Using systems thinking to evaluate a major project: The case of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge

White, Diana and Fortune, Joyce (2012). Using systems thinking to evaluate a major project: The case of the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, 19(2) pp. 205–228.



The purpose of this paper is to set out the results of a study of a major landmark construction project and to use systems thinking to shed light on the organisation, management and performance of the project.

The three main methods of gathering the data were a series of formal and informal interviews with representatives of Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council and their main project partner Harbour and General, regular visits to the main construction site and the secondary site where the bridge was pre-fabricated and an extensive study of newspaper and magazine articles, Council minutes and memoranda and other relevant literature. A systems approach based approach whereby the project is represented as a system and compared with an ideal model of a system that is capable of purposeful action without failure.

Unlike many reports of similar-sized projects, this case study uses data gathered throughout the life of a lengthy construction project. It uses this data to conduct an assessment of project performance and evaluate the way the project was managed. The method used to do this is transferrable to a very wide variety of design and engineering projects and is of value to academics and practitioners alike.

This paper has shown that shown that although many aspects of the management of this construction project such as its decision-making processes were very effective the project was over budget and significantly late. Analysis using systems thinking has been able to reveal that the problems encountered during the construction were caused by unforeseen environmental influences and failure to appreciate the viewpoints of those directly and indirectly affected by the project. It is suggested that the lessons learned from investigating this project in real time can provide a valuable insight into understanding the challenges faced by similar projects.

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