Episode 201 -Decoding Megaprojects: Insights with Bent Flyvbjerg (Part 1)

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Home Manage This Podcast Episode 201 -Decoding Megaprojects: Insights with Bent Flyvbjerg (Part 1)

About This Episode

Bent Flyvbjerg

This is the first part of our two-part conversation with Bent Flyvbjerg, who has delved deep into the world of megaprojects in his latest book, “How Big Things Get Done.” In this episode, we explore the essence of Bent’s research, which draws from a database of 16,000 megaprojects to extract valuable insights. Megaprojects are increasingly shaping our world, and Bent sheds light on both their successes and failures, aiming to provide lessons for future endeavors, big and small.

Bent is Professor Emeritus at Oxford University’s Said Business School, and VKR Professor at the IT University of Copenhagen. Bent works for better leadership of programs in business and government, and he has worked on some of the largest projects and portfolios in the world. His latest book is HOW BIG THINGS GET DONE, named a BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR by The Economist, The Financial Times, Forbes, CEO Magazine, Inc. Magazine, and more.

Over the next two episodes we’ll delve into four key takeaways from Bent’s book: Thinking from Right to Left, Thinking Slow and Acting Fast, the intriguing concept of Pixar Planning, and the importance of Modularity. Each approach offers valuable strategies for project managers and individuals alike, whether they’re tackling billion-dollar ventures or personal endeavors. So join us as we journey through the world of megaprojects, uncovering the strategies that drive success and the pitfalls to avoid.

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Favorite Quotes from Episode

"But we made a big effort of, you know, hoovering up all the success stories that we could find and see what we could learn from those and present that to the reader so that … they can start doing their projects better, based on the insights, both the data and the management leadership principles that people who were successful. So we deliberately sought out people and organizations that have a track record that they can actually deliver one project after another successfully. So it's not just luck. …They actually have some kind of methodology, some kind of system, some kind of process that makes it possible for them to deliver success over and over."

Bent Flyvbjerg

"…you take your time upfront thinking through what you want to do. And not just thinking through – experimenting, simulating, trying out ideas in reality, iterating, trying over and over, learning by doing, and learning by trial and error. Except it's not error, it's trial and learning. …this is done before you start building anything, so it's kind of risk-free and therefore not real errors."

Bent Flyvbjerg

The podcast by project managers for project managers. Part one of our two-part conversation with Bent Flyvbjerg, delving into decoding megaprojects. Bent’s research draws from a database of 16,000 megaprojects to extract valuable insights. Megaprojects are increasingly shaping our world, and Bent sheds light on both their successes and failures, aiming to provide lessons for future endeavors, big and small.

Table of Contents

03:52 … “How Big Things Get Done.”
06:25 … Examples of Mega Projects
08:35 … Iron Law of Megaprojects
10:23 … The Success Stories
12:28 … Thinking from Right to Left
14:44 … Frank Gehry’s Leadership Principle
18:42 … Ren Love’s Projects from the Past
21:12 … Think Slow and Act Fast
26:23 … Guggenheim Bilbao vs. Sydney Opera House
30:34 … Find Out More
30:43 … Closing

BENT FLYVBJERG:  But we made a big effort of, you know, hoovering up all the success stories that we could find and see what we could learn from those and present that to the reader so that we actually, our intention with the book is that people can read this book, and they can start doing their projects better, based on the insights, both the data and the management leadership principles that people who were successful.  So we deliberately sought out people and organizations that have a track record that they can actually deliver one project after another successfully.  So it’s not just luck.  They weren’t just lucky once.  They actually have some kind of methodology, some kind of system, some kind of process that makes it possible for them to deliver success over and over.

WENDY GROUNDS:  You’re listening to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  I’m your host, Wendy Grounds, and as always I’m joined here in the studio by the one and only Bill Yates.

Before we dive in today’s episode, we want to remind you to check out our website, Velociteach.com, where you can easily subscribe to the show so you never miss out on the latest insights and discussions.  And if you enjoy what you hear, we’d love you to leave a comment on our website.  Better yet, spread the word about us to your fellow project management enthusiasts.  And you can also earn PDUs, your Professional Development Units, by listening to our podcast.

