The (under) performance of mega-projects: a meta-organizational perspective

Colm Lundrigan, Nuno Gil, Phanish Puranam

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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.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAcademy of Management. Annual Meeting Proceedings
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


  • mega-projects performance, organization design, structure, evolution, meta-organizations


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