Beijing National Stadium construction

After China had been selected to be the Olympic host in 2001 (XXIX Olympiad 2008), Beijing National Stadium was constructed for use throughout the 2008 Summer Olympics (Li et al., 2007). The massive steel skeletons are bent as a tightly-knit grid for the complex geometry of the outer space to create the illusion of the Bird’s Nest. The unique appearance created some challenges in making the stadium feasible. People around the world witnessed the memorable opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games held in the stadium. Therefore, the reputation of China depended on the success of the 2008 Olympic Games, and the success of the Beijing National Stadium was a major part of that. This paper will evaluate whether the Beijing National Stadium can be justified as a project and critically examine the relative success or failure of the Beijing National Stadium, as well as providing some recommendations.

It is important to distinguish why the Beijing National Stadium can be considered as a project. As defined by Charvat (2002), a project is temporary by nature. It has goals that need to be met involves multiple activities which need coordination and is unique. In addition, Charvat (2003) states that a project is a one-time event which has a start and an end date. A project can be scheduled and has defined cost and quality constraints within a certain scope. In addition, Lake, cited in Elearn (2005), suggested that “A project is a temporary endeavour involving a connected sequence of activities and a range of resources, which is designed to achieve a specific and unique outcome, which operates within time, cost and quality constraints and which is often used to introduce change”.

From the aforementioned definition, in order to build a bold, stand-out, world-class stadium with flexibility for future use, the resources, such as construction materials, workers and funds, are gathered to accomplish the construction. With a large and complex structure, the stadium depended intensively on collaboration between engineers, architects, designers and project organisers. To clarify that the Beijing National Stadium is a project, the characteristics of such an event can be simplified, as described in Table 1. From such evidences, the Stadium can be defined as a project. By considering the stadium as a project, it is one of the significant projects among the Olympic Games programme [1] held in Beijing. The success of the main stadium influenced the Olympics programme1 as a whole. It is necessary for the project manager to break down the project cycle and activities in order that proper strategic processes can be adopted and implemented in each phase. Understanding the project activities helps the project organiser in planning, operating and monitoring time, cost and quality, which are the main success criteria for a project.

The key stages and project life cycle of the national stadium according to Bennett (2003) are shown in Table 2. It provides an overall picture about what would be done during the project and applies different strategies to mitigate risk around the phases, including SWOT analysis [2] study (Kerzner, 2001). Moreover, performance indicators and benchmarks can be identified and effectively used (Hall and Holt, 2003).

Table 1: Project characteristics for the Beijing National Stadium

Project Characteristics

Beijing National Stadium


Being used as the main stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games.


It is a one-off endeavour. Once the goal is accomplished then it is ended. Construction estimated to take three years.

Specific start and end date

From 2001, the year that China was chosen to be the host of the Olympics, the pre-project phase was in progress. The stadium was scheduled to be completed in 2008.


The bird’s nest design makes the stadium different from other stadiums in terms of both its exterior and the way it was built.

Cost and quality constraints

Budget was set at £280 million with the quality specifically mentioned by the International Olympic Committee.

Composed of a sequence of activities

Planning, Execution of construction, Control and Monitoring are put in place to build the stadium. (Please see Table 2.)

Uncertainty in outcome

Outcome exposed to the risk of success or failure, which depends upon the efficiency in dealing with the complex design, coordination of responsible people, quality of the construction and other uncertainties.

Table 2: Beijing National Stadium cycle and project phases (Bennett, 2003)

Project closeout and Termination Phase





Project Mobilization and Operation Phase





Planning & Design Phase





Pre-Project Phase


Furthermore, another way to study project activities against a time schedule is a Gantt chart (see Table 3). By providing the sequence of the processes, resources planning and monitoring of progress can clearly be seen. For example, if the ground breaking could not finish on time, it would affect the following activities by delaying the schedule of other activities. In addition, it can be used as a means of communication for project activities by people who get involved in the project. As much as it benefits the project manager, it has some limitations. On the other hand, the project could be more complex and might not be able to be described effectively by a Gantt chart, as it does not mention dependencies between activities, or any constraints and risks during the project (Milosevic, 2003). In that instance, it would be useful and more efficient to look at the project by using different tools to cope with the overall activities of the project.

