Seeking inspiration from the Eiffel Tower for project management
The construction of the Eiffel tower and the ingenuity of Gustave Eiffel can teach us a lot about Project Management.
Bilal Khan
2 February 2017

Construction project eiffel tower

Upon its completion in 1889, the Eiffel tower was not only the tallest building at its time but also considered an innovative technological masterpiece.

During its construction it was quite controversial, but today it has become a beautiful work of art, a symbol of Pairs and a world treasure. It is not only a tourist attraction or a center of communications, but it also inspires new innovations and works of Art. The French Government commissioned Alexandre Gustave Eiffel to design and built a structure for the Centennial Exposition of 1889, a fair to celebrate the French Revolution.

Before and during its construction, the Eiffel Tower faced a lot of controversy and opposition. In fact, around 300 prominent Parisian artists and intellectuals published a manifesto in a newspaper to oppose its construction. They considered it ugly and an insult to French taste in architecture and beauty. But Gustave Eiffel believed in his project and defended it fervently. He even compared it to the Pyramids and once mentioned “”My tower will be the tallest edifice ever erected by man. Will it not also be grandiose in its way? And why would something admirable in Egypt become hideous and ridiculous in Paris?” He believed so much in his project that he bore 80 percent of the costs in return for 20 years’ ownership lease. Similarly, in project management whenever there is a new initiative or project there is always some opposition or controversy. But, like Gustave Eiffel, project managers should be able to defend their ideas and projects as well as persuade or influence others, specially stakeholders, to successfully complete the project. A skillful project manager would have good political skills to handle fierce opposition to his projects.

Gustave Eiffel was a master planner, a good organizer, an innovator and a risk taker. 

Project managers can learn a great deal from him.  He produced around 5300 blueprints and detailed notes. All the pieces used to build the tower were specifically designed, calculated and build to an accuracy of a tenth of a millimeter.  They were produced by his firm located on the outskirts of Paris and then assembled on site. Its construction is one of the first examples of large scale industrialized construction in which largely pre-fabricated pieces where shipped to site and subsequently assembled. Also, all the metal pieces are held together by rivets a refined method of construction in those times. He anticipated future risks by understanding the importance of wind forces. He used graphical methods to determine the strength of the tower and empirical evidence to account for the effects of wind, rather than mathematical formula. No wonder the tower is still standing today! He organized the construction in phases to make things easier and delivered the project on time.

The building of Eiffel tower is an excellent example of project management. There are many things a project manager can learn from its construction. Especially with regards to planning, anticipating he future, taking risks and organization.

By the way, Gustave Eiffel was not only an excellent engineer but would have also been a good resource manager because he managed and worked with 50 engineers and designers, 150 workers in his factory near Paris and between 150 and 300 workers on the construction site to make sure the tower was built for the inauguration of the world exposition of 1889. The construction of Eiffel tower took 2 years, 2 months and 5 days