Construction Project Management Success versus Failure: Is Perception, Reality?

Famous PM Failures

While researching successful versus failed construction projects, some really interesting examples came to light, causing me to wonder – what is the true measure of project management outcomes?

250% Overrun – the Sydney Opera House

For example, one of the world’s most iconic buildings is Australia’s Sydney Opera House, with its sailing structure dominating the harbor – it is an architectural and cultural wonder. From a Project Management purist perspective however, it was an abysmal failure. Completed construction took ten years (estimated at four) with a schedule overrun of 250%, and a 1300% cost overrun (estimated at $7M and coming in at $102M).

Yet, from a consumer or artistic viewpoint, it was an amazing success.

Environmental Influences Sink the Panama Canal (the first time)

Another famous construction PM fail was the “first” Panama Canal. The French attempt in the 1880’s is generally attributed to poor risk management. The French also did not take the extreme tropical climate into consideration, and lost hundreds of workers to malaria and yellow fever.

The second attempt by the Americans in the 1900s took ‘lessons learned’ from the French, and put rigorous project and risk management procedures into place. It didn’t hurt either, that President Theodore Roosevelt championed this cause to stand as his legacy.

So while the Sydney Opera House stands as a critical success – the reality was it was an epic PM fail. And the Panama Canal, is widely (and rightly so) regarded as an initial fail – ended up as a crowning PM success!


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