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Quality Control and Due Diligence in Project Management: Getting Decisions Right by Taking the Outside View


  • Bent Flyvbjerg


This paper explores how theories of the planning fallacy and the outside view may be used to conduct quality control and due diligence in project management. First, a much-neglected issue in project management is identified, namely that the front-end estimates of costs and benefits--used in the business cases, cost-benefit analyses, and social and environmental impact assessments that typically support decisions on projects--are typically significantly different from actual ex post costs and benefits, and are therefore poor predictors of the actual value and viability of projects. Second, it is discussed how Kahneman and Tversky's theories of the planning fallacy and the outside view may help explain and remedy this situation through quality control of decisions. Third, it is described what quality control and due diligence are in the context of project management, and an eight-step procedure is outlined for due diligence based on the outside view. Fourth, the procedure is tested on a real-life, multibillion-dollar project, organized as a public-private partnership. Finally, Akerlof and Shiller's recent discussion in economics of "firing the forecaster" is discussed together with its relevance to project management. In sum, the paper demonstrates the need, the theoretical basis, a practical methodology, and a real-life example for how to de-bias project management using quality control and due diligence based on the outside view.

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  • Bent Flyvbjerg, 2013. "Quality Control and Due Diligence in Project Management: Getting Decisions Right by Taking the Outside View," Papers 1302.2544,
  • Handle: RePEc:arx:papers:1302.2544

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Flyvbjerg, Bent, 2005. "Measuring inaccuracy in travel demand forecasting: methodological considerations regarding ramp up and sampling," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 39(6), pages 522-530, July.
    2. Chantal C Cantarelli & Bent Flyvbjerg & Bert van Wee & Eric J E Molin, 2010. "Lock-in and its Influence on the Project Performance of Large-Scale Transportation Infrastructure Projects: Investigating the Way in Which Lock-in Can Emerge and Affect Cost Overruns," Environment and Planning B, , vol. 37(5), pages 792-807, October.
    3. Bent Flyvbjerg, 2009. "Survival of the unfittest: why the worst infrastructure gets built--and what we can do about it," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 25(3), pages 344-367, Autumn.
    4. George A. Akerlof, 2009. "How Human Psychology Drives the Economy and Why It Matters," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1175-1175.
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    Cited by:

    1. Schreiner, Lena & Madlener, Reinhard, 2019. "Investing in power grid infrastructure as a flexibility option: A DSGE assessment for Germany," FCN Working Papers 11/2019, E.ON Energy Research Center, Future Energy Consumer Needs and Behavior (FCN), revised 01 Apr 2020.
    2. Love, Peter E.D. & Ahiaga-Dagbui, Dominic D., 2018. "Debunking fake news in a post-truth era: The plausible untruths of cost underestimation in transport infrastructure projects," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 113(C), pages 357-368.
    3. Armstrong, J. Scott & Green, Kesten C. & Graefe, Andreas, 2015. "Golden rule of forecasting: Be conservative," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 68(8), pages 1717-1731.
    4. Flyvbjerg, Bent & Ansar, Atif & Budzier, Alexander & Buhl, Søren & Cantarelli, Chantal & Garbuio, Massimo & Glenting, Carsten & Holm, Mette Skamris & Lovallo, Dan & Lunn, Daniel & Molin, Eric & Rønnes, 2018. "Five things you should know about cost overrun," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 174-190.
    5. Chiara Pancotti & Matteo Pedralli & Geert Smit & Silvia Vignetti, 2020. "Understanding transport project appraisal in its institutional dimension," Working Papers 201902, CSIL Centre for Industrial Studies.
    6. Thordur Vikingur FRIDGEIRSSON, 2016. "Reference Class Forecasting In Icelandic Transport Infrastructure Projects," Transport Problems, Silesian University of Technology, vol. 11(2), pages 103-115, June.
    7. Ihsan Issa Ahmad Hosani & Fikri T. Dweiri & Udechukwu Ojiako, 0. "A study of cost overruns in complex multi-stakeholder road projects in the United Arab Emirates," International Journal of System Assurance Engineering and Management, Springer;The Society for Reliability, Engineering Quality and Operations Management (SREQOM),India, and Division of Operation and Maintenance, Lulea University of Technology, Sweden, vol. 0, pages 1-10.
    8. Ika, Lavagnon A., 2018. "Beneficial or Detrimental Ignorance: The Straw Man Fallacy of Flyvbjerg’s Test of Hirschman’s Hiding Hand," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 103(C), pages 369-382.
    9. Ginés de Rus, 2014. "The economic evaluation of infrastructure investment. Some inescapable tradeoffs," Working Papers 2014-16, FEDEA.
    10. Bent Flyvbjerg & Cass R. Sunstein, 2015. "The Principle of the Malevolent Hiding Hand; or, the Planning Fallacy Writ Large," Papers 1509.01526,
    11. Bent Flyvbjerg & Alexander Budzier, 2019. "Report for the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Muskrat Falls Project," Papers 1901.03698,
    12. Sainati, Tristano & Locatelli, Giorgio & Smith, Nigel, 2019. "Project financing in nuclear new build, why not? The legal and regulatory barriers," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 111-119.
    13. Anatoliy Kovalyov & Olha Vynokurova, 2017. "Practical Guideline for the Restructuring of Enterprises Involving Consulting Services (on the Example of Ukrainian Industrial Enterprises)," European Financial and Accounting Journal, Prague University of Economics and Business, vol. 2017(3), pages 171-189.
    14. Locatelli, Giorgio & Mancini, Mauro & Todeschini, Nicola, 2013. "Generation IV nuclear reactors: Current status and future prospects," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 61(C), pages 1503-1520.
    15. Bent Flyvbjerg & Alexander Budzier & Daniel Lunn, 2020. "Regression to the Tail: Why the Olympics Blow Up," Papers 2009.14682,
    16. Dutta, Debprotim & Bose, Indranil, 2015. "Managing a Big Data project: The case of Ramco Cements Limited," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 165(C), pages 293-306.
    17. Solvoll, Gisle & Mathisen, Terje Andreas & Welde, Morten, 2020. "Forecasting air traffic demand for major infrastructure changes," Research in Transportation Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(C).

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