How the Eiffel Tower story can inspire us for nowadays programs ?

How the Eiffel Tower story can inspire us for nowadays programs ?

The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889, as the highest building in the world with 300 meters high.
More than 100 years after its construction, the Eiffel Tower remains the most visited place in the world, while it was supposed to be dismantled 20 years after the exhibition.

note : Thanks to Anne Vermès who kindly reviewed this article and approved its diffusion on my blog.

From pure program management perspective, the Eiffel Tower is an incredible example regarding benefits focus, stakeholder engagement and governance.

  • Eiffel exceeded the initial objectives of the project by catching all opportunities to deliver more benefits towards his stakeholders. For instance, he offered to implement on the last floor a lab for make scientist experiments, this was very useful during the first world war to decrypt radio enemy messages. He proposed to develop tourist attractions and derived products, which helped the funding while offering new kind of entertainment to the Parisians.
  • Eiffel built a true “alliance” with his sponsor Edouart Lockroy, Minister of Industry, being both aligned on “ambitious goals”, audacity against all odds. He structured the project with 2 main teams managed by 2 engineers one for building and preparation of work at Levallois and one responsible for implementation on site : in case of default, the piece was adjusted in the workshop and available within 3 hours !
  • The way he turned opponents into engaged stakeholders for the project. For instance, while press was criticizing safety conditions of workers, he decided full transparency about working conditions. Journalists had time slots to interview directly workers, who became both heroes for Parisians and ambassadors of the projects satisfying both workers and journalists. When there was a strike for the first floor due to weather conditions, he exceeded employees’ requests by offering both a salary increase plus a canteen installed on the 1st floor , to improve overall conditions of employees.

Eiffel relied on collective intelligence of this team and built a dream.

When a major technical problem arose for the foundation of the pillar close to the Seine side due to swamps. He took the time to explore all ideas from the workers, until a solution was found with compressed air. To demonstrate to the workers that the solution was safe, the sponsor himself tested the new equipment!

He celebrated each floor of the construction, offered a month salary bonus for courageous workers building the 3d floor, and finally a medal to all workers and graved their names on the Eiffel Tower.
At the inauguration, employees representative said: “we will tell our children and grand children we built the highest building of the world !”

As a leader, Eiffel was described as a “block of energy”, and an example of well integrated left and right brains.

He is both entrepreneur (he funded part of the initial project himself) and project manager, creative audacious and engineer. In all his projects, he was excellent at anticipated known risks while being opened for the unknown. He always showed respect and humanity for his teams: for instance during the construction of Bordeaux bridge, he did not hesitate to jump to La Garonne to rescue a worker. After being “fully cleared” of conflict of interest with Panama Canal he dedicated the rest of his life to work for free and fun making experiments about aerodynamics.

“Whatever your life in the future, make it useful. For that focus on what you can do as a step forward even if it looks insignificant to you in the contribution to the achievement you have in mind. Be certain that this way you will help to overall well being” Gustave Eiffel Memories.

Thanks Gustave Eiffel for inspiring us !


Sources :
1) Book “Pilot a project like Gustave Eiffel”, Anne Vermès, 2013
2) Paris Project Management Institute conference on the 19/05/15 by Anne Vermès
3) Movie : “Sur les traces de Gustave Eiffel”, by Charles Berling, 2009