Gaudi, Sagrada Familia and Lessons for Project Management

It’s hard to put into words the feeling of walking into Sagrada Familia.  The sheer scale of it is awe-inspiring. Yet every surface is covered in intricate details and tells an important part of a greater story.  The nativity façade, the passion façade and the glory façade, all work together to convey the full gamut of human (and, arguably, divine) emotions and experiences.  Whilst the building itself is all in monochromatic stone, the reflection of lights cast from the stained glass windows is mesmerising and ever changing.

Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece is still under construction after more than a century, with work commencing in 1882.  What vision he must have had to conceive this gargantuan project! No doubt he faced much doubt, criticism and opposition.  Whilst he had enormous success as an architect, many of his project plans never left the pages of his design sketchbook.  Even more surprising to me, is that following Gaudi’s tragic death (sadly, he was hit by a tram at age 74 in 1926) his project lived on, with completion of Sagrada Familia anticipated for 2026 (to mark the 100 year anniversary since Gaudi’s death).

We live in a culture of impatience.  Our definition of ‘immediate results’ shortens and shortens, and the pressure to meet stringent timeframes with no room for error, resulting in many workplace projects having very little genuine impact.  Whilst agility drives responsiveness, it also appears to be code for ‘shortcut’ as project managers face enormous pressure to achieve big results within increasingly tight time and cost parameters.  Technically of course, the delivered project meets the project specification, and good project managers can do their best to maximise impact (making the most of what they have delivered) quite effectively.  But on the ground, many projects have minimal effect on mindset, behaviour and ‘the way we do things around here‘.  Why?  Not because the project managers haven’t done well. But because shifts in mindset and behaviour can only be achieved with time.

We see it in politics, in our organisations and even in our school system.  Time equals money, and yesterday’s solution is already outdated.  But what’s the cost of our organisations focusing on quick wins, agility and targeting low hanging fruit?   Are we lacking the vision, determination and perseverance to build our organisations for the long-term future?  With our rush for results, rarely do we take the time to embed new systems, processes and cultural changes, all of which are necessary as a result of project change.  This is the equivalent of building 90% of the bridge and not finishing the final 10%.

After seeing any of Gaudi’s work, we may be inspired to ask ourselves ‘What real impact will this work have in the future?’. It occurs to me that Gaudi’s legacy is not in the beautiful buildings and spaces he has created in Barcelona.  It is in the Spanish people’s patience and appreciation as they support something that will be there for centuries, for future generations. This patience and appreciation is an enviable quality of Spanish culture, whether it be applied over a leisurely three hour Spanish lunch, or the joy of a football match which seems to start hours or days before the game and end well into the next day.  I like to think that Gaudi’s cathedral has helped shape Spanish culture, and Spanish culture has helped shape Gaudi’s cathedral.  

If we truly want to be visionary in our work, where should we spend time and money investing in long term projects?  Some important questions may include:

 – Will this work impact our clients, staff or community in 10, 20, 100 years’ time?
– Does this work reflect our values and unique strengths as an organisation?
– Will this genuinely create a shift or shape in culture, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours on the ground?

It will take a lot of courage for managers and leaders to speak up and be honest about the impact we can realistically expect with under-funded, under-resourced and rushed projects and work deliverables.  The question is, is it worth speaking up?

This blog is part of a series written while travelling overseas on a gap year with my husband Jay, my son Hayden, and my daughter Bronte.  It’s a challenging, daunting and at times extremely rewarding journey to open our minds and hearts, and to come home more capable than we left.  From a business perspective, it is an opportunity to gain a new perspective to make Within Consulting a stronger and more unique organisation which can support our diverse and varied clients into the future.

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