The (Under) Performance of Mega-Projects: A Meta- Organizational Perspective
43 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2014 Last revised: 20 Mar 2015
Date Written: December 2014
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.
Keywords: Organization Design, Meta-Organization, Mega-project
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