Quality Planning in Projects: Case Studies of Sidney Opera House and Clark Bridge

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Boston College
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Case study
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Quality planning is a key ingredient into determining the success or failure of any project. A quality plan will specify the quality standards, practices, allocation of responsibilities and resources, specific testing and audit programs at different stages, a method for measuring the achievement of the quality objectives, as well as other quality checks depending on the quality expectations of the project (Turbit, 2009). A quality plan should be launched before the project begins to act as a guideline and ensure that every activity of the project meets the quality requirement. As crucial as a quality plan is, some projects are carried out without one or with an improper implementation of the plan if it is available. This has resulted in the failure of some of these projects. The Sidney Opera House construction is one such project that failed due to lack of quality planning. The project was laid on three main factors; cost, time, and quality, with quality being the most crucial being the pure reason as to why the project was launched. The project exceeded the completion timeline as well as the budget by a wide margin. All this was because there was no quality plan provided to the architects during the construction and, therefore, they operated on total freedom. In that light, this case study analyzes the possible reasons behind this failure.

The Sidney Opera House is one of the popular iconic buildings recognized around the world as a global symbol of Australia. However, its construction project, which started in 1959, is considered as one of the most disastrous projects in history. According to Danish economic geographer Bent Flyvbjerg, Sidney Opera House project stands tallest as the worst example of mega-project planning (Flyvbjerg, 2014). It was set to be completed in four years within a budget of AUS $7 million. Instead, the project took 14 years to complete, consuming AUS $102 million. This was an extreme blowout! All this failure traces down to lack of quality planning on the part of the stakeholders. First, there were no goals and objectives from the client, which was the Australian government, to act as a guideline on what the project should achieve. This left the architectures to work using their designs. Second, there was no management team to lay out the quality specifications. The whole project was being steered by one Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, who had won the contract, with the help of one engineer, Ove Arup. There was no real project manager, other than the collaboration of the two, yet this was a mega-project. Quality planning requires that there is a project manager to lay out the quality expectations in every phase of the process, as well as monitor and evaluate whether these expectations are being met regarding the standards laid out.

Another hitch on quality planning in the project was changes in requirements for the design of the house after the construction had already kicked off. The government increased the number of theaters from two to four, necessitating a change of plans and designs which Utzon claimed he did not have, but the government insisted for the construction to continue regardless (Flyvbjerg, 2014). This meant that the original designs had to be modified while construction was still ongoing. Additionally, there was a change in the stakeholders of the project. During stage two, a new government came to power, frustrated the efforts of Utzon thus slowing down the construction, and finally replacing him with another group of three Australian engineers. Utzon left with his designs and sketches, leaving the new team with no plan to consult. The new government (client) with the new team of engineers, therefore, had to come up with new designs different from the initials ones and this resulted in many unforeseen complications. All these changes affect quality. The initial intended structure in Utzons designs ended up being different from the final structure. As a result of failure to have a well-laid out quality plan, with objectives, standards, checklists, monitoring and evaluation procedures, the projected ended up into being a global example of failure with blowing timeline and costs. Since there were no indications of quality expectations from the client from the beginning, there was no way of measuring whether the project had achieved the quality degree intended or not. The client had to accept the result as it was. The Sidney Opera House was finally inaugurated in 1973, after 14 years of redesigns, underestimates, and cost overruns.

On the other hand, projects that implement proper quality planning end up meeting the quality expectations of the client, and at times exceeding them. The Alton Bridge project, popularly known as Clark Bridge, is one such successful projects resulting from articulately laid out quality plan from the inception to the end of the project. The bridge is sometimes referred to as super bridge due to its large size. Its construction outcome exceeded the expectations of many, and the quality of the work was exemplary. The bridge crosses over the great River Mississippi and accommodates approximately 20,000 cars per day. The project was designed by the Hanson Engineers and is one of their high-profile award-winning projects. The reason behind this huge success was proper quality planning. Hanson had a well-drafted plan for all the phases throughout the project. For instance, before the construction kicked off, Hanson had developed plans for both steel and concrete versions of the bridge and presented them to the contractor to choose, and steel alternative was picked. With the plans, the contractor could select his choice depending on the costs and the procedures that would be involved.

The plans and designs provided by Hanson provided the contractor of the project with guidelines on materials, procedures, an order of processes, and all the requirements to meet the highest quality standards. These were in line with the goals and objectives of the project which was to construct a bigger bridge than the old Clark Bridge to accommodate more traffic. Throughout the project, Hanson provided structural, transportation, geotechnical, and hydraulic engineering support to the team. The result was a more advanced, never-seen-before bridge. The technology of dual plane of cable stays supported by single pylons had never been used before in the United States, and it resulted in reduced obstruction to the skewed navigation channels. A balanced cantilever method was used for the main spans, resulting in less interruption to river traffic during construction. All this was in line with Hansons quality plan.

In the plan, Hanson also provided reviews for shop drawings as well as approximately 400 additional contractor documents to help during the construction review phase. The team also had fast mechanisms of handling challenges encountered during the construction. For instance, the great flood of 1993 was a big drawback to the project, but it was countered by concentrating on the activities that could be carried out and leaving others for the time the rain subsides. Additionally, to maintain the quality of the wire cables, the team quickly found a solution of passing individual wires through a banana pipe to avoid wearing each other out. This ensured that the quality of the wires was not interfered with and such durability was maintained. Again, there were quality checks at every interval to ensure that no mistakes were made that could jeopardize the quality of the bridge. There was a team of divers responsible for checking the conditions of the project under water and others on those above the water. With this proper quality planning, the bridge construction was finished within three years and ten months on four separate contracts and remains to be one of the most successful projects in the world.

The two case studies discussed above are mega-projects but have two separate results, one being a failure and the other success. The underlying factor in the turn-out of the projects is on quality planning. The Sidney Opera House project kicked off with no elaborate quality plan while the Clark Bridge project had an articulately outlined plan way before construction kicked off. Quality planning demands that the project meets or exceeds the expectations of the client at a cost that represents value to them. Quality also demands that projects are completed within the set budget and time (Turbit, 2009). The systems applied should meet corporate standards and documentations, as well as utilizing a stable technology. All these practices should be in line with the management of time, costs, resources, and proper communication. Monitoring, evaluation and audit programs should be incorporated to ensure that the activities follow up the quality standards laid down in the objectives of the project.

These requirements were implemented differently in our case studies. On the one hand, Sidney Opera House started on a wrong footing with no clear objectives of what they expected. This explains why they made changes on the number of theaters they needed from two to four as well as on the lead architect. On the other hand, Clark Bridge had a clear goal of having a bigger bridge that could accommodate approximately 20,000 cars per day. This gave Hanson agency a perspective on what was to be on the quality plan. Secondly, Sidney House project did not have a project manager and only relied on two people to run the massive project, which is overwhelming and affects quality. Additionally, on Sidneys case, timeline and costs of the project were not respected, and that is a breach on quality. The project was set to take four years but ended up taking fourteen years with an out-blown budget of AUS $104 million against the initial one of AUS $7 million. Clark Bridge, on the other hand, was completed within the stipulated budget, exceeding a few months due to the floods.

In summary, every project aiming to achieve successful outcome need to draft a quality plan before the start of their project. The plan should focus on objectives, timelines, budget, resources, and the quality standards that need to be followed.



Flyvbjerg, B. (2014). What you should know about megaprojects and why: An overview. Project Management Journal, 45(2), 6-19.

Turbit, N. (2009). Measuring Project Health. The Project Perfect White Paper Collection, 2-3.


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