Mega-projects: How Different Are They, Really?

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at markmullaly.com.

Mega-projects. The whole concept inspires a level of massiveness--epic, large, giant-scale projects that nearly defy human imagination. As well they should, because mega-projects are, well... big. Vast. Enormous. Why, I need a thesaurus simply to discuss them. But what is a mega-project? Why do we have them? And just how different are they from your regular, everyday, garden variety project?

Clearly, one large difference (pun sadly intended) is size. Mega-projects are measured on a scale that normal projects plainly are not. The normal guideline for a project to be considered “mega” is a budget in excess of $1 billion. Moreover, they tend to be highly visible, strategic undertakings. They exist because, sometimes, we need to build things on a really, really monstrous scale. And when you manage things that are that big, they are hard to keep under wraps. As a result, they have a larger impact than your typical project, and there is a great deal of sensitivity to how they are delivered (and whether or not they are successful).

When we think of mega-projects, we think of infrastructure developments. The channel tunnel between England and France, the Three Gorges Dam (and numerous other, lesser known but still as large) hydroelectric projects in China, the Confederation Bridge in Canada and the construction of the Denver International Airport in the United …

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