BILL YATES: Looking for an easy and affordable way to maintain your certifications and get better at your job? Our PDU Passport is an all-access pass to every online PDU course in InSite. Take your pick from over 200 high-quality and engaging PDUs aligned to the Talent Triangle. Available when and where you are, with any connected device.

WENDY GROUNDS: At Manage This, our focus is on sharing captivating stories of fascinating projects and engaging in conversations with experts who are reshaping the landscape of project management. And today is no different. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with Bent Flyvbjerg. In fact, we’re happy to announce that our conversation with actually Bent will span across two episodes. We enjoyed talking with Bent so much that we made the decision not to trim any content, but instead, to extend it across two episodes.

Bent is the first BT Professor and Inaugural Chair of Major Program Management at Oxford University’s Said Business School.  And we asked him, and the BT stands for British Telecom Corporation.  He’s also the professor and chair in Major Program Management at IT University of Copenhagen. He has also received numerous honors and awards, including a knighthood and two Fulbright scholarships.   His latest book is “How Big Things Get Done.”

BILL YATES:  Yes.  Somebody recommended his book to me, and I purchased it and started reading it and then got hooked.  The subtitle is “The Surprising Factors That Determine the Fate of Every Project, from Home Renovations to Space Exploration and Everything in Between.”  Bent takes a database of 16,000 megaprojects and looks at their performance, and then extrapolates from that some key findings.  We’re going to go through some of those key findings. And we ask him to talk through the Keys to Success…documenting failures and successes so we can learn from both. 

We ask Bent about four big ideas, four big approaches that he describes in the book. We’ll talk about two of them first, thinking from right to left; and then second, thinking slow and acting fast, in this episode. And then we’ll follow up with the next two: the third one there is, Pixar planning, and the final one, the idea of modularity, in our next episode.

WENDY GROUNDS: Hi, Bent.  Welcome to Manage This.  Thank you so much for being our guest today.

BENT FLYVBJERG:  Thank you for having me.  It’s a pleasure to be here.

“How Big Things Get Done” 

WENDY GROUNDS:  We are honored to talk with you.  And the first thing we wanted to ask you was your book titled “How Big Things Get Done.”  Can you explain a bit about the background and why you wrote this book?

BENT FLYVBJERG:  Well, so that’s my research interest, you know, is very big projects, what we also call “megaprojects” sometimes, and how they get done.  And I find that extremely interesting because as humans we are building more and more megaprojects. 

So if you go out and measure, you will see that we are building more and more.  There’s never been a historical period where we built this many projects that are this big, you know.  And they’re pretty much crucial to everything important in society today.  So if you take a major trend like digitalization, so the world is being digitalized at major speed these years, it’s all done by projects, small and big.  But we have examples in the UK, and there are examples in the U.S. of multi-billion dollar IT projects.

If you look at climate change, we only have hope to solve the problems of climate change by implementing thousands and thousands of megaprojects in renewables, in batteries, in EVs.  It is already happening.  It’s not something that we are waiting for.  It’s happening at high speed now.  So I just see, you know, some people talk about the world being projectified, that more and more policy and more and more business is delivered as projects.  I find that incredibly interesting because projects are my field, you know.

So I decided to write a book about that and documenting what the problems are in this, you know, and what the possibilities are documenting failures and successes so we can learn from both.  And I should emphasize that, even though it’s about big things, in the book we make a very clear point that it’s not only these multi-billion megaprojects that we’re talking about.  Even though we do talk about those, we also talk about the personal big project, you know, like a family.  We have a whole chapter about a family renovating their brownstone in Brooklyn and how that goes.  We talk about weddings and stuff.  And we talk about writing a book, you know, like we were doing ourselves.

