Sydney Opera House Project Management Case Study


This essay is the Sydney Opera House project management case study aiming to clarify if the Sydney Opera House was a failure or a successful project. It is not a description of the building’s history, construction details, or architecture. Instead, this Sydney Opera House essay focuses on the challenges met by the project and the way these challenges were overcome.

Sydney Opera House Project: the Background

Sydney Opera House is one of Australia’s landmarks and one of the most famous art performance centres in the world. The need for existence of such a magnificent building came about when the Sydney Town Hall, which was the common venue, could not suit the demand for modern times in theatrical productions. The structure was designed under the watch of a “Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, who won the design contest in 1957 out of the 233 entries made” (Utzon 2002, p.11). The Sydney Opera House was to be designed and built to house 4200 people. The project started in 1957. Its completion was anticipated in1963. However, the construction was finished in 1973, which was ten years later than anticipated, but with a high degree of delivery of anticipated quality and glamour.

The delay and drag of the Sydney Opera House project was attributed to the government’s pressure, which forced early commencement. This move made the construction to begin even before the designing process was concluded. Weather changes, alteration of contract deeds, and unanticipated challenges on diverting storm water during construction posed a great challenge against time and finance.

Sydney Opera House was estimated to cost 7 million dollars at its completion in 1963, but by its formal completion time in 1973, the cost had escalated to 102 million dollars, which was fourteen times in excess of the original financial plan (Utzon 2002, p.20). The project implementation by the Hornibrook Group and Civic & Civic Pty Ltd was greatly pressed by criticism emanating from both political and civil societies. Fortunately, the criticisms were eventually outshined by the glamour and ability of the building to present an iconic symbol for Australia in the global arena. Critics turned into considering the project a major success.

Standard Criteria for Project Success Evaluation

Projects constitute temporally endeavours instituted to solve specific problems, and they are normally constrained by financial and time resources. The execution processes have different requirements depending on the industry in which a project is being implemented. For instance, in the IT industry based projects, they are executed with the aid of information and technology systems. These systems help in the decision-making processes. In the industry projects, standard evaluation takes the form of algorithmic constructs aimed at answering differing questions based on project progress in relation to established scope and anticipated end goals (Turner & Müller 2011, p.225).

Through algorithmic decision constructs, IT dependent organisations collect information defining the planned project execution processes, variation in the processes, and information on why such variations take place, and mechanisms of improving projects in the context of the desired long-term and short-term outcomes. This process allows project managers to identify and address various challenges hindering achieved of anticipated outcomes coupled with prescribing measures that would aid in enhancing the sustainability of the projects upon completion.

The above arguments suggest that outcomes constitute one of the major standard approaches to evaluation of projects. Outcome refers to the ability of a project to achieve and deliver the desired glamour. Consequently, when the anticipated glamour and quality of the project are delivered on completion of the project, irrespective of whether the project runs out of time or completed under inflated budget, then it is successful. Extending similar argument to the Sydney Opera House Project, after delaying for ten years and utilising 14 times the budgeted financial resources, the project was completed, but it delivered the much-desired glamour for which it was incepted to deliver. Should then a Sydney Opera House Project evaluation team consider it successful or a failure?

From the project management perspective, failure of a project initiates at the time when it gets out of time and financial resources budgetary allocation. For instance, apart from the Sydney Opera House Project, the Victorian Desalination Project also ran out of time. The timeframe for operation of the project was set to be December 2011, which was upon completion of the project between September 2010 and June 2011.

Unfortunately, this preset target was not achieved due to a number of factors such as bad weather and impacts of economic crunch experienced in 2009 coupled with technical difficulties in the construction process. Nevertheless, from project management point of view, any project remains a temporal endeavour and it is subject to time constraints. Therefore, there were needs to review the anticipated completion dates, which prompted the extension of the completion date by one year. However, even today the project has not been fully completed.

One of the fundamental concerns of evaluating a project from the criteria of time resources is putting in place mechanisms of ensuring that all the activities constituting the entire project are precisely accomplished within the set timeframes. For the case of the Victorian Desalination Project, these activities have not been achieved as anticipated. Similar challenges were also experienced in the case of Sydney Opera House Project.

While it is vital to appreciate that projects are subject to delays at times, for multibillion projects such as the Victorian Desalination Project and the Sydney Opera House Project, an immense drawback is faced. This aspect is critical especially bearing in mind the contractual terms for projects. For instance, the Victorian Desalination Project required the Victorian population to incur additional water charges as part of the cost of the project passed to them (Heibuch 2009).

