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The (Under) Performance of Mega-Projects: A Meta- Organizational Perspective

43 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2014 Last revised: 20 Mar 2015

Colm P. Lundrigan

University of Manchester

Nuno A. Gil

University of Manchester

Phanish Puranam

INSEAD

Date Written: December 2014

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Lundrigan, Colm P. and Gil, Nuno A. and Puranam, Phanish, The (Under) Performance of Mega-Projects: A Meta- Organizational Perspective (December 2014). INSEAD Working Paper No. 2015/04/STR. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2542107 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2542107

Colm P. Lundrigan (Contact Author)

University of Manchester ( email )

Oxford Road
Manchester, M13 9PL
United Kingdom

Nuno A. Gil

University of Manchester ( email )

Oxford Road
Manchester, M13 9PL
United Kingdom

Phanish Puranam

INSEAD ( email )

1 Ayer Rajah Avenue
Singapore, 138676
Singapore

HOME PAGE: http://www.insead.edu/facultyresearch/faculty/profiles/ppuranam/

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