Challenges of Managing Huge Engineering Projects

By: | February 6th, 2015

Managing Engineering Projects Sondo Business District

Managing Engineering Projects Sondo Business District (Image Courtesy www.wikipedia.com)

The Dynamics of Mega & Giga Projects

The photo above is of the Sondo Business District “Smart City” in South Korea being built at a cost of $40 billion and scheduled for completion this year. Sondo is a symbol of things to come: huge projects of unimaginable size with price tags that boggle the mind.

“Megaprojects,” those costing tens to hundreds of millions of dollars, have recently given way to “Gigaprojects,” costing from billions to tens of billions of dollars. As projects have grown in size, managing them has become more and more of a challenge for private companies charged with seeing them through to completion. Then there are the public sector actors who must approve projects and their various phases after what is expected to be a rigorous due diligence process.

Mega and Giga projects are colossal in scope, often involve a huge piece of infrastructure, such as a tunnel, bridge, airport or railway system, and are highly disruptive to the public at large. Mega and Giga projects are also exciting and captivating because they generally promise to transform the life of the people living in the area. These projects often carry a significant amount of controversy, are costly, and complex. Not to mention the regulatory issues, scads of decision-makers, government, and local agencies and others involved in the process.

Mega and Giga projects can have dozens or hundreds of players in various roles, each of which must be managed separately and as part of the whole. Making things even more difficult is the recent trend toward more energy efficient and sustainable systems, making the process even more obtuse. In fact, a term, “the technological sublime” has given way to “the curse” that seems to come over huge projects as the gears grind to a halt.

According to industry experts, the amount and pervasiveness of misinformation between and amongst the actors in the planning of major construction projects and conflicting systematic biases that lead to dead ends, stalemates, conflicts and mistakes is greater than might be imagined. In fact, it is difficult to name one huge project over the past 15 years that hasn’t come in significantly, if not preposterously, over budget. The Big Dig in Boston and the Three Gorges Dam in China are two primary examples. It is hard to believe the mismanagement will ever stop.

For these types of projects, there is no substitute for experience. An oil tanker skippered by someone who has never operated such a large ship is more likely to run aground or ram the base of a bridge. The same can be said for those who have the responsibility of managing and completing huge projects.

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David Russell Schilling

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