So for us, writing a book is a big project, and for most people writing a book is a big project, even though it’s not a multi-billion dollar project.  So we made sure to cover anything that you can call big, both at the level of the individual and the family, and also at the level of the whole society, like the United States of America or the UK or Scandinavia, where I’m from.

Examples of Mega Projects

BILL YATES:  Yeah, Bent, one of the things that appealed to me so much about this book is obviously you are drawing wisdom from a database of 16,000 big projects.  But what you found and what you recommended is applicable to projects that we do.  Like you said, the brownstone in one of the suburbs in New York, you can look at, okay, a home renovation project or writing a book or building a nuclear power plant.  And there are takeaways that you found in your research that apply to each one of those. 

So you defined a megaproject as something huge, that tends to be, like in U.S. dollars, a billion dollars or more.  It tends to be a long-term, you know, greater than a year to build.  I think like nuclear power plants, I think of high-speed rail, some significant construction projects, like solar power, wind power.  What are some other examples you can give that are typical of those 16,000 projects that you’ve researched?

BENT FLYVBJERG:  Well, obviously aerospace projects is an example, mining projects.  The Olympic Games is an example.  Nuclear storage, so storage of nuclear waste.  Hydroelectric dams.  We already talked about IT a little bit.  Buildings like skyscrapers and concert halls, stadiums, et cetera.  Defense projects, in addition to aerospace projects.  Rail projects, so you mentioned high-speed rail, but we also look at urban rail is a big one, you know, being built all over the world.  And conventional rail, that it’s like normal intercity rail, that is not high-speed rail.  Airports, tunnels, oil and gas, ports, hospitals, and other health projects. 

Water projects, fossil thermal power, so your usual power plants, coal and gas and oil.  Pipelines, we talked about wind power.  Energy transmission is also an example.  And you mentioned solar power.  So those are just the ones that we currently cover.  And we are always expanding into more projects and more project types.  So the database has actually grown since the book came out.

Iron Law of Megaprojects

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that’s terrific.  One of the things that you point out right at the beginning of the book, I think it’s, you know, in some of the first pages of the book.  Okay, now that we can all relate to a megaproject, we’ve heard about them, maybe we’ve had a friend or family member be involved in one of these megaprojects.  When you look at the track records, their track records are awful.  The performance is awful.  And from that, you share your iron law of megaprojects.  Could you just describe that to our project managers?

BENT FLYVBJERG:  Yeah, that was actually a result that at first surprised us quite a lot.  We actually thought, hmm, maybe this is an artifact of the data.  So we need to collect more data and test, you know, that it wasn’t just like something happened during data collection, something random that is producing this result.  But as we collected more data, the results stayed the same.  And now we also have colleagues who are doing the same kind of research.  So it’s not only about our research, we have colleagues who have independently verified our findings.

And the findings are this iron law, that verbally it goes like this:  over budgets, over schedule, under benefits, over and over again.  So that’s over budget, over schedule.  So it costs more, it takes longer, and you don’t get what you set out to actually deliver that’s the benefits.  In numbers, more quantitatively, it actually turns out that only half percent, that’s one in 200 projects, is delivering on all three criteria.  So delivered to budget or better, to schedule or better, to benefits or better.  One out of 200.  That’s what we didn’t believe when we first saw it.  But that’s a robust figure.

BILL YATES:  It is.  It’s stolen.

BENT FLYVBJERG:  But unfortunate.  Unfortunate.

The Success Stories

BILL YATES:  Yeah, it is.  Yeah, it’s depressing.  You think of some of the projects that we’re discussing, and you think of all the resources that go into them, and there’s so much waste.  You know, for the project manager in each one of us, it just makes us think, okay, we have to be able to do better at this.  We’ve got to get better at this.  So…

BENT FLYVBJERG:  Good news is that we can get better, and we show how to get better in the book, of course.  That’s our main point of the book.  We made it very clear that even though we, before we even started writing the book, we made it very clear that we wanted to focus on success stories in this book, in addition to the depressing iron law.  So we couldn’t just look at all the disasters, even though it’s actually much easier to find project failure than it is to find project success when you go out and collect data.