Table 3: Beijing National stadium construction phase Gantt chart

The outcome of the project can be either success or failure. Even though the feasibility of the project is studied before hand, there are still some uncertainties and risks which affect the project after it has been executed. In addition, there are different views on how to evaluate the success of a project. From Pinto and Slevin’s (1988) point of view, project success can be measured by such factors as time, budget, and project performance which could not be viewed separately as single items. Balancing those elements in the different stages of the project life cycle is the key element for a project in achieving its goal. One of the project manager’s goals is to minimise time and cost while increasing productivity on value (see Figure 4). In assessing the success of the project, time, cost and quality will be considered.

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The stadium was forced to be built on time, safely, within the budget and to a high quality (Liu et al., 2010). Finishing the stadium before the Olympic Games was the major factor of success, since the event could not be postponed, even by a day. Failure to meet the deadline would reflect the capability of the government and the country’s image. In terms of budget, the stadium faced a similar problem as other construction projects – that is, spending the money over the preset budgets. After the stadium roof design was taken off for safety reasons and to save costs, the budget was expected to be reduced by 22.3% from £280 million to £218 million. But the actual spending was still above the reduced budget at £250 million. However, it seems not that significant in measuring the success of the stadium, as overspending took place in order to ensure the quality of the stadium within the time constraint: 58% of the fund was supported by the government and the remaining investment came from financial institutions and private sectors, who willing to pay extra money because huge profit returns were foreseen.

Figure 4: Time Cost Quality Triangle

Building a high-quality project contributes to the trustworthiness of a project manager and contractors in respect of their potential to build quality guaranteed construction. This could be supported by Flanagan and Tate (1997), cited in Bowen et al. (2002), who state that from a client’s perspective, quality is defined as one of the components that contributes to “value for money”. China used the Olympics as an opportunity to show the country’s capacity in preparing such a prominent project. Its complex structure, designed by famous designers, depends highly on accurate calculation and careful argumentation. To create the bird’s nest illusion, high-quality steels were used to ensure that the structure was resistant to earthquakes, as China is surrounded by some of the deadliest fault lines (Lubow, 2006). In addition, the stadium’s retractable roof design plan was taken out for safety and cost reasons, due to the collapse of a roof at the Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris, which had the same roof structure as that designed for Beijing National Stadium. It also introduced a new cheaper and safer design (Balakrishnan, 2010). Lock (2003) stated that the “relationship between quality and cost is fraught with difficulties”. One can expect that high quality comes with a higher cost. However, the competition in bidding for the Beijing National Stadium project came up with contractors who offered reasonable prices with high quality. Furthermore, high quality provides low maintenance costs for the post-project period.


In addition people have a great deal of influence on the outcomes of a project. Stakeholder satisfaction, nowadays, must be taken into consideration. Lim and Mohamed (1999) stated that a construction project is some kind of social undertaking which will affect the society. In that instance, the views of different parties should be taken into account when evaluating project success. While the stadium is considered to be a success for one party, it could be miserable for another. In terms of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG), which can be regarded as the project manager, the Beijing National Stadium was a success. As part of the Beijing Olympics programme, ceremonies and sport events held in the stadium finished with admiration from people around the world. Nevertheless, to meet the project timeline, workers had many time constraints in making sure that the construction was completed on time. Some had to work continuously for more than 24 hours to complete the project. This brings with it human rights concerns and is part of the reason for protests in Beijing. However, the Chinese people and the project manager were grateful for the completion of the national stadium in the end.

By using TCQ measurement with regard to stakeholders to assess the project, it is obvious that the project was a success by the trade-off between those who were unsatisfied and the overall outcomes of the project, even though money was spent over the budget and not all of the stakeholders were satisfied with the project.

