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Why include megaprojects in BoK 7?

Over the past decades, the project management community has become used to understanding how projects work, and how multiple projects can be organised using programme management and/or portfolio management to ensure that beneficial outcomes are achieved for stakeholders.

Projects – defined by APM as “unique, transient endeavours, undertaken to achieve planned objectives which could be defined in terms of outputs, outcomes or benefits” – come in many shapes and sizes. There was a time when project ‘size’ would have been judged purely in terms of how much the project was going to spend, with the assumption that the higher the budget, the more difficult the project. This point of view has long been superceded and there is wide acceptance that project difficulty, often called complexity, is affected by a number of things.

In my previous blog post, we discussed projects as social systems and how the management of complex stakeholder relationships requires thinking about beyond planning to achieve something that is technically difficult, at large scale, or rapid pace. It’s clear though that some projects combine great technical difficulty, huge budgets and complex stakeholder relationships. It has become custom and practice to refer to these projects as ‘megaprojects’.

Some commentators would say that megaprojects are projects that will spend more than a certain amount of money (say $1bn), but to just comment on the money is to miss the point about the nature of megaprojects.

A definition that I find useful is "megaprojects are temporary endeavours (i.e. projects) characterised by: large investment commitment, vast complexity (especially in organisational terms), and long-lasting impact on the economy, the environment, and society". (Brookes and Locatelli, 2005)

If we think of the some of the projects that fall into this category, for example the Thames Tideway project, it’s clear that managing relationships with multiple funders and other stakeholders alongside undertaking large-scale, expensive and technically difficult work, and doing that in a way that meets time commitments and stakeholder requirements for safety, integrity and transparency, requires a particular set of organisational capabilities. You could argue that this is project management ‘at the edge’ – stretching all aspects of the profession to their limit – and therefore worthy of a topic to discuss how managing such projects might be different.

It is proposed therefore to include megaprojects as a topic within Body of Knowledge 7, alongside project, programme and portfolio. Not everyone agrees of course. There is a view that the complexities outlined above can be dealt with using a programme approach. Another point of view is that if megaprojects are included, so should ‘microprojects’ (for which I don’t have a definition). What do you think?

We are keen to listen to all voices from the profession. If you have something to say on the inclusion of megaprojects in Body of Knowledge 7, please do contribute your thoughts in our consultation on the seventh edition of the APM Body of Knowledge. There’s no need to answer every section, you can spend as much or as little time as you wish.

2 comments

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  1. Jon Broome
    Jon Broome 06 April 2018, 09:48 AM

    A couple of years ago, the idea of 'complex projects' was all the rage. Complex projects are likely to be higher in value (which is highly subjective to the organisation), likely to have numerous stakeholders because they affect economy, environment and society in some way and hence have a long term impact. It therefore seems to me that what you say is about mega-projects is just as relevant to complex projects. Indeed, mega-projects are just 'larger more' complex projects with same factors applying to, say, a public project for £10m in a small town, which might be a once in a generation investment for the community. Consequently, the BoK should focus more on the management of complex projects as the success factors involved will be much more relevant to those in the wider PM community. Just considering them under the banner of 'mega-projects' over £1bn may mean they are not read or considered relevant by the vast majority who manage projects under £1bn, when they are !

  2. Ian Heptinstall
    Ian Heptinstall 20 April 2018, 03:53 PM

    I think the idea of "complexity" can be helpful, but it needs some care. Most projects are actually "complex", or as systems Theory would have it, are "Complex Adaptive Systems". Whilst very large projects (mega- giga- etc) do have their own difficulties, I think it is mostly to do with scale and duration. The fundamentals of project management should apply just as much on a £1B project as Jon's £10M example. It could be argued that small projects, where the project manager and project team are not full-time and have other responsibilities, and where the project manager is also expected to be the designer, planner, cost manager, and commissioning manager, can be more difficult than one that can afford an army of specialists in each function.