To the End Zone



60 percent
The amount workload increased as a result of scope creep

US$450 million
The increase in the budget as a result of scope creep

The playing surface is about the only standard aspect of the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, USA. Featuring the largest video board in the world, the planet's largest freestanding roof and enough high-end amenities to make a monarch blush, the stadium is redefining the sports experience for fans.

“We joke that it's an expensive house that a football game breaks out in eight times a year,” says Mark Penny, project executive at Manhattan Construction Company, Dallas, Texas, USA, and the project manager for the stadium construction.

With a capacity of more than 100,000 people, the US$1.1 billion stadium is the new home of the National Football League's (NFL's) Dallas Cowboys—but it also will play host to basketball games, soccer and boxing matches, rodeos and rock concerts. Next month, it will host the Super Bowl, one of the main goals of the project.

Though the Cowboys weren't slated to play on their new field until 2009, Manhattan Construction began developing a long-range project schedule in 2001. The company received a construction contract from the team in 2005 and broke ground the next year.


As construction progressed, the project team managed, at the peak, more than 100 subcontractors and almost 2,200 employees, as well as vendors in 10 states and 12 countries. It also had to adapt to some serious scope creep that saw the total workload increase by 60 percent and the budget climb by US$450 million.

Manhattan Construction built significant lead time into each step in the schedule, allowing the team to adjust to any design changes without interrupting work. That decision proved vital, as the original design went through 300 revisions, with 5,500 clarifications made to the drawings. Early on, for example, the excavation depth changed from 25 to 50 feet, rendering the original 36 months budgeted for that stage inadequate. By working with the city of Arlington, which was responsible for purchasing and clearing the land, the team was able to begin excavation early, and the project's end date remained unchanged.

“We knew we were going to have to deal with drawings of the interior design elements that were always evolving,” Mr. Penny says. “There was so much work to do on the excavation, working on the foundation piers and on the steel, so we were not concerned with the carpet at that point. There was no way to know there'd be Italian marble in the suites when we were digging dirt.”


The overall structure of the stadium was designed and built to maximize flexibility for the interior details, which took years to finalize in some cases.

“The structure was robust enough to handle anything the owners wanted to do,” says Jack Hill, stadium general manager and director of stadium construction at Cowboys Stadium, part of the Dallas Cowboys organization. “We may have spent more money up front than we normally would have to make the structure more adaptable, but that would benefit us knowing that the interior would change.”

The team held weekly review meetings, enabling it to coordinate every aspect of the project and ensure that each time one part changed, the effect on the other related processes would be assessed. In addition, the project management team held monthly risk-management meetings.

“The key to managing any project like this is communication,” Mr. Hill says. “We spent a lot of time in meetings—so much that it may have seemed like overkill. But we wanted to anticipate any cost or scheduling issues before they occurred.”

The number of revisions the original design went through


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img 153 acres (62 hectares) The total site footprint

The retractable roof presented a number of problems—as well as opportunities. The entire roof structure had to cover 660,000 square feet (61,316 square meters), and just over 100,000 square feet (9,290 square meters) of that was designed to retract. The mechanism that opened and closed the roof had never before been used. To ensure it worked properly, Mr. Penny had asked the vendor to conduct extensive failure testing using a prototype of the mechanism.

Dealing with vendors from as far away as China and Australia meant the management team had to state explicitly what it wanted. “You have to be very clear on the expectations and standards,” Mr. Penny says. That meant photographing Italian marble before it was quarried to ensure its quality, and creating mock-ups of glass systems, block and stone walls, flooring and other components for review before full production.


Heading problems off at the pass was particularly important on a megaproject with a particularly demanding stakeholder: Jerry Jones, the Cowboys’ owner, who is famous for his hands-on approach.

Mr. Jones was a frequent visitor to the construction site and was involved in even the smallest details. One day, he called the project team to his house to discuss appointments for the stadium's 300 luxury suites. Mr. Jones insisted that the woodgrain in each suite be continuous, which meant trees had to be cut in the exact order in which they would be used.

