An Analysis of the Project’s Structure
The construction industry is a highly differentiated one and not simply about mortar, steel, bricks, mud and sticks (Stubbs & Dering 2002).The management of a project such as the West Gate Bridge is very complex, as the outcomes of construction projects are influenced by numerous factors. As such, project managers are mandated to take a set of construction plans and specifications together with raw parcels of land. They are also expected to take into consideration the water bodies and then ensure that there is coordination of manpower, construction materials, tools and equipments required, to guarantee productivity with regard to underlying construction costs, schedule and the quality of the project. This mandate with regard to productivity ensures that construction projects are completed without any accidents or construction errors, regardless of adverse weather conditions, natural disasters, fluctuations of interest rates and all other unforeseen conditions (Valence 2010). Construction management in a project with such a magnitude as the West Gate Bridge is thus largely concerned with productivity of construction projects and its improvement.
The accident which occurred during the construction of the West Gate Bridge on October 15, 1970 was a direct consequence of lack of proper coordination, inexperience, as well as negligence from all the stakeholders involved with the West Gate Bridge project. As a result of these, 35 precious lives were ruined. Fundamentally, the term project management can be used to refer to the erection, repair or even the demolition of diverse construction products such as bridges, roads, dams, shops, houses offices, chimneys, motorways, airports, factories or even extensions on homes among other projects (Stevens 2002). Thus, productivity with regard to the outcome of the foregoing activities facilitates their successful completion in terms of time, quality and budgetary considerations, as well as their compliances to the laid down regulations regarding user and environmental safety (Phillips 2003). These fundamental requirements of project management were missing in the construction of the West Gate Bridge project, prior to the October 15, 1970 unfortunate accident, which killed 35 people, including three engineers directly involved with the construction of the West Gate Bridge project.
Project management can be regarded as a process that involves construction project planning, project scheduling, project evaluation as well as project controlling activities, with the view of facilitating productivity and its improvement. In so doing, project managers must ensure they effectively allocate, and make use of the relevant human resources, appropriate construction materials and time resources, in a way that the cost of project construction is reduced and the client’s satisfaction is maximised. These were eminent from the onset of the West Gate Bridge project. However, as the number of stakeholders in West Gate Bridge project grew, the overall management of the project lost focus. The various stakeholders in the West Gate Bridge project stopped coordinating and consultations went into disarray. For instance, consultations and coordination between World Services Construction (WSC) and Freeman, Fox and Partners (FF&P), whose mandate was to provide engineering services and steel bridge works respectively for the West Gate Bridge project, were dysfunctional.
Construction, as an industry, provides a dynamic and exciting environment for human resources to interact with the process of project management. Project construction products such as buildings, bridges and roads are monumental, especially to the people who build and use them either for good or ill intentions. Thus, the need for sound management of project construction is a fundamental requirement, if the West Gate Bridge project was to be successfully constructed (Lock 2007). Without effective project construction management and decision making techniques on the part of the project managers and the stakeholders involved, it would be a great challenge for the human workforce involved, to come up with the intended West Gate Bridge project monument, that will adequately deliver the services for which it was constructed to deliver. It was significant for stakeholders such as John Holland (Constructions) Pty. Ltd (JHC), as well as World Services Construction (WSC), to engage only in the construction work they were competent and experienced in doing. However, with disregard to the fundamentals of project management, these two companies together with others involved in the construction of the West Gate Bridge project, continuously engaged in construction procedures and activities they had very limited engineering expertise and experience (Lewis 2006). Freeman, Fox and Partners (FF&P), for instance, failed to learn from the accident which had previously killed four people, when Milford Haven Bridge in Wales, United Kingdom, collapsed during construction. This would have been a crucial lesson that would have prevented the West Gate Bridge project accident.
A Proposal for the Structure and Management of the Project
Project or rather construction management is vividly not just a single task. It is a complex profession which involves several activities, usually delivered by a team of project managers. Other than being a profession, project management is also offered as a service, especially to the consuming public (Kerzner 2003). In this case, project management responsibility is usually provided alongside the actual construction services and its productivity is of significant importance. How project managers structure and manage construction projects, significantly determines their successful completion in terms of time, quality and budgetary considerations, as well as their compliances to the laid down regulations regarding user and environmental safety. The West Gate Bridge project should have been structured and managed in such a manner that the contributing factors that led to this accident could have been avoided, or at least identified and resolved at an early stage of the construction work.
Project management is performed by many groups of people, who include project managers, construction managers, general contractors, subcontractors, general superintendents, construction estimators, construction project foremen, quality control managers, and safety officers among many others in the construction industry. As such, project construction management is undertaken by a team of various players, who manage the whole process of project construction. Therefore, coordination among the various professionals and stakeholders is of great significance, if the management of the project construction process is to be productive and successfully completed by the construction management team. The West Gate Bridge project should have been structured and managed in a highly coordinated and consultative manner. This would have led to the identification and the resolution of the contributing factors of the accident. The stakeholders such as the Lower Yarra Crossing Authority (LYCA), which took over from the Lower Yarra Crossing Company Ltd (LYCC), Maunsell and Partners (MP), John Holland (Constructions) Pty. Ltd (JHC), Freeman, Fox and Partners (FF&P), as well as World Services Construction (WSC) among others, should have comprehensively engaged and worked together as a team for the successful completion of the West Gate Bridge project.
Construction project managers just like managers in other professions, are the key decision makers in the construction industry. Thus, construction project managers must poses techniques which aid in decision-making, in order to improve productivity. They must be conversant with the decision making techniques which enable the achievement of economies of scale in terms of cost and time, with regard to the limited availability of resources in the construction industry. Construction management occurs in three main areas, where strategic thinking, action and decision making by construction managers may create competitive advantage for the construction companies they represent. As such, Lower Yarra Crossing Authority (LYCA), Maunsell and Partners (MP), John Holland (Constructions) Pty. Ltd (JHC), Freeman, Fox and Partners (FF&P), as well as World Services Construction (WSC), ought to have demonstrated these fundamentals of construction project management, in order to have avoided the accident which killed 35 people.
The three main areas where strategic thinking, action and decision making in construction project management occur include strategic management of the construction process, managing human resources and managing money. Strategic management involves three main dimensions which are; strategic vision, strategic planning and strategic learning. All these dimensions of strategic management influence decision making by the construction managers. The human resources (people) are the greatest assets that the construction industry has. This is because the construction industry is largely labour intensive. In this regard, health and safety of the human resource is crucial to construction managers (Dinsmore 2005). Lastly, managing money in the construction industry is a significant aspect of construction management. It entails the financing of business units, as the construction industry is a large project-based venture. Managing money also entails monitoring and managing finances, in terms of construction costs and revenues. Lastly, it also entails evaluating financial performance in terms of decisions on bidding as well as risks in the construction industry. If these fundamentals of project management were practiced by the construction companies and the stakeholders involved with the West Gate Bridge project, the contributing factors that led to this accident could have been avoided or at least identified and resolved at an early stage of the construction work.
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