The Eiffel Tower Project: With Great Risk Comes Great Reward
Many would agree that the Eiffel Tower can be labelled one of the greatest architectural achievements of all time.Â However, the journey to great projects are typically riddled with many bumps, obstacles and controversy.Â The fact is the Eiffel Tower project was no less immune to this reality.Â From the time of its conception to act as the symbol (and as the archway entrance) to France’s World Fair in 1889 to its transformation as a critical communication tower during the First World War and its iconic design attracting millions of tourists a year, the Eiffel Tower has proven that the greatest projects survive by continuously adapting and reinventing to their changing environments.
The Eiffel Tower delivers the lesson, that most great projects will face issues and challenges from project stakeholders along the way, however true project success will only be determined by the final end user.Â In the case of the Eiffel Tower project it is clear that the project leadership that successfully brought the project to fruition incurred tremendous risk with the eyes of France and the world scrutinizing their progress every step of the way.Â Luckily, great risk resulted in a tremendous return immortalizing Gustave Eiffel’s name in today’s history books.
Gustave Eiffel demonstrated to the world that project vision and an innovative design reflective of its era will deliver timeless value for years to come.
In 1886 Gustave Eiffel presented his design of the Eiffel Tower, along with 100 other proposals and after much debate was approved as the only practical design by the French government on January 8, 1887. Given only 1.5 million Francs to work with (less than one quarter of the construction costs), Eiffel was expected to recoup the difference and profit on visitor proceeds by attaining the touring rights to the tower for 20 years.
As the lead project manager and engineer of the Eiffel Tower, Gustave had the incredible foresight in anticipating that his project was worth the risk.Â Despite naysayers that questioned its structural soundness and artistic integrity, Gustave Eiffel successfully delivered on his vision and generated a profit from the first year of revenues generated from visitor admissions to the tower.
It took 2 years, 2 months and 5 days for Gustave and his team of 300 workers to complete the tower for the World Fair of 1889 in May.Â Although 9 days into the World Fair it was open to the public, the elevators were still non-functioning at that time.Â Despite missing the deadline to be completed prior to the World Fair’s opening on May 6, 1889, the tower still had nearly 2 million paid visitors by the end of the fair in October of that same year.
In terms of execution, the Eiffel Tower project was a remarkable commercial success (despite falling short of its timeline).Â Gustave Eiffel was extremely fortunate that his risk paid off and that the public embraced the Tower.Â Furthermore, Gustave was diligent in maintaining a lean workforce of 300 workers and employed very high safety standard for its time only resulting in one death during the 2 year (plus) construction period.
The success of the Eiffel Tower project went beyond its original intent of symbolizing the 1889 World Fair, and ultimately changed the skyline of Paris transforming into an iconic symbol of the city and of France’s pioneering contribution to modern society. In fact, over 30 replicas of the tower have been built (varying in scale) around the world, including a 1:2 scale at the Paris hotel in Las Vegas that charges the equivalent admission to the original!Â Furthermore, Gustave’s original agreement to dismantle the tower in 1909 was annulled when the French government discovered its valuable use as a communications tower in WWI to jam German signals which followed by its later use as a commercial radio tower in 1957 and its ongoing tourist attraction since its opening.
In the final analysis, the Eiffel Tower project was an overnight success that was 3 years in the making.Â Although the project itself faced many challenges and obstacles, Gustave Eiffel was a true visionary that persevered and successfully executed on his risky vision that has paid off both financially and historically resulting in a landmark that has been visited by over 200 million visitors since Â its inception.
Fun Fact â€“ Did you know that if the builders of the Eiffel Tower had their hands on a project management solution they could have potentially saved an additional $18,750 USD** in 1889 (equivalent to $450,000 USD today)?
** This calculation is based on an estimated value that 50% of the project budget was allocated to labor and 10% of labor cost can be attributed to lost productivity. Cost savings is based on an accepted norm that project management software can improve lost productivity by 25%.