Roadmap for Constructing Titanic: Project Management

Categories: Project Management


White Star Chairman Bruce Ismay met Harland and Wolff’s Chairman Lord Pirrie and they together decided to build a huge fast moving fleet. This was their vision. It was expected then to be the most expensive and the largest fleet ever built. The reason for initiating the project was to capture the target market of customers who desire luxury instead of just having great speed. It comprised of that era’s state-of-the-art technology.

The benefits identified were reaching breakeven in just two years. The first class of the large commercial ship was to generate 75% of the total revenue. Funds for the project were acquired from J.P. Morgan, who was that time’s richest man in the world. They had decided to build a third ship which was to be funded by the revenue generated from the first two.

The first two ships were built together. A total cost fixed cost of $3m and $15m for repair was allocated.

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The workforce consisted of 3000 members. Thomas Andrews was the appointed project manager and he included the top-line technologies to improve safety. The Olympic’s first voyage and Titanic’s launch were on the same day. Due to several incidents with the Olympic that needed repairs, the completion of Titanic project was delayed, this caused serious financial losses.

Titanic went on its first voyage in 1912 with 53 millionaires on board. After Titanic received its certificate it went on sail to the Atlantic. It travelled at full speed until they got close to the Iceberg Alley.

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The officers neglected all the warnings passed on to them through the feedback systems. Titanic had hit an iceberg but without any visible damages. Ismay being pessimistic and to gain publicity ordered to set sail the ship once again. This caused the plates of the ship to be further damaged and hence Titanic started to flood. No one ever expected it to sink and Titanic was claimed and marketed as being “Unsinkable”. The crew members were not even prepared to handle such a disastrous situation.

Ismay was asked to make himself present for the hearings in New York. The fact that he ordered to set sail the Titanic once again even after it had crashed into the iceberg never came up and the court shifted the blame on to the Board of Trade and Captain Lord of California. Hence Ismay went away with manslaughter and was saved by the United Kingdom government from his reputation being destroyed and from bankruptcy. This was all done due to the fact that World War I was imminent in the near future and UK needed large ships for carrying troops and materials.


Construction of Titanic was started on 31 March 1909 by Harland and Wolff of Belfast.

The cost incurred to build Titanic was around $7,500,000 which was financed by J Bruce Ismay.

It took 26 months for the construction of Titanic to be completed, which was launched on 31 May 1911.

The Titanic was claimed to be “practically unsinkable” in 1911 by Harland and Wolff, in shipbuilder magazine, describing construction of the ship.

17 people died in the process of construction of Titanic and Olympic.

During its construction any proposed change in design was to be discussed at a meeting of department heads of Harland and Wolff.

Titanic’s maiden voyage was delayed due to an accident of Olympic causing a collision with Royal Navy Cruiser Hawke.

Titanic’s sea trial started on 2nd April 1912 which conducted different handling characteristic tests.

Titanic’s maiden voyage from Southampton to United States began on 10th April 1912.

Titanic had only 20 lifeboats having a capacity of 1178 people, half to the total passengers of the ship.

On 13th April messages were received on Titanic, warning about large amount of icebergs.

The Titanic sank on 15th April at 2:20 am after being hit by the iceberg.

From the 2224 people on board only 710 were saved while 1514 people lost their lives in the tragedy.


The titanic project was undertaken and viewed with a project management lens. As we know the typical project management life cycle or the project cycle management constitutes of the following 5 steps namely




Monitoring and controlling


The project to build Olympic-class ships was also focused on the 9 knowledge areas whereby keeping in view the project life cycle phases. Though the project as a whole was followed according to the core and facilitating knowledge areas to a great extent but there still remained some negativity or flaws in the project. Following were the project phases

Project initiation

Project planning



Testing (planning and execution)

Implementation and operation


Ismay along with the chairman of well-known ship builder, Lord Pirrie outlined the strategy for imitating the project of a new linear fleet. The project was carefully undertaken keeping in view stakeholders and CUSTOMERS NEED i.e. to build a ship that would improve the services other fleets were lagging in behind, the focus was on luxury, increased speed and capacity. The suppliers, vendors were also contacted and the new emerging technologies were being incorporated in the making and building up of the ship. PROJECT OBJECTIVES were drawn up keeping in mind customers need i.e. to build 3 ships initially and the revenue generated from first 2 ships would be used to build the third one.

All the knowledge areas were followed in the implementation of the project. As far as the WORK BREAKDOWN STRUCTURE is concerned, they used analogous technique for that purpose. Each activity i.e. construction, design, fittings, trials and maiden voyage were allocated durations. First two ships were built in parallel (Olympic and Titanic). Best QUALITY STANDARDS were used and incorporated in the procurement of materials to be used. The sponsors provided a total design and workforce team for the project, 3000 in number. Everyone was assigned their respective RESPONSIBILITIES pertaining to financials, operation and marketing etc. As far as MANAGING THE RISKS of the project were concerned, the risks for the project were divided into different categories. Technical, quality, cost, time, scope as well as external risks were identified. For the procurement of materials, contract was signed with the well-known ship-builders, Harland and Wolff.


The management was experienced but they were very over confident that the ship could not sink which was one of the reasons for the ship to sink.

Their decision making was not based on proper research, instead, on marketing and gaining popularity. They did not focus more on the safety aspect and wanted to create a very luxurious cruise ship which would attract more customers. Had they made the right decision in the start, i.e. not to redesign the ship, the accident could have been averted.