Therefore, the failure of a project to complete in time not only fails to deliver the desired outcomes, but also disadvantages the population targeted to benefit from it. For the case of the Sydney Opera House Project, although it was completed late and under escalated budget, the project delivered glamour to its target population. These two arguments establish an important paradigm for evaluation of success or failure of projects. Apart from considering a project to have failed for it was not completed within the stipulated time and financial budgets, it is crucial to also consider the implication of the failure to complete the project in time and within financial budget to the stakeholders.

Experience in execution of many projects across the globe reveals that many projects often consume financial and time resource than initially planned, due to the necessity to make continuous changes. For instance, the Sydney Opera House Project underwent several changes including the addition of library, theatre, and cinema. Changes were also made on materials and interior designs. While these changes were meant to improve the original design in the effort to ensure that the project delivered optimal glamour desired by its idea creators, it also meant delaying the completion date and escalation of financial resources required in executing the project. The chief interrogative arising here is whether consideration of success or failure of a project on the grounds of surpassing time and budget is appropriate.

In the effort to provide a response to the above interrogative, various project management scholars have developed alternative criterion for evaluation of projects. For example, Thomas and Fernandez (2008) suggest that actual response to a project upon its completion constitutes an important paradigm for evaluation of failure or success of a project even though it may have gotten out of schedule or budget plans. The Sydney Opera House Project is perhaps a good example of a project that can be considered successful under this criterion. In contrast, the Millennium Dome project in London was unsuccessful under this criterion since it failed to generate its expected glamour, though it was completed within budget and schedule.

Duncan (2004) argues that product success in terms of outcomes, service quality, and compliance to critical aspects defining project in project management are essential attributes for consideration in the evaluation of success of a project. From the context of this criterion, the Millennium Dome project, the Victorian desalination project, and even the Sydney Opera House Project failed. Since projects are characterised by myriads of problems leading to delay, escalation of budgets, and even deterioration of quality and glamour expected, Duncan (2004) approach to evaluation introduces the dilemma whether indeed any successful project has ever been completed.

Criteria Identification and Justification

After the inception of a project, changes that make the project deliver optimal performance and glamour in relation to the desired outcomes on the creation of its inception idea should not be negated even if it means running out of time schedule and budget plans. This assertion implies that although time and financial resources are important in the evaluation of success or failure of a project, they ought not to form the basic criterion for its evaluation.

The functionality attributes of a project matters. For instance, why should an IT project be implemented within fixed budget and time constraints, yet posses poor functionality attribute such as poor user interfaces and poor navigation among other aspects. Should it have been better to reconsider addressing these challenges when discovered than declaring project complete in the extent that it has meet time and budget constraints?

A ‘yes’ response to the above queries highlights the importance of basing the criterion of evaluation of projects on outcomes and long-term sustainability, availability, and reliability. The justification for this approach is perhaps well explained using cases of project evaluation in the IT based organisations. In such organisations, the implementation of IT and IS projects require incredible consideration of planning for risks mitigation. Such projects are prone to a variety of risks including failure of the project upon its completion or even later, after use in the short term (Anantatmula 2008). This assertion underlines the significance of risks re-evaluation in the due process of project implementation even though the practice may result in increased project costs and time for completion.

The focus of risks re-evaluation is to ensure that all the efforts of project execution focus on “maximising the probability and consequences of positive events and minimising the probability and consequences of adverse events to project objectives” (Tolbert 2008, p.57). The risk of failure of software and hardware applications presents situations in which the operation of an organisation may come to a halt as the operations of IT dependent organisations depend wholly on computer-based platforms (Anantatmula 2008). Consistent re-evaluation of risks of failure of IS and IT projects, both in the short term and long term during the process of execution of the project, increases the time for completion and financial resource requirement, but it ensures reliability and availability of the systems developed in the long term.

Sydney Opera House Case Study

The Sydney Opera House Project was characterised by many challenges. From the context of project management standard approaches of evaluation of projects, these challenges presented the projects as failed since it failed to meet time and budget constraints. The Sydney Opera House Project is perhaps one of the most important images representing Australia on global space. As aforementioned, Jorn Utzon, a Danish architect, won the construct for development of the projects. This win followed placement of request for bids by the South Wales government for the project in 1957.

