Research Proposal on Complex and Mega Projects

Problem Definition

There are some common characteristics exiting between all types of projects, especially with the projection of activities and ideas into new and workable processes. Essentially, novelty stands out as the key characteristic towards any type of project. This means that despite the fact that various types of projects may seem to be similar, there is no way that any two projects will be exactly alike. Actually, even a repeat project will always be different from its predecessor in terms of various foundation factors such as in physical, administrative or commercial aspects. Even though there are many types of projects, this paper lays emphasis especially on Mega projects and Complex projects. The review of literally materials in here evaluates and analyses all the components characterizing these two types of projects in terms of characteristics, similarities and differences, all with specific reference to project management.

Hypothesis Generation

As a matter of broad consideration, there are many fields that call for keen project management. However, the four most important sectors include: Construction, quarrying, civil engineering and mining; Manufacturing; IT projects and projects intended for change management; and Pure Scientific Research. It is in either of these that a project may be categorized as mega or complex. This research proposal is based upon the objectives below:

  • To identify the true meaning of Mega and Complex projects
  • To understand the similarities and differences of Mega and Complex projects
  • To establish the integration of Mega and Complex projects with respect to project management

In light of the above, the hypothesis of this proposal states that: in the contemporary world today, the management of both Mega and Complex projects is closely related and project managers must embrace all their underling characteristics towards establishing the successful project management strategies.


This discipline is relatively wide and as a result necessitates the use of any means possible for complete understanding of all the specific characteristics and features it integrates. For this reason, the most straightforward techniques must be employed towards establishing the most usable information towards the attainment of the objectives in the underlying research. Consequently, two techniques stand out in effecting this need. For one, first hand information is really necessary in this sector. As a result, interviewing significant stakeholders in the project management sector is in important. Secondly, to substantiate the data collected from the interviews, secondary sources of information will be in order. This will incorporate the use of already collected statistical or non-statistical data with respect to both Mega and Complex projects.

Literature Review

As aforementioned, this proposal circulates in the current trends on project management. Therefore, this review revolves around establishing the milestones that have so far surfaced with respect to the development in project management, especially considering both Mega and Complex projects. According to Bodea (2010), this sector has grown and as a result project management has been established as one of the most highly developing environment, with project managers are surfacing as specialist professionals. Consequently, both the Mega and the Complex projects require various competencies, writes Moody and Dodgson (2006).

To start with, complex projects are the kind of projects characterized by high extents of uncertainty; they bear non-linear aspects and are recursive, and are basically viewed with evolving and hyper dynamic systems, notes Azim (2010). Essentially, the school of thought from whom complex management derives its principles holds that the management of relatively all projects can be more successful if such projects are treated as systems (Dalcher, 2009). Drawing from the complexity theory, complex projects bear dramatic variance, as a result exhibiting varying aspects and characteristics of simplicity, says Miller and Hobbs (2005). Accordingly, even a single complex project has the ability to demonstrate multiple systemic differences, with various constituent parts showing distinctive behavior and characteristics, adds Philbin (2008). With reference to the source of complexity, there are relatively four distinct types of project complexities considered for analysis as indicated by Williams (2002). They include structural, technical, directional, and temporal complexities, which is also enumerated by Gladden (2008).

On the other hand, project management nowadays incorporates the aspect of moving ideas from basic value management, to enhancing the understandability of the stakeholders’ value for different things. As a result of, this new paradigm, a huge mass of stakeholders have taken interest in project management leading to the evolvement of mega projects, implies Thomas and Mullaly (2009). In light of this, there are different terms commonly used to refer to the resulting large projects; giant projects, major projects and mega projects (Ruuska et al., 2009). However, mega project is the most outstanding. According to the relevant literally contributions by various writers, mega projects are defined especially through cost factors: large scale investments with typical costs exceeding half a billion Euros (Brown-West, 2008). The structure of the organization with reference to stakeholders, their control and roles also matters in the definition of mega projects, adds Sanderson (2012). The reason behind this is the increased importance in the relationship between contractors and project owners especially in matters of accountability and transparency in stakeholder value. A more vivid definition of what megaprojects really are surfaces from the characteristics of mega projects elaborated further below.