But we made a big effort of, you know, hoovering up all the success stories that we could find and see what we could learn from those and present that to the reader so that we actually, our intention with the book is that people can read this book, and they can start doing their projects better, based on the insights, both the data and the management leadership principles that people who were successful. 

So we deliberately sought out people and organizations that have a track record that they can actually deliver one project after another successfully.  So it’s not just luck.  They weren’t just lucky once.  They actually have some kind of methodology, some kind of system, some kind of process that makes it possible for them to deliver success over and over.

Thinking from Right to Left

BILL YATES:  Mm-hmm.  This is the piece that I could not wait to get into with you.  I’m thinking of names like Frank Gehry.  I’m thinking of the Empire State Building.  But first, to some degree, we’ll talk about four big ideas, four big approaches that you describe in the book.  We’ll talk about thinking from right to left; thinking slow and acting fast; Pixar planning, which is very interesting; and then the idea of modularity.  But Let’s start with thinking from right to left.  Can you explain this?  You describe this as one of the keys to success.  Can you explain this concept?

BENT FLYVBJERG:  Yeah.  So in project management, the tradition is to think from left to right; you know.  If you look at a conventional Gantt chart, it shows the project from left to right, and you start on the left, and you end on the right.  We are saying that we observe that successful project leaders don’t do it like that.  They actually start on the right.  They start thinking about what is it that we want to deliver here?  What is the outcome that we want to achieve? 

And that’s what they focus on.  So that’s where they start.  And then they work their way to the left.  From the right, they work their way to the left and figure out each step that needs to be delivered in order to actually arrive at the outcome that they want to arrive at.

And they tell us that this helps them tremendously all the way through the process of delivering the project because, no matter where they are in the process, they can just look up or look out to the right and remind themselves of what is it that we are trying to deliver here, and then look at what they are actually doing right now.  And they can immediately assess whether what they are doing now is actually contributing to the outcome that they want.  So this becomes a North Star.  We call it a North Star in the book.  It’s a guiding star that will guide the project leader and their team in doing the right thing because they always know where they’re moving.

And you actually find a lot of projects that are quite confused about what they are doing because they forget this thing about starting on the right.  They start on the left, and then they quickly forget their history because they are always so focused on the present and delivering what they are supposed to do right now, but they don’t have this guiding star out on the right that will make it possible for them to make quality assurance at every step of the way to make sure that what they are doing right now is actually going to deliver what they want to deliver.

So that’s the secret of starting on the right.  So that’s why we say think from right to left.  That’s the first thing.  You want to start on the right.  And it’s not something we are just making up, and that actually goes for everything in the book.  It’s not a traditional management in the book that we don’t pretend to be gurus who have the answers.  No, this is what we observed with actual project leaders who are very successful at what they’re doing.  This is what they are doing.  They are thinking from right to left.

Frank Gehry’s Leadership Principle

BILL YATES:  I agree.  And you give great examples in the book.  You bring up Steve Jobs, you bring up Jeff Bezos, talking about their product development.  And, you know, they’re thinking from the right to the left.  They’re thinking, when my customer has this product in their hands, what should they be experiencing?  Okay, now, how do we get there? 

One of the examples that you refer to throughout the book was again with Frank Gehry, the architect.  And you talk about the interview process that he does on the front end of a project where he really gets to know the sponsor or the ultimate customer who’s paying for it, and some of the questions that he asks about the purpose and, you know, what their end state is, what they want the ultimate goal to be with that project.  And it seems with him in particular, it seems that he comes back to that throughout the project, whether it’s a three-year build.  He’s constantly going back to some of his first conversations to remember what is the purpose with this project.

BENT FLYVBJERG:  Yeah, so Frank Gehry has an even simpler leadership principle.  He says that his first question is why, just one word, why are we doing this?  And he asks his client or potential client at that stage, why do you want to do this?  What do you want to achieve with this project?  And he spends a lot of time on that meeting with potential clients to make sure that they really understand what they want to do, and he really understands what it is that they want to do, and they are on the same page, you know, so that you don’t have surprises later.

