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    Why California's high speed rail was always going to blow out

    en-usJune 06, 2024

    Podcast Summary

    • Ambitious projects challengesLeading ambitious projects comes with significant challenges, including cost overruns and delays, as seen in California's high-speed rail project. Understanding these challenges and learning from past experiences can help future project leaders navigate complexities.

      Leading ambitious projects comes with its fair share of challenges, as Dan Richard discovered when he joined California's high-speed rail project. Despite initial optimism and a clear plan, the project faced enormous cost overruns and delays. This experience is not unique to California high-speed rail; mega projects around the world often encounter similar issues. However, understanding these challenges and learning from past experiences can help future project leaders navigate the complexities of large-scale initiatives. Intrigued by the intricacies of leading ambitious projects? Tune in to Wild Card, NPR's new podcast where hosts Rachel Martin and special guests explore the do's and don'ts of leading ambitious projects, from California high-speed rail to the Sydney Opera House. Whether you're a seasoned project manager or just starting your career, this podcast offers valuable insights and a dose of fun. Join us for a game show-style exploration of what makes life meaningful, only on NPR's Wild Card podcast.

    • Iron law of mega projects99.5% of megaprojects have experienced overtime, over budget issues or lower benefits due to lack of experience in hiring individuals and companies with relevant expertise.

      Experience matters significantly in the successful execution of large-scale projects, yet it is often overlooked. Ben Flupayer, a professor at Oxford University and IT University of Copenhagen, has coined this phenomenon as the "iron law of mega projects." According to his research, a staggering 99.5% of megaprojects, such as high-speed rail, tunnels, mines, and airports, have been overtime, over budget, or delivered lower benefits than anticipated. California's high-speed rail project, for instance, tripled its initial costs by 2011. Flupayer emphasizes the importance of hiring individuals and companies with actual experience in the specific type of project. In the case of California's high-speed rail, the project missed an opportunity to learn from and hire experienced overseas companies that had already built successful high-speed rail lines. This is not an isolated incident, as Flupayer highlights numerous other megaprojects that failed to properly value experience.

    • Experience and planning in architectureExperience and thorough planning are essential for architectural projects to be completed on time, on budget, and meeting their intended purpose.

      Experience and proper planning are crucial in bringing architectural projects to successful completion. The Sydney Opera House serves as a cautionary tale with its 1,400% cost overrun and 10-year delay, while acoustically failing to meet its intended purpose. In contrast, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry, was delivered on time and under budget, putting Bilbao on the tourism map and becoming a piece of art in its own right. The difference lies in Gehry's extensive experience and his commitment to investing time in preparation. The Sydney Opera House, on the other hand, faced political pressure to begin construction before proper planning was completed. Gehry and his team spent two years refining their design through digital simulations, a far cry from the stereotypical image of the architect crumpling paper and going with a whimsical design. Ultimately, the importance of experience and thorough planning cannot be overstated in bringing architectural masterpieces to life.

    • Mega projects planningThoughtful planning and community engagement are crucial for successful implementation of mega projects, saving costs and mitigating potential issues.

      Careful planning and consideration are crucial for large-scale projects, as illustrated by Frank Gary's approach to designing a Simpsons cameo and the California High-Speed Rail project. Gary's attention to detail and thoughtful planning could have saved costs for the rail project, while Dan Richard's on-the-ground approach to community engagement and stakeholder management helped mitigate issues with the project's alignment. However, rushing into decisions without proper planning and consideration can limit options and lead to significant costs down the line. Therefore, it's essential to think slowly before acting fast and prioritize community engagement and stakeholder management for successful implementation of mega projects.

    • Leadership communicationEffective communication and planning are essential for building consensus and getting big projects off the ground, as demonstrated by successful leaders in various fields.

      Successful leaders, like those involved in the California high-speed rail project, invest time in building consensus with stakeholders through effective communication and planning. This approach, though often overlooked in favor of urgency and youthful energy, is crucial for getting big projects off the ground. Elsewhere, in the world of politics, the power dynamics in India continue to evolve, raising concerns about the state of the country's democracy. These are just a few of the complex issues explored in the latest podcast episodes from NPR. In a world filled with uncertainty and change, staying informed and engaged is key. Listen to the Shortwave and Sunday Story podcasts for more insightful discussions on a range of topics. And don't forget to check out our merchandise and support our shows.

    • Unexpected questions, self-confidenceUnexpected questions during interviews or in life can test self-confidence, but responding confidently can lead to securing a role or boosting self-confidence

      Confidence can be boosted through unexpected means, as demonstrated by actor Karen Allen's experience with getting her role in Raiders of the Lost Ark. During an audition, she was asked by director Steven Spielberg if she could spit well. Instead of being intimidated, she responded confidently, saying she could spit better than anyone. This unexpected question and her response not only helped her secure the role but also boosted her self-confidence. This story highlights the importance of having confidence in oneself and being able to handle unexpected situations with ease. Additionally, listening to the Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me podcast from NPR can also help increase self-confidence by providing a source of humor and knowledge about current events.

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    99.5 percent of megaprojects are either over time, over budget or have lower benefits than expected. What's going wrong? Today, we look at case studies from California's high speed rail project to the Sydney Opera House to consider the do's and don'ts of ambitious projects.

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