Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The (Under) Performance of Mega-projects: A Meta-organizational Perspective

Read the working paper
INSEAD Working Paper 2015/04/STR

This study links evolution in organizational structure to ambiguity in the definition of performance in the context of organizations formed to develop long-lived infrastructure: so-called ‘mega-projects’. Based on a longitudinal, inductive analysis of three mega-projects in London, we argue that a mega-project is a meta-organization with two symbiotically-related constituent structures. The core, led by a coalition, is a mutable collective that shares control over the goal of the project and corresponding high-level design choices. The periphery is a supply chain selected to design and build the infrastructure, but lacks the authority to change the high-level choices. As the mega-project structure evolves over time, we show that the founders and new comers renegotiate the high-level choices and slippages in performance targets ensue. The conflation of committals to different baselines, differing preferences for efficiency and effectiveness, and rivalry in high-level choices gives rise to competing performance narratives which cannot be reconciled. Thus, we argue, the disappointing and controversial (under) performance of mega-projects may be a result of how their organizational structure develops, rather than due to any agency or competence related failure per se.