This case study is an abridged version of Mark Kozak-Holland's eBook: Project Lessons from The Great Escape (Stalag Luft III). It was submitted for publication by email 11/6/08.
It is copyright to M. Kozak-Holland, © 2008.
Published here February 2009.

PART 1 | Introduction to Part 2 | Risk Management Planning 
Qualitative Risk Analysis | Quantitative Risk Analysis | Risk Response Planning
Risk Monitoring and Control | Conclusion | Part 2 - Case Study Exercises

Introduction to Part 2

In Part 1 of this case study, Mark Kozak-Holland described The Great Escape as a project from a modern perspective of the project management knowledge areas of PMBOK, specifically scope management. Similarly, this Part 2 looks at another area of PMBOK, risk management, and draws lessons in risk analysis, risk response planning, and risk monitoring and control.

There is little doubt that of the nine project management knowledge areas, one of the most important to The Great Escape project was risk management. In today's world some projects never get off the ground because of the perceived absence of resources, impossible time constraints, or the fear of failure. Often a Project Management Office (PMO) determines that the risks are too high, and puts the project on hold.

This part therefore draws lessons in how to identify risk, and what can be done to make a project more acceptable.

Project Risk Management

Most people are very familiar with the movie The Great Escape but may not be familiar with it as a project executed in the spring of 1944. The starting point for the project was in March of 1943 with the move to a new camp, the North Compound, created to relieve some of the overcrowding in the existing camp. From the outset the move to and taking up of brand-new quarters would cause confusion and provide new opportunities, and all sort of possibilities for escape.

Roger Bushell and the escape committee were faced with the conundrum of determining the best possible approach to an escape. They needed to balance variables like the availability of resources and the overall risk to the escapers and POWs in the camp.

In the East Compound the POWs had lost or abandoned at least fifty tunnels in a thirty-month time frame much to the dismay of the camp's escape committee. This was a dismal and unsatisfactory track record, and POW morale was sagging very low. The escape committee (like a PMO) could prioritize the escapes that had the best chance of success. They could also determine the best Return on Investment (ROI) for the escape by analyzing the resources and risks for the escape.

Overall there were different types of escapes possible with varying approaches for example:

  • An unplanned and opportunistic escape, where 1 or 2 escapers take immediate advantage of a presented situation. For example, climb and hide in the back of a truck inside the camp. These opportunities were extremely rare and risky, and just to the immediate escapers and not the rest of the camp. In addition, the POWs had no time to prepare and would end up outside of the camp with no resources and equipment to continue the escape.
  • A planned escape, used once only, a throw away escape where the escape route would be exposed and could not be reused, for 1 to 3 escapers to get out. For example, finding a blind spot along the perimeter fence and cutting through the wire. This would be discovered within 24 hours and was a little less opportunistic and risky. The POWs would end up on the outside of the camp with resources and equipment to continue the escape.
  • Planned escape, reused several times, for 1 to 10 escapers, several escapes spread over several months, through a tunnel. There were problems in disguising missing POWs in the camp for more than a few days. Camp authorities would search with little let up. Continuation of the project would be very difficult. The POWs would have resources and equipment outside of the camp to continue the escape.
  • Planned mass escape, used once only, a throw away escape where the escape route would be exposed and could not be reused, for up to 250 escapers to get out. With many escapers the contribution to the escape would be significant, the pooling of a lot of materials and resources. The POWs would have good resources and equipment outside of the camp to continue the escape.

These escape types are further outlined in Figure 4 below:


Number of Escapees

Approach to Escape



Resources Required

Risk of Discovery



Unplanned, opportunistic

Take advantage of presented situation

Hide in the back of a truck





Planned, used once only

Escape route exposed

Cutting through wire




at a time

Planned, reused several times

Escape route preserved, goal mass escape over long period

Simple tunnel




Up to 250

Planned, used once only

Escape route exposed mass escape single event

Well engineered, deep tunnel



Figure 4: More details of the identified options

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