The key aspects that help in understanding either the complex or mega projects are exhibited in their characteristics. It is through a thorough analysis of the characteristics of each that their similarities and differences are easily exposed. Starting with complex projects, there are a number of distinctive characteristics that help in defining the concept behind complex projects, writes Pollack and Remington (2012). First there is hierarchy. This surfaces from the existence of sub-systems and is mostly referred to as the nest behavior with seemingly unending reducing replicas, says Billows (2001). This incorporates work breakdown structures that are used to produce manageable portions of the project. Structural communication also counts as a key characteristic, continues Billows. Working at various levels calls for the need to ensure that information from all levels gets to its designated recipients without distortions. Then there is control. In light of viewing complex projects as systems, maintaining the relationship between the various key parts calls for effective control, writes Kerzner and Belack (2010). Through control, a system is held together and made to maintain a stable state of operation. Complex projects are characterized by high level control as a result of their heightened call for coordination. Phase transition also surfaces as a key characteristic behind complex projects. The rationale behind this is the fact that as systems become more and more complex, they become more adaptive as well, with the ability of assuming new forms with respect to the external or internal changes (Creveling et al., 2003). In addition, complex projects bear the characteristic of non-linearity. This is a complimentary aspect working together with control to ensure extra stability (Hass, 2009). It is more often to find negative feedback in the scenario of complex systems. It is due to this reality that non-linearity is called upon to enhance the ease of adapting towards the constantly changing structural needs at different levels.

On the other hand, literally works also exhibit the characteristics of mega projects. This being a relatively new paradigm, there are various characteristics from a couple of authors. Notably, Bruzelius (2002) emphasizes that mega projects are characterized by high investments with expenditures extending up to above a billion dollars. They exhibit a lifespan of up to fifty or more years. More so, they bear considerable uncertainty especially in terms of cost estimates and demand forecasts. To add to this, Sanderson (2012) stipulates that mega projects must be characterized by the delivery of a significantly substantial provision of physical infrastructure or capital asset whose life span is measurable in decades. He also adds that the clients in this kind of projects must be the government or any considerably huge organization in the public sector. More so, the ownership of the infrastructure remains with the contractors after the construction phase is over. The same characteristics are echoed by Sturup (2009) and Haynes (2002).

From the above summary, it is notable that even if complex and mega projects are defined by certain distinct characteristics, they have various aspects that bridge a certain gap towards illustrating their similarities. To start with, the processes in either type of the projects must define a workable project structure with the ability to accomplish both the vision and the objectives of the project (Bodea et al., 2010). More so, in either case, the management must ensure that the project team is able to achieve such objectives through the utilization of interaction and emergence. In either cases also, the project management must establish well-defined plans intended to function as the markers of project success, including policies, guidance, and procedures (Moody & Dodgson, 2006). The interaction between complex and mega projects is extensive. The only notable difference between the two is the fact that complex projects refer to the systematic and structural background of a project while on the other hand, mega projects refer to projects with respect to the value of the projects to the stakeholders. Otherwise, a mega project can still be referred to as complex, depending on one’s perspective.

Data Collection

The qualitative data collection should involve the use of semi-structured interviews and focus key stakeholders. Interviewing is considered essential to this research because it provides the opportunity to acquire rich data from the key stakeholders, enabling one to gain insight into their views, contextual aspects and understand their perceptions, after which the information generated could be analyzed in various ways (Klenke, 2008). According to (Clough & Nutbrown, 2012), an interview is a verbal exchange whose effectiveness depends on the interviewer’s communication skills. They further suggested that these communication skills include the ability to structure the questions in a logical manner, listening attentively and probing the interviewee to produce responses. In addition, (Bryman & Bell, 2011) advices towards the application of interpersonal skills in order to create a good rapport with the interviewees, thus being able conduct effective interviews.

The role of the interviews in this research is to find the perceptual relationships existing between complex and mega projects from the first hand perspective of the players who are in current practice. Through the interviews, there is the use of discussions, conversations, and probing of project management stakeholders in order to gain insights into the subject under investigation. The interview schedule should be designed with appropriate questions which should be grouped thematically for easier reference and analysis since it is easier to refer back to the questions when they are grouped thematically (Joffe & Yardley, 2004).

The interviewees should be scheduled purposively because the research targets only project management stakeholders specializing in ether complex or mega projects. The meetings with the stakeholders should be arranged while they are working so as to get a more established feedback with real time reference to ongoing projects. During the interviews, questioning should start with open-ended questions so as to set the stakeholders in a natural exploratory conversation. The rationale behind this is due to the fact that it was discovered that most of the probing is more dependent on the participants’ responses than is on the questions written on the interview schedule (Ritchie & Lewis, 2003). In light of this, the closed ended questions will be for mere confirmation of the participant’s opinion with respect to any issue concerning either complex or mega projects.

Findings and Conclusions

Form the above literature review, it is possible to conclude that all projects, complex or mega in nature, share very distinct and close characteristics. They call for the project management to be well versed with the knowledge of complexity as a feature that leads to understanding the interactions occurring in a project by the people. More so, critical information must be ensured for effective transfer of feedback. Competent application of the significant disciplines necessary for ultimate project management is required. Additionally, the project managers in both instances must satisfy the leadership role of fully overseeing all the project related interactions. Notably, the literature review clearly indicates the close relationship between both complex and mega projects, indicating the integration in their characteristics, thereby satisfying the provisions of the hypothesis of the research subject highlighted under this proposal. In light of this, it is relatively important to carry out the research as highlighted in this proposal so as to ascertain whether this hypothesis stands out even in the real world project management.


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