Sydney Opera House: Failed Project


Project management is an ever-growing field that requires transformational leaders. Projects form one of the best ways for organizations to convert ideas into practical establishments. That is why projects play a major role in organizational growth and profitability. Successful projects benefit many parties, while a failed project exposes the investor and stakeholders to losses and pain. Measuring the success or failure of a given project assumes different approaches. The ‘iron triangle’ tool is an approach that evaluates the success or failure of a project based on its compliance with the time, cost, and quality of the project’s outcomes. However, assessing the performance of a project is not a direct thing. That is because some projects become a success to some parties and a failure to others. The differences often emerge from varied interests among the different parties involved in the project. Utilizing a more diverse and comprehensive project evaluation approach can aid in determining a failed or successful project more effectively. This work utilizes the ‘multilevel framework’ to analyze the Sydney Opera House that many people regard to as a failed project.

Background of the Organization and the Project Case

Several things concerning the Sydney Opera House constitute crucial learning aspects to all project managers and investors. How the Sydney Opera House idea was conceived, and the various issues surrounding the project are, for instance, highly informing. The project’s idea came from Jørn Utzon, the Danish architect who won the 1957 competition, where the Australian government wanted to identify an architect to scheme the nation’s future national house. Therefore, the government constituted the project’s primary client, with the architect of the day, Jørn Utzon, being the chief contractor. As such, Pitt (2018) notes that the Australian government’s primary desire was a project proposal that depicted the country’s creativity and technical capacities. The client, thus, never attached a parameter on the proposal search, including the targeted cost and timeframe (Pitt 2018). The outcome of such was selecting a project design that was outstanding but never considered time and cost factors.

The Australian government made the verdict on an incomplete national house proposal that lacked several elements. Pitt (2018) reports that Utzon presented his design in 1958 to the administration without polishing everything concerning the overall project, including the cost. The scholars also note that Utzon made a clear statement concerning the unfinished structural design of the project, which the client (government) never considered but insisted on the immediate initiation of the project. The mistake exposed the project to further challenges, including the demand by the client to change the plan mid-way and the chief architect’s withdrawal from the project.

The Sydney Opera House also had to end with new engineers, a new design, and the utilization of more time and cost. Pitt (2018) says that the 1973 completion of the project established a structure that never fits its original objective to date. That is why the building will be closed for two years since February 2022, for renovations led by Jørn Utzon, which seek to correct the structure’s acoustics and roof quality, among other things (Pitt 2018). The point that the Opera House of 1973 never meets the interests of even the client and the public using it makes the project a significant failure.

However, the general view of the Sydney Opera House as a failed project somehow changed in June 2007. The acclamation of the building into the UNESCO World Heritage grade challenged many people’s view of a failed investment. The same aspect also challenged the application of the ‘iron triangle’ tool that mainly focuses on the means while disregarding the need. People worldwide now hold a mixed view concerning the Opera House of Sydney. Some associate the building’s veneration and acknowledgment by UNESCO with the unseen greatness of the project. Other people view the UN organization’s move as a mistake, while several people remain confused about the matter (Ann 2016). However, one must adopt a more open view of the project to understand its happenings. Utilizing the ‘multilevel framework,’ for example, aids in getting a sense of why the project has some success. The approach offers a more comprehensive method of viewing projects that help people to utilize more perspectives of viewing projects.


Discussion of Standard Criteria

The ‘multilevel framework’ stands as a standard approach to measuring projects’ success. The tactic helps people avoid the common limitedness of the three-legged stool in assessing projects’ success. The iron tringle mainly focuses on the time, cost, and quality parameters, thus, assuming several other critical elements that determine the success or failure of a project. Schulz et al. (2021) say that the triple constraint method works best when a project team intends to apply a simple and direct project performance assessment. The direct tool focuses more on the project management team’s expertise and ability to apply the project’s scope, which introduces significant weaknesses in measuring real project success.

The ‘multilevel framework’ method of testing project performance utilizes a mixture of approaches to determine the true performance of a project. Such approaches measures success at different levels of a project, including the project management, product, business, strategic, and process levels. Using the approach allows project teams to notice success in one, several, or all the levels of the project, thus, developing a more comprehensive understanding of the project performance. Failure in one or more levels of the project also does not make the whole project a botched plan, according to the ‘multilevel framework’ (Information resources management association 2016). That is why applying the framework to the Sydney Opera House is crucial. The move indicates several unknown levels of the project’s failure and explains the one element of success that the building exhibits; the acknowledgment by UNESCO in 2007.