So it’s really important to be clear about this from the outset so you don’t find out, which is also very common, it’s actually standard, that because people haven’t clarified these things sufficiently upfront, they end up in situations where they realize that they actually don’t have the same idea about the project.

So you have different stakeholders doing a project.  It could be the client and the architect, or whatever the relevant unit is for delivery, that they realize that they don’t understand the same thing about the project.  And of course, that is something that can be very frustrating and ultimately very expensive to have to clarify when you’ve already started the project. And you know the meter is ticking, and everything is very expensive.

So Gehry is very clear – adamant, actually – that this has to be clarified upfront.  We interviewed him several times, and I’ve interviewed him many times before about these things and his work in general.  And he explained, you know, how he used this for instance with the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, that actually they decided against – the client had an idea of which building they wanted to use for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.  And through this discussion of what it was that they wanted to achieve, why they wanted to do it, Gehry convinced them that this was the wrong building, and he actually disagreed that they would be able to get what they wanted.

What they wanted was actually they wanted a building with the same effect as the Sydney Opera House has had for, and has for Sydney in Australia.  They wanted a building like that for Bilbao and the Basque region.  And Gehry said, if that’s what you want, if that’s why you’re doing the project, renovating an old winery won’t do it, which was their plan, you know.  And they had a beautiful, beautiful building, which is still there, but used for different purposes now.  Gehry just convinced them, no, you’ve got to do something much more spectacular.

And he told them, “I cannot think of a renovated building anywhere in the world that has had the effect that you want to achieve. So, I don’t think that I could deliver that.  I mean, if I said yes to this, I would actually be fooling both you and myself. Because there’s no evidence anywhere in the world that you can get what you want by renovating an old building.”  So that’s the kind of conversation, that’s an example of this kind of conversation that you need to have upfront, and that we find unfortunately for many projects is not done upfront, you know.  But good leaders do it.

Ren Love’s Projects from the Past

WENDY GROUNDS: We’re talking about so many project stories this episode that we thought it would be good to include a new story from Ren. Ren Love is one of our instructors and manager of curriculum development at Velociteach. And she has some great project stories.

REN LOVE: Ren Love here with a glimpse into Projects of the Past; where we take a look at historical projects through the modern lens.  Today’s project focus is truly ancient, but no less impressive: Ceaser’s bridges over the River Rhine.

In 55 BC during the Gallic war, Germanic tribes from across the River Rhine were plaguing Rome. Crossing the river to pillage & plunder villages before retreating back to the opposite side. The tribes believed that the sheer size of the River Rhine would protect them from any large scale retaliation by the Romans. But Caeser had his own ideas.

Having decided taking boats across the river wouldn’t be an effective approach, Caeser ordered a bridge built. 8 legions of men (around 40,000 soldiers) took only 10 days to build this bridge. They started by burying timber pilings into the river bed, that were then linked to form the base of the bridge. These massive pilings were driven into the riverbed by dropping really big, really heavy rock – they had to build a huge pile driver to do this. 

Now, it’s difficult to accurately estimate the scope of this bridge, but some historians have said it could have been as long as 3.5 football fields, and up to 30 ft wide. The Roman army didn’t just travel with bridge-building materials. In that 10 days, they had to source, cut, prepare, move, and install all of the materials for the bridge.

 After they completed the bridge, all 40,000 soldiers, their horses, & their stuff crossed the bridge as a show of force against the Germanic tribes. After 18 days, the Romans retreated across the bridge, dismantling it as they went so they could not be easily followed. So – was this project a success? Yes. So much so that, two years later, Caesar reportedly repeated this feat, building another bridge, which hampered Germanic incursions across the river for centuries.  Julius Caesar’s Rhine River bridges weren’t just practical crossings; they were statements of Rome’s might and Caesar’s determination. Thanks for joining me for a look into Projects of the Past – I’m Ren Love. See ya next time.

