Building Resilience in Large High-Technology Projects: Front End Conditioning for Success

Building Resilience in Large High-Technology Projects: Front End Conditioning for Success

Phil Crosby (Phil Crosby, SKA Program Development Office, International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/jitpm.2012100102
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Success in mega-projects is frequently discussed among project theoreticians and practitioners. This research focuses on high-technology projects and draws on recent literature and fieldwork at ten contemporary mega-science projects in Chile, Australia, and Europe. This study concludes that project success is not random, and early adoption of certain approaches, activities, and launch conditions will position a project for success and resilience. Nine resilience factors (beyond a priori programmatical artefacts) are grouped into three ‘attitudinal’ factors, and six ‘conditioning’ factors and then examined in detail against three case study projects. The study’s conclusion show that attitudinal factors remain a challenge, especially within institutional type high-tech projects, and launch conditioning shows mixed levels of application. Through the nine factors, this paper offers newly consolidated insights for high-tech project start-ups and presents the case for co-application of contingency funding and ‘proto’ task forces in response to unknown risks, and advocates the establishment of more formal information ‘traffic’ management through an empowered centralised project information office.
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Success and failure in projects is a frequent topic among both project theoreticians and practitioners. Mega-projects especially have received attention from academic authors and the popular press, often recounting performance failures and cost and time overruns, which sometimes lead to fiascos (Grün, 2004). Less reported are the great successes where project goals were met, budgets contained, and most importantly, the customer or users were satisfied. Regardless of outcome, each case offers a learning opportunity providing the causal factors are investigated and the lessons applied.

This study posits that project success, unlike project planning (Flyvbjerg, Bruzelius, & Rothengatter, 2003) is not indeterminate by nature, and that undertaking certain activities, coupled with application of particular policies and launch conditions at the front end, positions a project for success and resilience. Evidence of continued high-tech project failure (e.g., The Standish Group, 1995, Proccacino, Verner, Overmyer, & Darter, 2002) indicates that a specialist examination is warranted, with the aim of convincing project managers to focus harder in nine areas contributing to project robustness and resilience. In this paper, I aim to identify the early conditions required for high-tech mega-project success, beyond the basic ‘givens’ of project structure, funding, tools, and plans.

Resilience is defined here as being akin to robustness in the sense of building strength and the ability to recover from, or adjust easily to, misfortune or change. The parameters of mega-projects are not tightly specified here, except to note that these endeavours typically have hundreds of millions or even billion dollar budgets, time-frames usually measured in at least years, and often a high level of public or political attention. In this paper, high-tech projects are defined as those involving research and development (R&D), a significant information technology (IT) component, application of leading edge science/engineering technologies, and with substantial infrastructure requirements.

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