Furthermore, Avos (1984) claimed that the concentration of time, cost and quality are different in each phase of a project. During the early phase of a project, the schedule is of primary importance. Later in the project, cost becomes the controlling interest and after the project has been completed, quality then becomes the key concern. Learning how to balance those components seems to bring great success no matter what kind of project it is, including the construction of the Beijing National Stadium.

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In assessing the achievements of a project, other factors should be critically analysed in addition to those mentioned earlier. Wit (1988) explained that the measurement of progress, cost and quality is no doubt an essential part of project control, but this activity should certainly not be confused with the success of a project. Lim and Mohamed (1999) stated that the factors for project success are the set of circumstances, facts or influences which contribute to the project outcome. Although there are many theories that try to identify the factors of project success, the process is subjective and a judgment should be made based on how the factors affect the project in each circumstance. There are a lot of factors which impact the success of a project, and it is essential to put more focus on the dominant factors which drive the success of the project.

Another way to look at the success of a project is by examining the project over its cycle. Chan, Scott and Lam (2002) categorised the project cycle into pre-construction, construction and post-construction phases, and determined the factors that affect project success as objective and subjective measures (see Figure 6). Objective measures are easy to quantify. The stadium success can be measured by different phases of project cycle.

Pre-construction phase is more emphasis on planning. Time and cost budget is set. The roles of related parties, i.e. contractor, architect, engineer, designer and investors, are approved. Construction plan is study by considering resources, technologies. In the case of Beijing National stadium, construction methods were carried out after several feasible studied. It is not new phenomenon but the challenging is that these processes were done with constraint of time. For Beijing National Stadium, it took longer time in planning than expected. Design plan was sudden change in the middle of phase, the roof was removed which had sequence impact to other plan. This is due to major shareholder override the processes and project managers to have control over the stadium blueprint. Contractors were re-claiming their costs for the new design which is the factor driven cost to over budget. Moreover, when the construction contract was signed the design had not yet been finalised. Then contractors signed the contract on the price per square metres basis this leaded to argument when the design was changed. Regarding the stadium as the project in Olympics programme, some benefits had to contribute to overall Olympics programme for example Olympics organisers would like to build the central parking lot and commercial areas then the stadium had to reduce them down which causes the stadium to loss their profit generated.

During the construction phase, the success of stadium was surrounded by uncertainties. Working in competing with time increases some risks. With limited of time means everything should going on their tracks with less time spent. Technologies were brought in construction of the stadium both to keep the project on the schedule and produce productivity to the project while spent less time with more accuracy.

The stadium post construction success can be regarded by the future use, profitability returning to its shareholders, and satisfactory of stakeholders. Revenue comes from sponsors, broadcasting licence and tickets sold to spectators. Project manager gets the right to manage the stadium for 30 years with the plan to utilise it to hold special competition events such as world cup foot ball games, regular sport competition. The stadium is expected to generate the profit in long run for project manager. As discussed earlier that even not all stakeholders satisfied with the stadium during the stadium constructed. However, regarding to the final outcomes of the project, it was success. Chinese people satisfied with the enormity of the stadium, which made them proud. Contractors enjoyed the success of the timely completion of work. Project helped to create a good image for China.

With regard to factors in measuring the success of the project, the Stadium was a success to some extent. In terms of Pre-construction phase, it was regarded as a failure and not all parties were satisfied with the project. However, when trading-off between those measures, it seems to be a success. Accumulated knowledge from the past was also a factor driving the success of the project. The Olympic Games committee required the host country to prepare a report of learning which described the project, including tools for success and identification of the failures that could be improved upon in the next Olympics. China therefore gained such cumulative knowledge to adapt to its stadium construction.

Whilst project is identified as success, there are also risks which make difficulties for the project manager. Identifying the key risks can, to some extent, be as important as learning how the project is a success. The aspects which make the difficulties can then be explained.

