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Gateway to a Project

Gateway_Arch We just returned from a vacation in St. Louis.  Because my older daughter has been reading the Percy Jackson series, she wanted to see where a pivotal scene occurred in the first book... atop the Gateway Arch.  When I was a kid, it was a great novelty to just go up to the top of this cool-looking thing.  Now, as an an adult, I was more fascinated with the history of it.

The monument was first conceived in the mid-1930's.  Attorney Luther Ely Smith wanted to restore the St. Louis riverfront from decay, so he began pushing for a monument honoring Jefferson's 1803 Louisiana Purchase and St. Louis' role as the gateway to westward expansion.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt supported the idea.  Many meetings and bond issues were held to gain support for the idea.  It wasn't until 1947-48 that a national contest was held to select a winning design for this monument.  Architect Eero Saarinen's design of a catenary curve was selected.  Construction did not begin until 1963 and ended in 1965; however, the tram which transports people to the top was not operable until 1967.  The Arch opened to the public in 1968.

Granted, this is just a thumb-nail sketch of a very rich history of the entire project; however, there are some powerful project lessons to be learned:

  • Project definition can sometimes take long periods of time, and it is important to define the problem well and figure out who is going to take ownership of the problem (i.e., pay for it) before moving onto the solution phase.
  • The longer amount of time spent on planning, the shorter amount of time proportionally will be spent on execution (note the length of time between awarding the winning design and actual construction).
  • Know what issues are show stoppers and which features are "add-ons" - structural problems caused the Arch construction to halt; items like the tram were handled after the external portion of the Arch was constructed.

And thus ends the Johnson summer vacation for 2010.  Someday my children will be thankful that their dad geeks out on project management education... even at the Gateway Arch...well, ok... maybe not.

Carpe Factum!


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