There may yet be a “smoking gun” in the Florida bridge debacle, defective materials or somesuch, but the more we learn, the more it appears to be simple incompetence. And the incompetence appears to be the involvement of unqualified but diverse managers at the decision-making level.
It’s said the real purpose of the project was to distribute “Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery” funds to coalitions favored by the Obama administration. The bridge itself was to be a gussied up showpiece for diversity in the workplace, but otherwise a no-brainer. Fussy adherence to the “masculine culture of academic rigor” meant reinforcing “gender, race, and class hierarchies in engineering”, therefore didn’t matter.
What mattered was placing Diversities in conspicuous, high-paying positions, the kind that hold news conferences with snappy artist’s conceptions and laser pointers and say “disadvantaged” a lot. Which means decision-making without the chops to make them.
Robust design has redundancies and safety margins to compensate for substandard components or faulty workmanship, or plain bad luck. Decision-makers know and abide by those standards, they’re the load-bearing walls of the project. Said differently, an airliner may be well fitted to its purpose, but it can’t survive a pilot who does aerobatics and flies it into the ground.
There’s an old saying, “engineering projects are never really done, they’re abandoned in a usable condition”. An overstatement of course, it means chaos neatly organized is chaos nonetheless. But a project isn’t a morality play, nor does the process have to be graceful and charming, only results count. Project managers are as relieved as anyone when the final snapshot of such chaos, frozen as-is in the final minute, conforms to requirements in all its particulars.
Engineering project management is known as “the meat grinder” for its uncompromising nature. You have one task, you get one chance. It’s a pass-fail proposition. The Mafia was more lenient. There are no excuses. There is no forgiveness or understanding. There is no negotiable fuzziness. This is why The Diversity is generally uninterested in such work, and women even less so.
Those who do pose as project managers unfailingly become innocent bystanders when It All Goes Wrong, as if “best effort” and good intent exempted them from responsibility. Absolution is given before the dust settles, also unfailingly, and the search for an alternative guilty party begins. Nothing serious should ever be attempted with this arrangement. When it is, someone will have a pedestrian bridge in Florida to sell.
More on Munilla Construction Management and the fatal collapse of the pedestrian foot bridge at Miami’s Florida International University. It appears the project was a federally-funded showcase for diversity in the workplace.
Sandra Rose – The lead engineer on the foot bridge project is a female, Leonor Flores, who is a graduate of FIU. MCM hailed Flores and her all-women design team in celebratory social media posts on Twitter.com in the hours before the deadly collapse. But critics say simple mathematics would have prevented the disaster in Miami.