The conflict among stakeholders is the major concern on the stadium. High level of collaboration and cooperation is significantly important for project team (Gido and Clements, 2009). Since the project was funded by the government and private partners to relieve the burden of funding (Liu et al., 2010), there were many interested parties who wanted to gain profitability from the money they invested. If different people have different goals and objectives, then the strategies used to manage the project need to be different. In cases where there are too many partners and each wants to promote its own interest, then it can be difficult to come up with a common agreement in decision making (ibid). The Beijing National Stadium project, which was exposed to public interests, experienced conflicts between project organisers and shareholders. The government, which held the major shares on the project, had control over the construction. Design was influenced by politics. The original design concept was to build a luxury stadium; however, after arguments from ordinary citizens, the design campaign was changed to something more traditional (ibid). The sudden change in the design plan delayed the project planning phase and wasted both time and money. Moreover, this put constraints on the project organiser’s ability to maximise the commercial & efficient use of the stadium (ibid).

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Figure 6: Assessment framework for project success of a design/build project

Source Chan A., Scott D. and Lam E. (2002). Framework of Success Criteria for Design/Build Projects. Journal of Management in Engineering, 18(3).

Even contractors have experience on managing the mega-project; there was little experience to deal with the innovation of building the stadium (Liu et al., 2010). The complex design, with a large steel structure, had never been constructed before in China They had to cope with using new technologies within a limited time to study more carefully how the project would be built in order that it was finished on time. The stadium structure needed accuracy of construction, and the limited time put pressure on the project manager, which affected other stakeholders such as contractors to hasten to do their work. Similar to Nehru Stadium which was collapsed as the poor quality, Beijing National Stadium was exposed to the risk that the quality is lower after the stadium is used for a while.

Furthermore, Long-term market for the stadium is somewhat of the problems. The stadium was built in the large-scale. Then it is difficult to find the events which suite to the size of stadium. As the roof of the stadium was taken off, the indoor activities could not be held when the weather condition does not facilitate; snowing or raining. Although the study of post project has been done, the uncertainty of economic use still exists.

The Beijing National Stadium can be considered as a successful project that accomplished its main objective of being the main stadium of the Olympic Games. The success can be seen in the pleasure of the president of the International Olympic Committee and other stakeholders. However, there were some troublesome aspects to the project. We can make a number of recommendations to improve the project, as follows.

Firstly, stakeholders should collaborate to ensure that the objective of the project can be accomplished. Thomsett (1990) stated that always keep others inform at all times: before and during project. The important decisions require side effect study before going on practical without being interfered with or influenced by one of the stakeholders. As the government, which was the main shareholder in the national stadium, had the influence over the design of the stadium, the design was changed from the original in the middle phase of planning, which caused time wasting and cost overrun. In the planning phase, or when important decisions are made, there should be discussion in order to reach agreement between stakeholders. This is supported by Gido and Clements (2009) that project manager should take part in communicate information and problems between partners. Moreover, understanding stakeholders drivers distress the dispute by gathering the expectation of each party and finding the way to compromise individual interest into mutual benefit.

Secondly, benchmark development should be used at the first stage of planning to ensure the feasibility of the project. The collapsing of the airport roof in France led to the change in the Beijing stadium structure – that is, the stadium’s roof was taken off. If such an incident had taken place after the stadium had been built, then there would have been no option to change the design for more safety.

Finally, cost-benefit should be considered in order that the stadium is utilised in the most effective way. It seems that the complex design and the huge capacity were used for the Olympics. However, after the Olympic Games, the stadium seemed to be too big for national sports. By removing the roof, the possibility of using the stadium as an indoor sports stadium or even as a convention hall for exhibitions was removed. Therefore, the stadium could have been built in a different way, with a less complex design but with more potential for the stadium to be utilised in future.

In conclusion, the Beijing National Stadium stood on its own feet with strong construction and offered Chinese people the biggest sports stadium in China. It brought a sense of pride to China’s citizens. Specific knowledge and good organisation, including the way the project managed to deal with uncertain circumstances by using the risk management concept, brought success to the project. I believe that the Beijing National Stadium project is a good example of a successful project and provides the benchmark for other project studies.

Appendix A Work Base Structure (WBS) by areas of construction

Beijing National Stadium



Outer Wings

Inner Wings

Outer Wings

Inner Wings

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