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What You Should Know About Megaprojects, and Why: An Overview

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  • Bent Flyvbjerg

Abstract

This paper takes stock of megaproject management, an emerging and hugely costly field of study. First, it answers the question of how large megaprojects are by measuring them in the units mega, giga, and tera, concluding we are presently entering a new "tera era" of trillion-dollar projects. Second, total global megaproject spending is assessed, at USD 6-9 trillion annually, or 8 percent of total global GDP, which denotes the biggest investment boom in human history. Third, four "sublimes" - political, technological, economic, and aesthetic - are identified to explain the increased size and frequency of megaprojects. Fourth, the "iron law of megaprojects" is laid out and documented: Over budget, over time, over and over again. Moreover, the "break-fix model" of megaproject management is introduced as an explanation of the iron law. Fifth, Albert O. Hirschman's theory of the Hiding Hand is revisited and critiqued as unfounded and corrupting for megaproject thinking in both the academy and policy. Sixth, it is shown how megaprojects are systematically subject to "survival of the unfittest," explaining why the worst projects get built instead of the best. Finally, it is argued that the conventional way of managing megaprojects has reached a "tension point," where tradition is challenged and reform is emerging.

Suggested Citation

  • Bent Flyvbjerg, 2014. "What You Should Know About Megaprojects, and Why: An Overview," Papers 1409.0003, arXiv.org.
  • Handle: RePEc:arx:papers:1409.0003
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Anguera, Ricard, 2006. "The Channel Tunnel--an ex post economic evaluation," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 40(4), pages 291-315, May.
    2. Aaltonen, Kirsi & Kujala, Jaakko, 2010. "A project lifecycle perspective on stakeholder influence strategies in global projects," Scandinavian Journal of Management, Elsevier, vol. 26(4), pages 381-397, December.
    3. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-291, March.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. Graeme A. Hodge & Carsten Greve, 2009. "PPPs: THE PASSAGE OF TIME PERMITS A SOBER REFLECTION," Economic Affairs, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 29(1), pages 33-39, March.
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