West Gate Bridge Project Case Study

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An Analysis of the West Gate Bridge Project’s Structure and Management

The West Gate Bridge project was initially conceived by the Lower Yarra Crossing Company Ltd (LYCC), which was negotiating with the government on the project. The state disbanded LYCC and instead established a management body called Lower Yarra Crossing Authority (LYCA). LYCA was to run the project and later transfer the ownership to the government when it is completed. This marked the genesis of failures in the management of the project. Although LYCC was disbanded voluntary, it had the initial grasp of the problem and was better placed to head the project. Instead of the government establishing another body, it should have empowered the LYCC and added some expertise to the company to spearhead the management of the project.

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The LYCA board did not have the needed expertise in the management of the construction projects. Therefore, it sought the services of a consulting engineering company. Maunsell and Partners (MP) were appointed as a consulting agent. However, MP doubted its capabilities of handling big undertakings and therefore approved another company called Freeman Fox and Partners (FF&P). As a result, LYCA signed a joint agreement between FF&P and MP to provide joint consultation services. This was unnecessary expenses and uncalled for because engaging more than one company for consultation services would lead to a clash of ideas. LYCA should have tendered the consultation services to find a good bidder. The right bidder should have been vetted to ascertain the capability in handling the project. With consultation services entrusted to one party, it would have been easy to coordinate the operation of the project. At the same time, with one firm in full control, there would have been no clash of ideas. In normal engineering setup, one firm may have differing views. This is because the design phase of any engineering project normally has three alternatives out of which one is picked for effectiveness (Bjarne 2007, p. 59).

Following the professional consultancy services from MP and FF&P, LYCA divided the project into three sections for the tendering process. For complete construction of the bridge, there were supposed to be three major construction works; bridge foundations woks, concrete bridge works, and the bridge steel works. Based on these demands, LYCA awarded the three tenders to John Holland Construction Pty Ltd (JHC), World Service and Construction Pty Ltd (WSC). JHC was awarded the tender for bridge foundation works and concrete bridge works whereas WSC was awarded the tender for the construction of the bridge works services. This also marked the genesis of construction differences that finally led to the delay of the project. For effective management of an engineering project, there ought to be an overall project management company that is responsible for the design of the whole project. Even though the whole project contains gigantic units, they are interrelated. Engineering design depends on each other. This means that they must be designed at a central place to agree. LYCA should have given the whole project to one company and let that company tender the parts it deems necessary.

For effective management, there should be an overall project management group. Depending on the designs or span of the project, there should be sub-projects resulting from the same. The sub-projects should be governed under the main project. This was not done by LYCA, which instead divided the project into three main projects that were headed by two main conflicting companies. This means that instead of one project, there were two projects supposed to produce one finished project. Even though assembling units in engineering firms involves different components designed by different units being joined to make a single component, the design of the whole project follows a specification from a central place (Albert 2004, p. 15).

For the case of time, LYCA defined the time frame for the project, which was fixed at December 1970. JHC completed its part at the designated time but WSC did not proced smoothly with the design as a result of an accident caused by the collapse of the bridge. At the same time, there was a management conflict between FF&P and WSC. FF&P failed to avail some detailed copies of the project, which affected the progress of the work. To add on the same, workers were striking at the site, causing some delays on the project. As a consequence, the remaining work on the site was awarded to JHC. JHC assumed the responsibility at the backdrop of its lack of experience in projects of similar magnitude. This was another mistake by LYCA because it should have tendered the project to another company or left WSC to complete the onsite work and summoned FF&P. This was also a failure on LYCA because a huge civil construction project ought not to be done in a fixed and tight deadline. At the same time, the deadline should be fixed after ascertaining the program for the entire project containing the details of tasks for everyone (Harrison & Dennis 2004, p. 58).

On 2nd of June 1970, the bridge in London designed by FF&P collapsed. At the same time, the design element in the same bridge was noted in the one at Melbourne. However, this incident was overlooked by LYCA as it allowed the construction to go on. On 15th of October 1970, the bridge collapsed killing 34 people. This indicated a failure on the part LYCA because there ought to have put in place a comprehensive risk management from the start of the project. At the same time, there ought to have been proper control process to ensure the project sails without problem (Harold 2003, p. 40).

A Proposal for the Structure and Management of the Project

The West Gate Bridge collapsed as a result of lack of proper structure and management. In the first place, the management structure of the project ought to have included LYCC members together with the LYCA membership. This is because LYCC were the visionaries of the project and thus they were better placed to head the same. At the same time, the membership of LYCA should have incorporated management experts and engineers (Dinsmore 2005, p. 78). The first role should have been to look for the services of a qualified consultant firm. These would have been achieved through the tendering process and subsequent vetting of the same (Marsh 1975, p. 358).

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After bidding, the successful bidder for consultancy services would have been mandated with the responsibly of providing the expert details concerning the project (Lock 2007, p. 41). With the help of the expert details, LYCA should have tendered the project to the most qualified company. Given the nature of the project, which required three major undertakings, LYCA should have given the successful bidder the mandate to subcontract some parts and manage them independently to avoid the clash of conflicts in the management (Kerzner 2003, p. 81).

LYCA, the consultancy firm and the successful bidder company for the project should have commenced the work considering several steps or circles. In the first stage, there was to be the proof of concept. When proving the concept, goals of the projects were considered. Based on the goals, there was to be an initial logic design of the project with its plans. The plans should have been tasted and proved by LYCA based on the recommendations from the consultancy firm. Recommendations for the project based on the risk analysis should have been made and the project commenced.

For the second face of the project management, there should have been the design of the prototype work in the first build up. This should have been necessitated by the simulation software to test the workability of the project and eliminate all faults such as those leading to the failure of the bridge (Robbins & DeCenzo 2004, p. 74).

Based on the recommendations from the first-build cycle, the project should have been allowed to go on. In the recommendations, all the engineering parameters should have been defined and tested. The management should have defined and drawn the plan for the second phase. In this phase, all goals should have been defined. The life cycle of the project should have been drawn. Because of the giant nature of the project, the lifecycle methodology for the same should have included numerous forms, checklist, charts, and approaches. The roles and timeframe for everyone should have been given. Construction should have commenced following the plan drawn. The control process for the project should have been instilled by LYCA to guard against dragging the project. Upon the completion, the project would have been accepted and formally adopted.

List of References

Albert, H 2004, Handbook of Project Management Procedures, TTL Publishing Ltd, North Yorkshire.

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Bjarne, K 2007, Project Management‎ – Theory and practice, Nyt Teknisk Forlag, Copenhagen.

Dinsmore, C et al.2005, The right projects done right! John Wiley and Sons, New York.

Harold, K 2003, Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling (8 edn.), John Wiley, Hoboken.

Harrison, F & Dennis, L 2004, Advanced project management: a structured approach‎, Gower Publishing, Ltd, Farnharm.

Kerzner, H 2003, Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling (8th ed.), John Wiley, New Jersey.

Lock, D 2007, Project Management (9th ed.), Gower Publishing.

Marsh, E 1975, “The Harmonogram of Karol Adamiecki”, The Academy of Management Journal, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 358.

Robbins, S & DeCenzo, D 2004, Fundamentals of management: essential concepts and applications, (4 edn.), Pearson Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River.

Royal Commission 1971, Report of the Royal Commission into the Failure of West Gate Bridge, Government Printer, Melbourne.

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