Critical Identification and Justification of the Criteria

The ‘multilevel framework’ approach looks at the project management, business, product, process, and strategic ranks of a project to determine its effectiveness, as noted earlier. The ‘project management’ level evaluates the effectiveness of the project’s team and management in steering the project to success. This first level of the multilevel approach utilizes the iron tringle elements; project time, schedule, and scope to measure the project team’s success (Cristina 2018). Delivering the project’s outcomes within the pre-determined period, budget, and scope implies success on this level (Clegg et al., 2020). Moreover, the ‘product’ level measures the project’s deliverables’ ability to serve the needs of the investing team and other stakeholders. A project whose product satisfies the client’s desires or objectives is termed successful at this level (Bruce 2020). However, a project whose outcomes never meet the investor’s desires fails significantly based on the ‘product’ level assessment.

Notwithstanding, the ‘business’ level valuation of the ‘multilevel framework’ looks at the project’s ability to solve a specific business issue, regardless of the time and cost involved (Bruce 2020). A project that fails to solve the targeted problem(s), thus, becomes a failure at this stage, while the one that solves the targeted matter becomes a success. The ‘strategic’ level further looks at the project’s outcomes’ potential to deliver benefits that place the organization or investor in a favorable position for future opportunities (Kelkar 2021). Determining the success of a project at this level requires the view of the larger community’s perception of the project instead of the direct investor’s desires (Kelkar 2021). Lastly, the ‘process’ level evaluates the project management’s processes’ leanness to determine its success or failure (Tam 2017). That way, using the ‘multilevel framework’ to assess the performance stands as an effective way of evaluating a project’s performance while avoiding the common shortcomings caused by the over-dependence on the ‘three parameters’ approach.

Critical Analysis of the Case Based On the Criteria Chosen

Applying the ‘multilevel framework’ approach to the Sydney Opera House stands to reveal several things that are hard to comprehend using the standard three-legged stool tactic. The alternative approach looks at the project’s management, product, business, process, and strategic facets to gauge the project’s performance (Abyad 2019). Management-wise, the Sydney Opera House is a failure because the client’s desire to control both cost and project implementation forced the chief designer out of the project in 1966 (Pitt 2018). Frew (2021) purports that the entry of a new government into power in 1961 made everything about the Sydney Opera Building project hard for Utzon. The architect’s application for more finances to finance the stage 1 theatre, as changed by the client mid-way the project, met objection by the government committee, forcing Utzon to quit (Frew 2021). The Sydney Opera Building project’s lack of a definite project leader to control the time, budget, and scope set also present a big failure on the ‘project management’ level.

The ‘product’ level of the ‘multilevel framework’ looks at the project’s outcomes’ ability to meet the desires and objectives of the investor. The Sydney Opera House’s investor wanted a unique project that shows Australia’s creativity to the world. The investor also wanted to realize such a project within the shortest time possible and a modest budget to set a new standard (O’Neil 2019). Such objectives somewhat failed by the time of the project’s conclusion in 1973, about fifteen years after the project’s initiation. The project’s completion budget also stood at about ten-fold the original cost, thus implying a project failure (O’Neil 2019). Pitt (2018) argues that the completed opera building is full of echo due to the erred acoustics. This aspect means that the building never met the targeted product’s outcomes, thus failing.

The alternative approach’s ‘business’ level also shows the Sydney Opera Building as a botched project. The project never met the investor’s purpose of creating a globe-worth opera and plays’ stage (Pitt 2018). Instead, the building now serves Hip-Hop and classic music players who still complain of not hearing the other singers while on the stage due to the acoustic issues (Pitt 2018). The Sydney Opera Building project also hits below the belt when looked at from the process level. The project’s team can never be lean, as evident by the many mistakes committed during its implication (Pitt 2018). However, the project is a major success based on the strategic level evaluation. Sydney Opera Building’s identification by UNESCO in June 2007 as a world heritage facet came as a surprise to many (Pitt 2018). Starr and Gupta (2017) note that millions of tourists flock to Australia currently to visit the project, which gives the nation substantial foreign income. The achievement depicts the project’s strategic success, placing the Australian government and the nation at favorable future opportunities.


The above discussion shows the effectiveness of the ‘multilevel framework’ in evaluating the performance of projects. The approach exists as an alternative to the standard iron triangle technique of measuring projects’ success or failure based on their compliance with cost, schedule, and quality or scope. Utilizing the alternative strategy, for instance, helps in correcting the erroneous public perception concerning the Sydney Opera Building project. As such, this work concludes by recommending the utilization of the multilevel strategy to avoid the common mistakes committed in project evaluations.


Using the multilevel framework to evaluate the Sydney Opera Building depicts several mistakes that should be corrected during the planned structural renovation and future projects. The first mistake concerns the need to appoint a definite project leader to coordinate operations. Moreover, the client and the architect must agree on the targeted outcome to work together. There is also a need to prevent politics from disrupting the noble project like before. Lastly, the client needs to give the architect ample time to finish the structural design instead of ambushing him for political reasons.

Reference List

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Starr, M K & Gupta, S K 2017, The Routledge Companion to Production and Operations Management, Taylor & Francis.

Tam, G C K 2017, Managerial strategies and green solutions for project sustainability, Pennsylvania IGI Global, Hershey.

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