks so much, Richard. 66 antennas it is. (Now you see why my wife always checks my numbers!)