Another loop hole in the management was that the crew was not very well trained. This again did not help when the ship had to be evacuated and it took more time than usual, which resulted in more deaths.

The inability to think that more life boats would be required to evacuate the total passengers (around 3000) was another technical failure in the project. Again the management decided to pay the opportunity cost of good looks with safety. Initially 48 life boats were stacked which was very well done by the designers because they did not want to compromise on the safety at any cost but again due to poor management decision making the life boats were reduced to 20.

There weren’t many technical problems or blunders in the project which led to the sinking of Titanic, but more of poor management. The ship was built so well that it had the ability to survive a head on collision and evacuate all its customers if the warning and evacuation started early.

Telephones were installed in all the important areas which would make communication easier and in case of any disaster it would help save time, but still, the communication process was very poor.


Titanic was a ship which was labeled as practically unsinkable. This over-confidence was also a major reason for the destruction of titanic. There were many blunders which led to this disaster and we can’t blame the captain or Ismay for this, rather all people in the hierarchy were responsible for this and are to be blamed.

First of all, the attitude and communication level between the upper management i.e. captain and sailing crew with the people in radio room and crow’s nest was terrible. They communicated the threat but no one took it seriously and that is where they made a huge mistake. The captain was told that an ice berg is approaching but he did not listen and then people in the crow’s nest did not even possess the basic tools such as binoculars for locating threat.

Another mistake was to set sail again once you have been hit and that was the decision made by Ismay. He did not care about the ships safety or the safety of the people on board but instead was more interested in wanting the titanic to save itself and reach US.

Again another communication blunder was made by the radio room. When Philips, the radio man, was alerted by a nearby ship about the ice berg he replied by giving a shut up call because he was too busy receiving and sending telegrams of the passengers.

The speed of the ship at the time of collision was 22 knots and that is very fast if you are traveling in an area full of ice bergs. Ismay wanted to reach New York as fast as he could and thus another wrong decision made by him led to the unwanted disaster.

Another mistake by Ismay was that he only listened to the first group’s assessment which came back after reassessing the damage; he should have waited for the second party before making a decision on the basis of his assumptions and negligence, regarding the safety to set sail again.

There was no unity what so ever in the whole crew, they were not communicating well at all, and for a project to be successful, it is very important that you have a team which works well together and knows it goals and duties, but that was totally not the case with Titanic.

In the end we can say that you need to focus on all the little things that don’t seem that important at the time, because these small things add up to become a big problem in the future. That is exactly what happened with Titanic, little mistakes and problems all added up and created a the biggest unexpected disaster.


The best practices that should have been followed to make the huge project fool proof and avoid such a tragedy are as follows:


Several milestones should have been identified in the project. At every stage gate, the previous stage should have involved a thorough review of what has been achieved, whether there was any variance from the planned activity/output, whether appropriate measures were taken to minimize the variance.

Therefore, measurable milestones should have been set to avoid problems that caused the disaster. For example, the number of life boats mandatory on the ship should have been decided precisely and as per requirement rather than assumption about the ship being unsinkable. There should’ve been proper documented reasoning for reducing the number of boats from 48 to 20, and the overall enhancement of the ship’s outlook was not at all a professional reasoning.

So, adherence to milestones is critical to the success of a project.


Jack Phillips ignored the message that could have saved his life and the life of hundreds by focusing on messages that weren’t as important. Since there was a serious communication gap between the relevant parties, Phillips never received the ice berg warning the ship was trying to send.

Therefore, if a proper channel of communication was defined as to who is responsible to carry out what kind of information to whom through what medium, this communication lapse could’ve been avoided. Phillips would have known the importance of the message coming from nearby ships and he would not have ignored them the way he did.


If enough members of the team encounter enough distractions, the project gradually falls behind and eventually fails. This is exactly what happened with Titanic.

There is no doubt about the fact that the ships officers and crew were at fault for their casual attitude towards things that held the most importance, as far as project management is concerned. They were not focused on the tasks assigned to them. If they were assigned for a task to be the best suited for it, they should’ve acted responsibly. It was their duty to be aware about the risks associated with travelling through the ‘Iceberg Alley’ and so, should’ve focused more on wireless operators rather than passenger messages. Therefore, this highlights another hazard of project management: that of being distracted.


Another thing that added to the collision was the irresponsibility of the lookouts who were responsible to look out for ice bergs in the region. The look outs were ill equipped as they did possess the basics that their job required: the binoculars. They had forgotten their binoculars back at the Southampton where they had begun their voyage, and their absence made it impossible for them to spot an ice berg at a distance. Therefore, this adds up to another project management hazard of not employing the right people for the team.


The chairman of the ship himself, ordered for a scope creep to take place whereas he should have been the one avoiding it. The company’s strategy was to emphasize luxury, not speed, as a selling point. Yet during voyage, White Star chairman J. Bruce Ismay reportedly pressured Captain Edward Smith to increase speed. This higher speed quite likely contributed to the collision, in preventing the ship and crew from reacting quickly enough. Therefore, it is important to be sure that the customer/manager understands the implications of a requested change, the implications of a wrong change and a change at the wrong time.

Cite this page

Roadmap for Constructing Titanic: Project Management. (2016, Aug 14). Retrieved from

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