The project received the green light in October 2010 and in February 2013 passed a Final Design Review. Six months later, the MPG and CSIC, the observatory’s owners, made an independent evaluation concluding that CARMENES had to be ready for operations at the end of 2015. Since then, fulfilling the calendar was the driver of all project decisions. Moreover, the observatory’s survival was linked to the instrument’s success: should the instrument fail, the observatory would be closed. On the contrary, the instrument’s success would give unique capabilities to the Observatory for Big Science. Such a challenge became to be our private Olympic Games: we had to be on time. This decision definitively impacted on the project dynamics, there was no room for a delay. The deadline, December 31st, 2015, was controlled by a strict tracking of the critical path; calendar deviations were corrected with risky decisions while fast tracking or even crashing methods were applied.
The management scenario was far from optimum: most key people in the project shared their time with other duties; the observatory funding cuts; the budget was tight and distributed among the 11 partner centers with their own different rules, etc. Despite these difficulties, the close coordination among the project manager, the system engineer and the work package managers, the hard work of the whole team, and the support from the observatory were our best bets.
Two frenetic years after the calendar decision, we had manufactured, integrated and tested the two spectrographs and we were commissioning the instrument. The instrument first light took place on November, 9th, 2015 and CARMENES entered in operation at the end of December 2015. This paper describes the keys to success.