With such a vocal stakeholder, the management team instituted a policy: “All along the way, we made sure not to over-promise,” Mr. Hill says. “There were times when we had to deliver bad news, and we tried to make sure that everybody was aware. We didn't want to sugarcoat anything.”

Mr. Jones put a priority on creating the ultimate fan experience, and that goal led to what became the centerpiece of the stadium: a high-definition video board, which at 72 feet (22 meters) tall, 160 feet (49 meters) wide and 600 tons, is the largest of its kind. Because this would be the NFL's first video screen hung above the field rather than in the end zones, the project team was unsure of the correct size that would give fans the best possible view without overwhelming them. To determine proper dimensions, the team hung a giant soccer net from construction cranes with various possible screen dimensions taped off. They then looked at the possibilities from every angle to make the final determination. Two smaller video screens near the end zones complement the mid-field video board.

“It's nice to work for an owner who knows what he wants,” Mr. Penny says. “It was challenging to achieve, but he was clear what the goal was. For us that's easier than the other way, where the construction is easier but the owner is unsure of his or her goals.”


It's nice to work for an owner who knows what he wants. It was challenging to achieve, but he was clear what the goal was.

—Mark Penny, Manhattan Construction Company, Dallas, Texas, USA

Mr. Jones also wanted, in Mr. Penny's words, “press, but not bad press.” That meant the project team had to maintain a high level of openness when dealing with the media. Mr. Penny, Mr. Hill and others involved in the construction participated in interviews, conducted tours and sat in on press conferences.


Despite all the outside attention and scope creep, one thing never changed: the deadline for completion. The Cowboys were slated to open the home exhibition season on 21 August 2009, with the regular-season opener slated a month later. Prior to that, there were also “soft opening” events scheduled, including a country music concert and a soccer match.


We may have spent more money up tront than we normally would have to make the structure more adaptable, but that would benefit us knowing that the interior would change.

—Jack Hill, Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas, USA

The last three months leading up to the 27 May ribbon-cutting ceremony were grueling, Mr. Penny attests. The raw steel for the roof's support arches—each spanning more than a quarter-mile (0.4 kilometers) in length—was put in place just six months before the opening. This meant that much of the interior construction had to take place at the same time. Project team members put a waterproof coating over the seating-bowl floor, acting as a de facto roof and allowing work to proceed.

At one point during the roof construction, 17 cranes were working above the building, requiring an “air space coordinator” to keep in radio contact with each crane operator to prevent collisions.

At peak construction, nearly 2,200 employees were working on-site, and in the final three months, each worker logged an average of 60 hours per week, with management staff exceeding that.

To ensure the team didn't depart from its fundamental project management practices, Mr. Penny maintained a rigid monitoring and controlling process. He held weekly meetings with team members on the job site to review the progress reports of the various systems, and the company's senior management reviewed the entire project every month.

Juggling a multitude of tasks and workers also required a disciplined approach to risk management. With so many repetitive tasks in the project, complacency became an issue. After several incidents, the team re-emphasized its risk breakdown structure, and the project finished above the industry standard for safety.

“We use the same processes as A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), just with different language,” Mr. Penny says. “We say owners compared to stakeholders, for example, or budget versus scope, but the processes are quite similar.”


30 million
The number of LEDs (light-emitting diodes) used on the video board

The stadium's capacity

The stadium played host to more than 60,000 country music fans, including many of the project team members, at its first official event on 6 June. Then, on 20 September, 105,121 fans packed the stadium for the first regular-season game, setting an NFL attendance record. The stadium also broke the record for the largest crowd at a basketball game, with 108,000-plus turning out for the NBA's All-Star Game in February.

The ability to host a wide variety of events was important to Mr. Jones. Though the Cowboys football games were always the megaproject's top priority, “the idea was to make it as flexible as possible,” Mr. Penny says. The video board can be lowered to 25 feet (7.6 meters) above the field for tennis matches, for instance, or raised to 90 feet (27 meters), which allowed the facility to accommodate the band U2's enormous stage.

The Cowboys Stadium megaproject set out to please its largest stakeholder group—the fans—and created a world-class venue that gives attendees of plenty to cheer about. PM

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