In traditional project management, success if often measured by the trinity of cost, time and quality. The rule of thumb is that you can’t increase one without decreasing others. If you need to finish the project faster, it will cost you more, unless you also reduce its quality also. If you need to raise quality it will cost more or it will take you longer.
You can think of this like having three glasses and only a set amount of water to fill all of them with. Which glass will you put water in?
It is easy to predict the problems, conflicts and restrictions of having this typical point of view, especially in creative businesses. In a book titled The Strategic Management of Architectural Practices, the authors suggest that creative businesses typically have different measures for success(1).
That brings us to the picture of the Sydney Opera House. During my time studying Project Management, a lecturer used it as an example of measuring success of a project and it is, indeed, a perfect example for thought (all the below info on the Sydney Opera House is available on Wikipedia).
The Design of the Sydney Opera House was decided by a competition won by Jorn Utzon. The process of realising this design was difficult and tumultuous and caused Jorn Utzon to resign in 1966 (7 years before completion).
A lot of the initial design was scrapped along the way for failing to meet the brief. The original design only provided 2000 seats, whereas brief required 3000. Stage designer Martin Carr criticised shape, height and width of the stage, locations of dressing rooms, size of doors and location of lighting panels.
Clearly requirements were not traced, stakeholders were not managed.
Oh, and the project was completed 10 years late and 1457% over budget ($95 million over).
1457% over budget. Arguably, this project failed in terms of cost, time and quality. Failed on all three counts.
So was the project successful? When it was finished, did the contractor put down tools and say, “job well done?” Did everyone love it immediately?
When Jorn Utzon recieved the Pritzker Prize, the citation said,
There is no doubt that the Sydney Opera House is his masterpiece. It is one of the great iconic buildings of the 20th century, an image of great beauty that has become known throughout the world – a symbol for not only a city, but a whole country and continent.
I think few would argue with this claim.
Might one say that the project was a failure, but has still prdouced a successful product? Might one say that perhaps Utzon knew what the real requirements were – and they weren’t number of seats or acoustic layouts or door sizes, they were about creating an iconic building and helping create the identity of a country?
However you view it, there are some important lessons about measuring success to learn from the story of the Sydney Opera House.
- Be patient. The value of your project may not be immediately clear. The value of the Sydney Opera House is not in it working perfectly as an opera house. It has taken some time to realise how successful this building has been.
- There’s more than just time, cost and quality. It may be that all stakeholders are poor at articulating their needs. Maybe the budget is not adequate, but by breaking it, you can achieve greater financial success in the long run
Where does creativity come into this? These lessons describe the advantages of spending time on creativity. The Sydney Opera House was a massive success (we only argue about it because it doesn’t fit the “normal” success criteria of time, cost, quality), and it was the result of a clear and creative vision.
Creativity in projects can often be quashed by the demands of time, cost or quality, use these lessons to know that a creative approach maintains ts advantages even in these tight situations and even if it’s not immediately apparent.
(1)Winch & Schneider, 1993, The Strategic Management of Architectural Practice
Feature photo used courtesy of Hai Linh Truong