Benchmarking project management dimensions at the lapse of a century: Case of Panama Canal and Palm Diera Island mega projects

Maqsood Sandhu, Asadullah Khan

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose: The purpose of this paper is twofold: first, to investigate project management dimensions while constructing the Panama Canal from the end of ninetieth century to the start of twentieth century and then benchmarking against the Palm Diera Island at the lapse of a century. Second, to highlight issues of project management, specially the risk management with its economic, social and political domains at the construction site and in France and America. Design/methodology/approach: The case study research method of qualitative research has been adopted when comparing two mega projects executed in different time and space. For the Panama Canal project documentation investigation was performed. However, a semi-structured interview data collection method was adopted for the Palm Diera Island project. A comparative study of two projects helps in deeper understanding of cross-project management dimensions. Findings: The research reveals that the French team failed to complete the Panama Canal construction project due to inadequate planning, inappropriate design, lack of risk management, health and safety of the staff and non-availability of finances. However, the Americans successfully completed construction of the canal within budget and time and this was due to the support of change in the purpose of the canal construction adding to achieve its commercial objectives and at the same time strengthen its naval presence. American took its construction as a national objective than the individual enterprise as executed by the French team. Research limitations/implications: Data collection for the Panama Canal was limited to only historical data available from the literature as documentary investigation. The researchers visited the canal to get in-depth understanding of the construction practices and the scale of construction. However, for the Palm Diera project, data collection was limited to three key personnel interviews. Practical implications: The Americans were successful in completing the canal due to the US Government control on management and finances of the canal construction and lessons learned during the French construction period. The paper serves as a benchmark for project management dimension in two different regions in different times. The paper bears economic implications for the construction of the mega projects both in South America and the Middle East. Cost overrun construction of the Panama Canal during the French period influenced political spectrum in France resulting into the defeat of the government. During the American period of construction first time out of country visit by the sitting president of the USA reflects its economic and social importance. The valley of death was converted into the valley comfort during the American period resulting into social welfare of the workers. Completion of the canal by the Americans helped them secure operations of the Panama Canal for the next 100 years, contributing to its economic and naval strength. Social implications: The paper reveals that safety and social implications for the work place in two different regions and at two different times. The impact of safe and improved working conditions at Palm Diera Island resulted into no injury or loss of life, however, during the Panama Canal construction more than 30,000 workers died affecting not only families of the respective workers but their nations as well. The impacts of both the projects on the society were also significant. The public opinion against the construction of the canal during the French period of construction was so significant that they had to abandon their construction equipment at the site. On the contrary, completion of construction of the Panama Canal during the French period helped secured political mileage for President Roosevelt and his party. Originality/value: The paper benchmarks two different mega projects with different scope executed in two different regions at the lapse of a century. No such research work was found to have compared project management dimensions of two mega projects at the lapse of a century and in two different regions.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1675-1689
    Number of pages15
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


    • Benchmarking
    • Palm Diera Island
    • Panama Canal
    • Project dimensions
    • Project management
    • Risk management

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Business and International Management


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