PM film review: Locke

Locke is a film starring Tom Hardy which focusses on a constructexperiencing a personal crisis at a critical moment in a high rise building project.

The day before the concrete foundations are poured is a critical point where a site manager needs to manage all kinds of risks. This involves performing last minute checks and taking remedial action if needed. Delays are extremely costly and in Locke’s project, the total cost of delays on the day of the concrete pour is in the region of 100 million dollars if all of the risks materialise. Understandably, there is a lot of scrutiny from the project sponsor. In the film, the sponsoring organisation is remote (Chicago) from the project itself (Birmingham). There is a huge reliance on the experience of the site manager, Ivan Locke, who has worked for the organisation for fifteen years and is regarded as a ‘safe pair of hands’.

The film features, the night before the major concrete pour, when Locke, facing a personal crisis, decides to drive to London rather than perform all the last minute site checks. It is clear that one of the largest risks to the project is the availability of the site manager himself and this has been overlooked by the contractor.

The film takes place entirely in Locke’s car on his epic drive where he attempts to deal with his personal crisis as well as handing over the project to his next in command and dealing with his irate employer. We see the need for the site manager to remain calm and deal with many different stakeholders, most of them extremely emotional. He also needs to instill confidence in his colleague who is taking over the project at the last minute and help him to manage the risks which have materialised.

The film raises questions about the pressure and responsibility associated with project management of large projects. If this becomes focussed on a single individual, the project is vulnerable if this individual is suddenly unavailable. How can organisations ensure that the project knowledge is distributed and accessible so the responsibility can be shared and understood by others? Effective knowledge management is part of risk management.

It also raises questions about how the pressure associated with project management can affect the lives of individuals. Locke is portrayed as a professional project manager, solid and reliable until the point at which his neglected personal issues threaten to overwhelm him. Although managing project risks, he has allowed his personal issues to escalate to the point of crisis. Relationships with co-workers and family members are strained to breaking point as Locke tries to fix everything himself, seeking help only at the last minute.

There are many issues to reflect on in the film such as the boundary between personal and professional world, the meaning of personal integrity and the limits of professional responsibility. Highly recommended viewing for professional project managers and their employers.

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