Think Slow and Act Fast

WENDY GROUNDS:  Talking about Frank Gehry, he also believes in the approach “Think slow and act fast.”  Can you describe that a little further for us?

BENT FLYVBJERG:  Yeah, that’s another leadership heuristic, as we call it, you know, or principle.  So a heuristic is basically a rule of thumb.  And what we’re talking about now are the rules of thumb that successful project leaders employ.  And this one, “Think slow, act fast,” is one of them. 

It basically means that you take your time upfront thinking through what you want to do.  And not just thinking through – experimenting, simulating, trying out ideas in reality, iterating, trying over and over, learning by doing, and learning by trial and error.  Except it’s not error, it’s trial and learning.  And it’s because, you know, this is done before you start building anything. So it’s kind of risk-free and therefore not real errors.

But the principle is, like, try out things, experiment.  We talk a lot about the word “experiri” in the book, “experiri.”  It’s a Latin word, and it’s the root of both experience and experiments.  And we think experience and experiment are both key to successful projects.  So a person like Frank Gehry, one of the things that really impress you when you get to interview him or hang out with him or work with him is that he has loads of experience, and he always experiments.  He’s very experimental in what he’s doing before he starts building.  He has developed a certain computer technology called “Digital Project,” based on a model called CATIA that is used in aerospace to design beautiful fuselages and effective fuselages. 

And at one stage, he said, he decided that the tools that they had were not powerful enough to do what he wanted to do.

So, they did a one-year research project, finding out what are the tools that others use in design.  And he already knew, of course, from flying that airplanes have beautiful bodies.  He lives in Los Angeles, in Santa Monica.  And I actually used to live just down the street from him in Venice.  And there are lots of beautiful cars in Los Angeles.  So, he had looked at those cars, and he was wondering, why are the cars and the airplanes, why are they looking so good, and all our buildings are looking like crap?

You know, like what is, I mean, you look at the average building in Los Angeles, and this is not my word “crap.”  It’s Frank Gehry’s word.  He actually says that.  He says that 98-plus percent of architecture is crap, both aesthetically and quality-wise.  And then you actually have the car and aerospace industry, and they are able to build these beautiful bodies; you know.  He decided to find out.  And it turned out that it was an ingenious idea because they found this program that both the car industry and the aerospace industry is using.

He asked the company – Dassault, they are called – whether they could use that program and make an adaption of the program for architecture.  And they said sure.  They were they were up for it.  They thought, that’s interesting; you know.  And they had never thought about this.  And here’s like a world-leading architect, or pretty famous.  He wasn’t as famous as he is now because he needed this tool before he could become that famous. 

But he was pretty – he was pretty well known in, you know, in the U.S. and amongst the architects in the know.  So he got this tool, and now he uses that. So this is part of this “think slow” process is to make these extensive computer simulations on Digital Project, the Digital Project model.  And it means that they actually built the whole building on the computer before they built it in reality, so they simulate the building. 

And this is a concept that we emphasize in the book is simulation.  You need to simulate your projects before you do them.  So, this thing about going out and starting to build a project without having tried to simulate it first, and experimented with it and so on, is a really bad idea, and that’s what most projects do, you know.  They don’t have this process that Gehry does.

So Gehry will typically spend two years before anything starts being built just experimenting.  I mean, if it’s a major project.  Depends on the size of the project, of course.  But for a major project they will take the time that it needs to really get it down and to totally understand what it means. And to have it designed on the computer in a way where they have already built it.  And now they’re just going out and doing the same thing in reality, but they actually already have the experience of building the project.  It means that you reduce the number of what’s called “change orders.”

So when you build something in reality, very often you realize that it can’t be built according to plan, or there were things that you didn’t think about in the plan and so on.  So you need to change the building when you start building, compared with the drawings.  That’s called a “change order,” and they’re expensive and difficult.  And Gehry has been able to reduce change orders to an unheard of low number compared to others who don’t use this technology.  So that’s “think slow, act fast.”  And the thing is that, once you’ve done all this slow thinking, you can build really quickly.

