West Gate Bridge Project Case Study

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An analysis of the Project’s Structure and Management

The West Gate Bridge in Melbourne was a project that failed miserably due to several factors including poor project management. Proper project management should involve the use of the required tools and techniques to complete the particular task successfully within the allocated time and resources. According to the case of West Gate Bridge, however, this may not have been the case since there was an issue with the tools and techniques used in the construction. In addition, the time factor was an issue since there were delays that led to the pushing of the deadline and possibly contributed to the overall loss.

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One of the major areas of failure is in the planning phase. Planning is vital in project management. This is whereby the right tools and techniques are used to undertake the project (Nutt, 1983, p. 87). This usually requires the intervention of a good project manager and team. For the case of West Gate Bridge, however, there was poor planning. The wrong contractors were chosen for the job. This explains why there was the changing of hands between contractors. Furthermore, JHC was assigned to complete the project and yet it did not have prior experience in bridge steel works of that capacity.

According to Atkinson (1999, p. 338), project management should involve planning and monitoring of the particular task in order to achieve the desired quality of work within the time allocated. Projects are usually temporary, meaning that they have a beginning and an end. During this period, productive work should be done by the contractors that have been assigned the project. A project has a defined end when all forms of activity ceases (Morris, 1987, p. 56). This is also when the project is supposedly completed. However, the case was different for the West Gate Bridge in Melbourne. According to the initial plans, the bridge project was supposed to be completed by the end of 1970. Unfortunately, there were some delays during the concrete bridge works. This was the responsibility of JHC, which was one of the major contractors for the project. These delays led to the proposal of a new deadline for the completion of the project to late march 1971.

All the parties involved in the project should also be motivated in order to achieve the goals with the required performance and costs (Atkinson, 1999, p. 338). For the West Gate Bridge case, however, the parties involves in the construction were not well motivated. There were conflicts that arose at one point or the other and this had to be resolved. The relationship between the contractors was very strained and this made them less functional. World Services and Construction Pty. Ltd. (WSC) and Freeman, Fox, and Partners (FF&P) were facing issues during their partnership in the construction process. WSC complained about FF&P’s failure to provide the required material (design) required for the structural construction of the bridge. There were subsequent strikes that led to further delays in the construction process.

Another major problem during the construction of West Gate Bridge was the risk management procedure. Risk management is vital for any project (Schnidt et al., 2001). There were several problems that had been encountered but the procedures that were undertaken were not appropriate. The use of the trapezoidal steel box girders as the major weight-bearing structures was one of the mistakes that had been repeated. The same design had been used earlier on the Milford Haven Bridge but it ended catastrophically since the structure failed during erection. Despite this fact, the contractors continued to use it and only instructed for the structure to be strengthened. Other errors that occurred were equally mishandled. The significantly huge gap between the spans was also not handled wisely. Placing huge and heavy concrete blocks only worsened the situation since it made the structure even heavier for the trapezoidal steel box girders.

A Proposal for the Structure and Management of the Project

Proper planning should be done in order to ensure that a project is in good hands. The project should have been given to a contractor who had previous experience in large-scale steel construction works. Another way that similar projects should be managed is by using tools such as Earned Value Project Management (Fleming and Koppelman, 1998, p. 19). This could be used to provide the project managers with early warning signs in case of risks in the project (Huchzermeier and Loch, 2001). This would allow the manager to forecast the total amount of financial input that is required in order to finish the project. This early warnings could be seen during the early stages of the project such that no huge losses would be encountered and that the manager would be able to be prepared in advance.

This tool is very important because it ensures that the project that is to be embarked on is defined fully at the starting point. A bottom-up plan is then prepared. This provides the opportunity for measurements to be made at any point of the project. Therefore, this allows the performance to be measured. This way the project manager can know the progress of the project and know how to go about any issues that may occur.

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Schmidt and colleagues (2001, p. 6) argued that it is vital to identify and analyze any risks in a project in order to reduce the chances of its failure. This is what they refer to as the risk management process. The first process is usually the identification of the risk itself (Packendorff, 1995). During the construction of the West Gate Bridge, risk management was not properly executed. This is because there were several issues that were faced and yet the construction process proceeded. For example, FF&P had designed the bridge using a design that had failed earlier. It still proposed the use of trapezoidal steel box girders. These were supposed to be the main structures bearing the weight of the bridge (Wibowo et al., 2009). The same design had been used in the construction of the Milford Haven Bridge but it collapsed. With this thought in mind, the contractors should have reconsidered the use of these structures as the main load-bearing elements. This would have probably saved the bridge and the many lives that were lost during the accident.

Another risk that had been observed during the construction but not properly managed was the one of the vertical height difference between the spans. The difference was significant (110 mm) and yet the project managers decided to go ahead with it. To make things worse, they resorted to adding heavy concrete that added excessive weight to the already heavy structure (Authority, 1971, p. 23). The project manager should have used the kentledge procedure after making proper calculation. According to the report, the company responsible for resolving the risk only proposed the use of kentledge but it had not considered providing supporting calculations.


Al-Subhi, K 2001, ‘Application of the AHP in project management’, International Journal of Project Management, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 19-27.

Atkinson, R 1999, ‘Project management: cost, time and quality, two best guesses and a phenomenon, its time to accept other success criteria,’ International Journal of Project Management, vol. 17, no. 6, pp. 337-342.

Authority, 1971, Report of the royal commission into the failure of West Gate Bridge, Government Printer, Melbourne.

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Fleming, W & Koppelman, M 1998, ‘Earned value project management: A powerful tool for software projects,’ The Journal of Defence Software Engineering, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 19-23.

Huchzermeier, A & Loch, C 2001, ‘Project management under risk: Using the real options approach to evaluate flexibility in R&D’, Management Science, vol. 47, no. 1, pp. 85-101.

Morris, P 1987, The anatomy of major projects, John Wiley, New York.

Nutt, P 1983, ‘Implementation approaches for project planning’, Academy of Management Review, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 600-611.

Packendorff, J 1995, ‘Inquiring into the temporary organization: New directions for project management research’, Scand. J. Mgmt, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 319-333.

Schnidt, R, Lyytinen, K, Keil, M & Cule, P 2001, ‘Identifying software project risks: An international Delphi study’, Journal of Management Information Systems, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 5-36.

Wibowo, A, Wilson, L, Gad, F, Lam, K, and Collier, P 2009, Collapse modelling analysis of a precast soft-storey building in Melbourne, Australian Earthquake Engineering Society, Newcastle.

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