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Project Management Failures: West Gate Bridge Case Study

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Updated: Apr 20th, 2021

An Analysis of the Project’s Structure and Management

An effective project structure ensures that all the processes in the project are well defined and understood and that all parties involved with the project understand what is required of them (American Society of Civil Engineers 2012, p.18). The failure of the West Gate Project was a result of poor project management procedures at all levels of the project. The significant problems identified include:

Poor Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

LYCA failed to subdivide the project activities in a manner that is clear to all the contract parties. The Authority failed to specify what was required from each party, and how they could interact with each other as well as with the client. JHC, one of the main contractors, was responsible for erecting the steelwork but was under no legal liability for failures that may result from their work. As JHC had no experience with a project of this magnitude, the main consultant, FF&P, had to carry out most of the supervision responsibilities in erecting the structure, as they were legally liable for any structural failures (Victoria, West Gate Bridge Royal Commission 1971, p.41).

Poor Distribution of Information

All successful projects require an exchange of information and feedback between the contractual parties (Moore & Dainty 2001, p.560). The communication network in the West Gate project was very ineffective. Each contractor sought to carry out their tasks without communicating with their counterparts. WFC had initially complied with the time and quality requirements of the project but over time began falling behind. This problem resulted due to poor communication between the company and the consultant engineers, FF&P (Charrett 2009, p.22). FF&P delayed before providing relevant documents, and at other times failed to respond to queries by WFC. This weakened the working relationships between members of these teams, causing a breakdown in the project management processes.

Unclear contract terms concerning the responsibilities of Parties involved

In the project, there was no clear separation of duties between the contractor and the engineer. The contract failed to outline the roles of the JHC engineers and the FF&P staff, leading to confusion that ultimately proved catastrophic. FF&P was responsible for erecting the structure but was not legally liable (Victoria, West Gate Bridge Royal Commission 1971, p.41). JHC on the other hand were legally liable for failures but was not responsible for erecting the structure. To protect their interest, JHC had to supervise work carried out by FF&P staff although this was not part of their job mandate.

A poor relationship between the Client, Engineers, and Contractors

The LYCA was responsible for maintaining good working relationships between all the parties in the project. It was also responsible for ensuring that all parties carried out their assigned tasks in a correct and timely manner. The authority however failed, and numerous disputes between the parties occurred throughout the project’s lifetime. Meredith and Mantel (2012, p.46) argue that without a proper management system, frictions between the parties involved may evolve to a full-blown project failure.

Lack of independent checks

The Royal Commission noted that the main cause of the West Gate Bridge project failure was design inadequacies that resulted in inappropriate safety margins. FF&P was responsible for checking all construction calculations carried out by the contractor. FF&P however left the structural calculations to the successful tenderers, in this case, WSC. This confused me as to who was to check and approve the calculations. In construction projects, independent checks need to be carried out by engineers other than the design team.

A Proposal for the Structure and Management of the Project

The failures that occurred in the West Gate Bridge project were because of poor project management practices. Following the process steps highlighted in PMBOK, it is possible to develop an effective plan that will ensure that the project is successfully finished promptly (Project Management Institute 2008, p.15). To ensure success in the West Gate project, I would undertake the following important changes:

Proper Vetting of all Parties involved in the Project

Before the selection of any contractor or engineer, I would first check if they have sufficient resources to accomplish the required tasks. Competitive bidding, which was lacking in the West Gate project, is a very important tool for vetting purposes. Through the bidding process, a project manager can select contractors who have sufficient skills, labor, and resources to complete the works successfully (Thomas, Delisle & Jugdev 2002, p.74).

A proper definition of Scope and Project Coordination

Before any work begins, I would hold a stakeholder meeting where all parties can raise and discuss issues about the contract. In the meeting, all the parties involved with the project can review what is required of them, understand their relationships with the other parties, and raise any perceived and actual problems. Forgues and Koskela (2009, p.376) argue that participation-related design greatly improves communication and boosts the operation of collaborative work between the parties.

Delineation of Engineer’s and Contractors responsibilities

For a successful project, both the engineers and the contractors need to understand what is required of them, and their responsibilities about the project (Coakes, Coakes & Rosenberg 2008, p.12). The main responsibility of the consulting engineers is to focus their attention on the permanent design of the project. The contracting engineers on the other hand should complete the project in such a way that the consulting engineer’s designs are adequately realised.

The consulting engineer is responsible for analyzing all proposals developed by the contractor, inspecting the safety and adequacy of the works in progress, and analyzing the proposed construction methods. The contractor on the other hand should satisfy the requirements of the contract, and ensure that independent engineers have vetted the erection proposals. (Charrett 2009, p.23)

Develop a Schedule

Since the project had no restrictions on cost, I would develop a schedule that is not only appropriate but does not place any undue pressure on the parties involved in the contract. The time limit should be sufficient for the successful completion of all processes and can be extended in cases where undue negligence does not take place.

Periodic checks

I would also ensure that periodic checks are carried out. The project management team, the design team, and independent engineers would be responsible for these periodic checks. After each visit, the parties involved would prepare a report, in which all inherent problems are analyzed. The parties will also be responsible for developing possible solutions and implementing them. Periodic checks would also ensure that communication channels between the teams are efficient and operational and that changes in the design plans can be assessed and rectified as necessary (Charrett 2009, p.20).

Bibliography

American Society of Civil Engineers 2012, Quality in the constructed project: A guide for owners, designers, and constructors, American Society of Civil Engineers, Reston, VA.

Charrett, D 2009, ‘Contractual Lessons from Construction Failures: West Gate Bridge’, Construction Law International, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 19-24.

Coakes, EW, Coakes, JM & Rosenberg, D 2008, ‘Co-operative Work Practices and Knowledge Sharing Issues: A Comparison of Issues’, International Journal of Information Management, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 12-25.

Forgues, D. & Koskela, L 2009, ‘The influence of a collaborative procurement approach using integrated design in construction on project team performance’, International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 370 – 385.

Meredith, JR & Mantel, SJ 2012, Project management: A managerial approach, Wiley, Hoboken, NJ.

Moore, D & Dainty, A 2001, ‘Intra-team Boundaries as inhibitors of performance improvement in UK design and build projects; a call for change’, Construction Management and Economics, vol. 19, pp. 559-562.

Project Management Institute 2008, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Project Management Institute, Newtown Square, PA.

Thomas, J, Delisle, C & Jugdev, K 2002, Selling Project Management to Senior Executives: Framing the Moves that Matter, Project Management Institute, Newtown Square, PA.

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

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