Knowing my passion for project management, my son sent me this book some time ago. However, on briefly flipping the pages and stopping to look at the dozen or so photographic plates in the middle, I concluded: "Oh well, just another book on the marvels of the pyramids in Egypt". And so I put it on the pile for later reading. How wrong I was.
In fact, the goal of author Craig B. Smith has been to document what he has discovered about what it must have taken to build this great historic monument some 45 centuries ago. More significant perhaps is that, as his biography shows, Craig has a wealth of experience in managing the construction of large complex projects in other words, construction program management in today's world.
As Craig explains it:
"My interest lies in the engineering and construction of the Great Pyramid, and that coincides with my own experience and expertise. Since a substantial part of the pyramid is still standing albeit it in a slightly damaged condition it is possible to examine the construction and determine how some of the tasks were undertaken and executed. The same is true of the architecture and engineering and design.
"This type of 'forensic analysis' can only be carried so far, however, then one encounters a gap in solid information and findings. I decided to investigate this gap with the modern tools available to someone who plans and manages large public works projects. By means of this approach, bits and pieces of factual data can be assembled, and models can be developed that lead to a reasonably good understanding of how the project was implemented.
"Certain assumptions must also be made for example, how many loads of soil or sand could an ancient Egyptian laborer haul per day? Fortunately, these things can be estimated with a good degree of accuracy. When we are less certain, a technique called 'sensitivity analysis' can be used to check how sensitive the final result is to the analysis. If large changes in the estimate do not change the final outcome, then the model is said to be insensitive to that particular parameter."
Craig goes on to observe:
"Very little is directly known about the key players in the Great Pyramid drama about their families, jobs, daily routines, frustrations, challenges. But based on my personal experience with large public works projects, I know that every day brings a little drama. Things don't go well, designs have errors, materials do not meet specifications or are not delivered on time, schedules slip, accidents happen, budget problems arise.
Communication and coordination are frequently cited as the major causes of problems. The need to resolve these issues is integral to every complex project. These same challenges undoubtedly faced the builders of the Great Pyramid. The details make the story more interesting, lend a degree of realism, and make the ancient Egyptians' accomplishments all the more impressive."
As one who has also worked on large public works projects in the last 60 years, how true these remarks all sound. And the similar memories it brings back about the daily challenges we faced, not least of which were in managing the work force. While today we have a large variety of mechanical equipment to carry out a large part of the "labor" work that helps to accelerate progress, it seems that the principles of management have changed very little.
With this realization, I have now read the book with great fascination as it features so many aspects that I, myself, have experienced in my own career. I suggest that this is a must-read book for any young engineers contemplating entering the field of large construction projects. Or, for that matter, older engineers who will enjoy the authors' company.
About the author
Craig B. Smith is former president of Daniel, Mann, Johnson, Mendenhall, Holmes & Narver, a global engineering, architecture, and construction firm that has been involved in many major public works projects, including the renovation of the Pentagon before and after 9/11. He holds a Ph.D. in engineering from UCLA, where he was an assistant professor of engineering and assistant director of the Nuclear Energy Laboratory. His work on the Great Pyramid was featured on A&E's broadcasting station as The Great Builders of Egypt and on PBS's station as the Lost Cities of the Pyramids.
1. Author's Note, p10
2. Ibid, p11
3. Whether they are called "large projects", or more correctly "capital programs".