The project’s actual construction was initiated in 1959. Initially, the plan was to have the “project completed within a period of four years and consumption of financial resources amounting to AUS $102 million” (Garcia & Ochoa 2012, Para. 9). Basing the evaluation of the success or failure of projects from the perspectives of time and financial constraints, the project is in this extent is arguably best considered as a failed project.

Drawing from the above arguments, the Sydney Opera House Project is perhaps amongst the worst projects of the past in terms of planning and resources management as defined by PMBOK. PMBOK entails “a collection of processes and knowledge areas generally accepted as best practice within the project management discipline” (IEEE 2008, p.33). Through PMBOK, project management fundamental information is provided with the type of project under consideration notwithstanding. According to the PMBOK, a project is a “temporal endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result” (IEEE 2008, p.34). In this regard, the Sydney Opera House Project is the unique product referred in here.

The PMBOK body prescribes nine knowledge areas necessary for consideration in any project evaluation. These knowledge areas are scope management, cost management, time management, risk management, integration management, procurement management, and communication management. For the Sydney Opera House Project, conformance to these nine areas was vital for determination of whether the project was a success or not. In essence, the Sydney Opera House Project encountered many risks, failed plans, and failed ability to manage costs and time. In the approach of PMBOK, the project was an immense failure.

From the identified project success evaluation criteria identified and justified before, three important aspects should be considered in the process of evaluation of failure or success of any project, viz. quality (result), time, and cost. According to the criterion, the relative importance of costs and time in relation to quality is important in the evaluation of the project success or failure. Right from the design phase, for the case of the Sydney Opera House Project, quality was the paramount aspect of basing the success or failure of the project. Indeed, “no indications regarding time or cost limits were either provided for the competition” (Garcia & Ochoa 2012, Para.3). This observation implies that architects were offered all flexibilities in terms of time constraints to develop a design that would deliver the most desired glamour.

The Sydney Opera House Project is a case of project success while failing to comply with project management principles for evaluation of success or failure of a project. This assertion means that even though the Sydney Opera House Project was a failure from the perspective of the project management personnel charged with design and implementation, from the clients’ perspective, viz. the South Wales government, the project was a big success. It delivered the quality and results anticipated.

This position is perhaps well justified by the view that Utzon was awarded an architectural Pritzker Prise (Garcia & Ochoa 2012) in recognition of design of a successful project. Queen Elisabeth II also inaugurated the project in 1973 with immense confidence on its success in terms of delivering the expected results. In fact, excessive time and financial resources do not attract the attention of the public and other stakeholders in comparison to the quality and glamour exhibited by the project.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Standard approach to evaluation of success or failure of projects preoccupies itself with concerns of time and financial resources and budgetary constraints. Through analysis of the case of the Sydney Opera House Project, this case analysis paper proposes the capacity of a project to deliver desired results, quality, and glamour as an alternative paradigm necessary for evaluation of project success or failure. Projects may fail to deliver the expected results as evidenced by the case of the inability of the Millennium Dome project in London to deliver the anticipated glamour, though completed within the stipulated time and budget.

In this light, this paper recommends that even if the Sydney Opera House Project were to be initiated again, the extra time and financial resources consumed in redesigns and mitigation of other challenges encountered during the process of the execution of the project remain valid to the extent that the project delivered quality and glamour perceived by its idea creators.

Reference List

Anantatmula, V 2008. ‘Project Management Performance evaluation Model in IT projects’, Project Management Journal, vol.39 no.1, pp. 34-48.

Duncan, W 2004. Defining and Measuring Project Success. Web.

Garcia, C & Ochoa, M 2012. The Sidney Opera House Construction: a Case of Project Management Failure. Web.

Heibuch, J 2009, New Australian Desalination Plant. Web.

IEEE 2008, A Guide To The Project Management Body Of Knowledge, Project Management Institute, New York.

Thomas, G & Fernandez, W 2008, ‘Success in IT Projects: A Matter of Definition’, International Journal of Project Management, vol.26 no.5, pp. 733-742.

Tolbert, L 2008, ‘Nine knowledge areas’, Journal of community academy, vol. 2 no. 2, pp. 56-59.

Turner, J & Müller, R 2011, ‘The Project Manager’s Leadership Style as a Success Factor on Projects: A Literature Review’, Project Management Journal, vol.7 no.3, pp.219-234.

Utzon, J 2002, Sydney Opera House: Utzon Design Principles, Sydney Opera House Trust, Sydney.

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