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Academics identify 18 reasons why ‘megaprojects’ so often fail

Academics have identified 18 reasons why so-called megaprojects — like High Speed Two (HS2) and Crossrail — so often fail and propose 54 preventative solutions.

Researchers from University College London and the University of Sussex conducted the first comprehensive review of studies into megaproject performance.

From this, they have determined that there is no one single factor that brings such giant ventures to their knees — but have classified common causes into six themes.

The team — who collaborated with various project operators — hope that the findings will help future megaprojects be refined to address these weaknesses.

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Academics have identified 18 reasons why so-called megaprojects — like High Speed Two (HS2), pictured, and Crossrail — so often fail and propose 54 preventative solutions

Academics have identified 18 reasons why so-called megaprojects — like High Speed Two (HS2), pictured, and Crossrail — so often fail and propose 54 preventative solutions

WHAT ARE MEGAPROJECTS?

Megaprojects are large-scale construction or deconstruction ventures that often cost more than $1 billion (£766 million).

They are difficult to manage given their typical large scale and  complexity — as well as their complex relationships with local communities, governments and the environment.

Megaprojects customarily take years.  

Examples might include the building of airports, railways, motorways, power plants or aerospace projects. 

‘Considering the importance of megaprojects to the global economy, we aimed to deepen and extend our understanding of the causes and cures of poor megaproject performance,’ said paper author and project management expert Juliano Denicol.

‘We have emphasised the solutions rather than problems, in an attempt to shape the academic conversation to a more positive discourse and connect with the needs of senior managers delivering megaprojects.’

In their study, Dr Denicol and colleagues reviewed more than 6,000 academic papers on megaprojects before whittling these down to 89 studies which they analysed in close detail.

The researchers identified six key themes in the management of megaprojects.

These were decision-making behaviour; strategy, governance and procurement; risk and uncertainty; leadership and capable teams; stakeholder engagement and management; supply chain integration and coordination.

The team then explored their findings with other academics as well as senior industry representatives from UK-based mega projects including Crossrail, HS2, the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station and the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

From their analysis, the researchers have proposed five future areas in which megaprojects might be improved to help ensure successful deliveries.

These are building collaborations, bridging the gap with manufacturing, designing the system architecture, engaging institutions and communities and breaking down into small projects and integrating the supply chain.

Researchers from University College London and the University of Sussex conducted the first comprehensive review of studies into megaproject performance. Pictured, an artist's impression of a High Speed 2 train

Researchers from University College London and the University of Sussex conducted the first comprehensive review of studies into megaproject performance. Pictured, an artist’s impression of a High Speed 2 train

Academics have determined that there is no one single factor that brings such giant ventures as HS2, pictured here with British PM Boris Johnson, to their knees — but have classified common causes 

‘The success of megaprojects is vital to economies across the world,’ said Peter Hansford, the UK Government’s former Chief Construction Adviser.

‘But all too frequently, they fail to satisfy their objectives in material respects —sometimes with very serious social and economic consequences.’

‘It is therefore of urgent importance to understand why megaprojects underperform and what needs to be done to prevent them doing so.’

‘This systematic literature review points the way to answering these crucial questions and proposes a clear research agenda to inform future megaproject success. It is an impressive piece of work.’

The team — who collaborated with various project operators, including those from the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, pictured under construction — hope that the findings will help future megaprojects be refined to address these weaknesses

The team — who collaborated with various project operators, including those from the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, pictured under construction — hope that the findings will help future megaprojects be refined to address these weaknesses

‘This is an excellent piece of research,’ Association for Project Management president Sue Kershaw said.

‘The findings are neatly themed and the proposals that future research should be more systemic is welcome.’

‘We at HS2 were pleased to contribute to what is an impressive and exhaustive piece of research into the world of megaprojects, covering both the practical and academic arenas,’ said HS2 Ltd chief executive officer Mark Thurston.

‘What is really crucial is it has concluded on some key themes that those of us who wrestle with these challenges every day can apply as a useful guide to help drive success, something that both the profession and wider society will benefit from.’ 

The full findings of the study were published in the Project Management Journal

In their study, Dr Denicol and colleagues reviewed more than 6,000 academic papers on megaprojects before whittling these down to 89 studies which they analysed in close detail. Pictured, work on a Crossrail — or Elizabeth Line — platform at Paddington

In their study, Dr Denicol and colleagues reviewed more than 6,000 academic papers on megaprojects before whittling these down to 89 studies which they analysed in close detail. Pictured, work on a Crossrail — or Elizabeth Line — platform at Paddington

The team then explored their findings with other academics as well as senior industry representatives from UK-based mega projects including Crossrail (pictured), HS2, the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station and the Thames Tideway Tunnel

The team then explored their findings with other academics as well as senior industry representatives from UK-based mega projects including Crossrail (pictured), HS2, the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station and the Thames Tideway Tunnel

EXAMPLES OF THE WORLD’S MOST MASSIVE MEGAPROJECTS 

THE WORLD’S LARGEST AIRPORT 

Daxing International Airport in Beijing, China, completed in June 2019

Pictured, the Daxing International Airport in Beijing

Pictured, the Daxing International Airport in Beijing

THE WORLD’S LONGEST RAILWAY TUNNEL 

The Gotthard Base Tunnel, Switzerland, opened June 2016

Pictured, the Gotthard Base Tunnel under development

Pictured, the Gotthard Base Tunnel under development 

TEN CITIES CONNECTED 

California’s High Speed Rail, in the United States, under development

Pictured, an artist's impression of California's High Speed Rail

Pictured, an artist’s impression of California’s High Speed Rail

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