Governing mega-projects towards public value management

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Posted by APM on 12th Dec 2014

A mega-project is, as the name suggests, a project on an extremely large scale. They typically cost in the hundreds if not thousands of millions of pounds and are likely to have major impacts on local communities as well as the environment and even national budgets.

mega projects UCLAN banner

There are, of course, projects which are large scale and projects which are complex, but the difficult thing about the mega-project is that it is both extremely large and extremely complex. The Olympics springs to mind, as does HS2 or the decommissioning of a nuclear reactor as prime examples of the mega in a project. The opportunity for something to go wrong grows exponentially along with size and complexity, and mega-projects have a reputation for going over budget and over time. Examples like the NHS digital records project; the Scottish Parliament building and the Channel Tunnel are still used as well-worn examples.

For the practising project manager the opportunity to lead a mega-project must represent reaching the highest point in their professional life like being England team captain in the World Cup great if things go well and really awful if they dont. The BBC controversially sacked the person who led their digital mediainitiative, which was described by Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts as a complete disaster costing 100 million of fee-payers money.

However, when things go right, mega-projects deliver value and benefits on a mega-scale which is why, of course, businesses and governments want to undertake them.

This conference at the beautiful Westlakes conference centre gave brilliant insights into how to run mega-projects successfully with guidance from Martyn Lass of Atkins and John Clarke and Kenna Kintrea of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority explaining how to go about successfully running the Olympic games or cleaning up decades of radioactive material without ending up in front of the Public Accounts Committee. Or, at least, if one does end up in the hot seat, how to explain to the Committee the difficulties of doing mega-things. And, to add an extra frisson of fear and excitement, there was a video address by Margaret Hodge the doyen of the Public Accounts giving the clients view on mega-projects.

Also giving guidance on handling the mega was Nick Taylor of Outperform and Sarah Purdham of Prima Uno Planning and Programming, explaining how judicious use of consultants with specialised skills can help with mega-governance. The chair of the APM Planning, Monitoring and Control SIG, Stephen Jones, explained how governance could be made effective by planning, monitoring and controlling; and academics, Rick Wylie, Jack Goulding, Champika Liyanage and John Fyfe of UCLan added interesting academic insights into achieving success and value in the world of the Mega. Overall an excellent examination of a very important topic.

Kevin Kane
Committee member, North West branch

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