Three Not So Obvious Things I Learned from Ike - Posthumously...

Project management is everywhere.  Whether you are successfully managing a multi-million dollar government IT project or leading an organizational assessment for the local Police Department there is always something to be learned from examining other projects no matter their scope.  Project management is nuanced, project specific, and has so many facets that one is never really done learning and gaining understanding.

In this Blog Series,  Cirdan  President, Joanne Vatz shares her thoughts on what she learned from a unique monument building project gone wrong.  Like many projects, it begins with all the best of intentions however without adequate governance it falls apart.  Enjoy this first segment of the four part Cirdan Blog Series: Three Not So Obvious Things I Learned from Ike – Posthumously…

The great soldier and statesman Dwight Eisenhower exemplifies the leadership qualities necessary to successfully conduct what is arguably the most important program of the 20th century, Operation Overlord, the Allied operation that launched the successful invasion of German-occupied western Europe during World War II.  Managing that project would have been enough achievement for a lifetime, but Ike’s contributions while President is also not trivial.

Hats off to all that, but Ike’s accomplishments are not what this article is about. It is about the project management and leadership lessons that can be learned from monument building.  It is about Ike’s monument building, to be specific.

The Eisenhower Memorial Committee (EMC) was commissioned by Congress in 1998 to design and build a memorial in Washington DC to commemorate one of our greatest leaders.  17 years later, you may notice that we don’t actually have a monument just yet….and there is still a long way to go.

In the beginning, there was general consensus that this was a worthy project.  The EMC’s scope of work included site selection and acquisition, fundraising, designer selection, design, design approval and build.

The planned budget was $55- $75MM, to be completed by 2007.   The first 9 years were devoted to assembling a suitable organization, site selection and acquisition. Lots of big names were recruited for the advisory committees. It took 3 1/2 years before the commission held its first board meeting. In in 2007 the EMC selected designer and architect Frank Gehry using a non-standard General Services Administration’s Design Excellence Program a selection process typically used for construction contracts.  The DES process invites candidates for consideration on the basis of their past qualifications and experience as opposed to evaluating specific design proposals. Selection is based on past performance and reputation, not a specific design.

Fast forward about 4-5 years during which Mr. Gehry’s team developed and showcased the proposed design.  When delivered, it was not well received by certain stakeholder groups, most notably Ike’s grandchildren, members of Congress, numerous federal agencies, Concerned Veterans of America and the National Civic Art Society, just to name a few.

The design centers around a 447-foot long, eight-story metal tapestry supported by massive columns depicting Eisenhower’s hometown of Abilene, Kan., two free-standing columns and a several statues depicting Eisenhower as general, president, and a young man. Current estimated cost to build is $142MM.  To construct the design will require various experimental construction techniques and materials to create the metal tapestries, which the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) has indicated cannot be certified as durable and permanent, which is required by law.  

 The scale is considered to be out of synch with traditional Washington DC design aesthetics, too large and too garish. The NCAS calls the current design ungainly and ill-befitting. “When I look at this memorial, I don’t see any bit of him in it,” said Susan Eisenhower, the president’s granddaughter.

 Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society said that the outline of steel grey bare trees on the steel tapestry suggest “permanent winter—a bad allegory” for Eisenhower’s life.

Last July, a report from the House Natural Resources Committee was critical of both the commission work and spending to date of $41MM which includes design fees of about $12MM to Mr. Gehry. Also problematic is the funding effort: the EMC appointed fundraising group has raised less than half a million dollars to date, likely due to the objections raised by the Eisenhower family regarding the current design.  Many organizations are lobbying furiously to scrap the current design and recompete the project that is more in keeping with the family’s desires and the planned budget. The EMC position is that the design is finalized and they intend to move forward with the current plan. (To be continued…)

We welcome your comments and invite you to share your thoughts with us on social networks.  Please visit cirdangroup.com again next week for the second segment of this perspective.