IPMA International Project Management Association
21 November 2016 / 8:08

Megaprojects that we admire

Today we are witnessing an explosion in the number of $1 billion+ projects with some, like the artificial archipelago being built in Azerbaijan, Turkey’s massive Urban Renewal project in Istanbul, and the new construction of Masjid Al Haram in Saudi Arabia each exceeding $100 billion.

But, there is a common perception that megaprojects are not only difficult, but often unsuccessful. Whether megaprojects succeed or fail and the ways in which they do so are important for a variety of reasons. A successful megaproject can spur economic growth in LDCs, while a failure can set development back for years (Merrow, 2011). The development of megaproject management as a new profession in project management has increased the attention given to the leadership and professional development megaproject research since 2006. Total global megaproject spending is assessed at US$6 to US$9 trillion annually, or 8% of the total global gross domestic product (GDP), which denotes the biggest investment boom in human history (Flyvbjerg, 2014). Rapid global urbanization has triggered another round of investment boom in megaprojects. The success of these projects is so important to their sponsors that firms and even governments could collapse if they failed. Finally, megaproject are usually long projects; so there is ample time for things that affect project outcomes to change, and there is less likelihood of maintaining continuity in project management. Megaprojects, even when highly successful, are difficult projects (Merrow, 1988). Recent EU Cost Megaprojects research concluded that these are the characteristics of megaprojects: colossal, captivating, costly, controversial and complex (Brooks, 2015). The media’s current interest in the issue of cost overrun is associated with the cost-efficiency issue: cost overruns imply wastage of public resources that could have been otherwise used for productive purposes elsewhere. Another issue is of course that if the initial cost estimation of major projects with large cost overrun had been accurate and realistic, they might not have been implemented and more viable projects could have got priority (Magnusen and Samset, 2005).

Ten of the world’s most impressive megaprojects currently include:

  • Dubai World Central Airport (United Arab Emirates),
  • Songdo International Business District (South Korea),
  • Tokyo-Osaka Maglev Train (Japan) Masdar City (United Arab Emirates),
  • The Grand Canal (Nicaragua),
  • National Trunk Highway System (China),
  • International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor [ITER] – Fusion (France),
  • World’s Tallest Building (Azerbaijan),
  • Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (India),
  • King Abdullah Economic City (Saudi Arabia).

To ensure that the project is managed well here authors address competence of managing projects. As more organisations adopt project management approaches and the demand for project managers grows, there is increasing interest in the competence of project managers and standards for development and assessment of project management competence (Crawford, 2005). Competence has its origins in the latin word ‘Competentia’ which means “authorised to judge” as well as “has the right to speak”. Competent project managers are important to orchestrate project activities (IPMA, 2006). If we do increase our infrastructure spending to $9 trillion per year, megaprojects will rise in importance from roughly 8% of global GDP to close to 24% factoring in all the spinoff economies, and the world will be in the great demand for competent megaproject managers. Those are the megaprojects that we admire, the ones that are both economic and inspirational in the same time.


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Author of this post

Sandra currently works as Assistant to the IPMA President and Executive Director. Since joining IPMA in 2012, Sandra worked in FMCG sector for Procter&Gamble. She holds Master in Economics from Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Zagreb. After graduation she continued at the same University the doctoral programme in Business Economics. Her particular research interest is behavioral economics.