Guggenheim Bilbao vs. Sydney Opera House

To give you a couple of numbers, we make a direct comparison between the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum and the Sydney Opera House, which we find interesting for two reasons:  the Guggenheim Museum wanted to emulate the Sydney Opera House, which not a lot of people know.  A lot of people talk about the Bilbao effects, you know, because of the Bilbao Museum’s effect.  But really what the Bilbao decision-makers wanted was a Sydney effect.  So then when Gehry asked them his “why” question, why do you want to do this, they said because we wanted the Sydney effect.  Ah, okay.  And we talked about that previously.  But we compared these two projects, and the Sydney Opera House is the exact opposite.

We also think they’re interesting because they are considered the two preeminent treasures architecturally, aesthetically, of the last hundred years.  The Sydney Opera House is actually a World Heritage Building, and it became a World Heritage Building while the architect was still alive.  Jorn Utzon, the architect of the Sydney Opera House, was still alive.  And that has never happened to any other building.  So, they are in a class completely of their own, these two projects.

So we thought this is a case study, this is a comparative case study made in heaven. You know, comparing these two.  And it turns out that, even though they did use computers on the Sydney Opera House, this is so long ago, the computers were so much more primitive than the computers that Gehry has.  Also, they didn’t think slow.  They actually decided to start building immediately, even before they had any drawings. 

It was a big mistake in the sense that it meant that you had to do a lot of rework. Because, once they got final drawings, it turned out that what they had built, which was the podium for the Opera House, it just didn’t fit.  And they had to redo a lot of things.

And of course that’s expensive.  This is concrete pillars that was already put in the ground to carry the structure.  And they had miscalculated the weight of the structure. 

They didn’t know how to build the Sydney Opera House when Jorn Utzon won the competition.  So that took many years to figure that out.  When they finally figured it out, it turned out that the foundation couldn’t carry it.  It was too expensive.  They had to redo all these things.  That took 14 years.  Fourteen years.  And a lot of that time was about figuring out what to do because they rushed into action.  They thought fast.  So they were thinking fast.  And when you think fast, that actually often will force you to act slow.

So that’s what happened at Sydney.  They started digging immediately.  And then it turned out that they had to redo a lot of stuff.  Gehry did the opposite.  He spent those two years getting the design right of the Guggenheim Bilbao, and then they built it in just four years.  So, six years.  Built on budget, by the way, a little under actually, $100 million at the time was the budget, and they built it for 97.  And they delivered on the date that they had promised to deliver to.  And the benefits are much, much higher than they’d ever dreamed of.

So, the policymakers, the city and regional council members in the Bilbao and the Basque region, they really got what they were looking for.  They got about three times the benefits that they had hoped for in their wildest dreams, so it was way beyond expectations.  It has been a huge success.

 It’s not the only thing.  I mean, they did a lot of other things to the city at the same time, so it would be unfair to credit the whole development of the Bilbao and the Basque region to just this one building.  But it would also be unfair to not really give it its due because it is the most important single thing that was done in order to revive the region, which the government actually succeeded in doing.

So, compare, you know, six years to 14 years.  Those two years that Gehry spent upfront were very well spent; you know.  And they really paid off in the sense that they had huge efficiency when they started delivering.

BILL YATES:  Bent, this conversation’s going so well, and there’s so much here to dig into. We don’t want to rush things. Let’s move this to a second episode.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah.  Let’s continue in two weeks’ time.

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WENDY GROUNDS: In the meantime, Bent, how can our listeners find you?

BENT FLYVBJERG:  Yeah.  So I’m on LinkedIn and X.  And I have a lot of people contact me on LinkedIn all the time. 


WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s it for us at Manage This. Join us next month for Part two of our conversation with Bent.  You can visit us at Velociteach.com, where you can subscribe to this podcast and see a complete transcript of the show.  You’ve also earned your free PDUs by listening to this podcast.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com, choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs, and click through the steps.  Until next time, stay curious, stay inspired, and keep tuning it to Manage This.


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