The definition of a mega project will depend on one’s perspective and experience. According to Wikipedia, Megaprojects are typically defined as costing more than US $1 billion and attracting a lot of public attention because of substantial impacts on communities, the environment, and on organizational budgets. The term mega may actually have different definitions, depending on the financial capabilities of an organization. The word Mega, as we know it, comes from the Greek word megas, meaning large or great. Depending on your organization, mega could be applied to many types of projects. If you are moving a large group of people from one location to another and the move involves construction of a new facility, all of the utilities, and satisfying the needs of multiple functional groups, that could be considered a mega project. Let’s just say that mega projects, regardless of how you define them, require some “mega thinking.”
The basic principles of project management will apply, but the complexities associated with a mega project require much more planning, coordination, and a significant amount of technical knowledge.
Mega projects have been planned and implemented for centuries. Consider the Great Wall of China, The Notre Dame Cathedral, the Roman Coliseum, the Moscow Kremlin, and the British Museum to name a few. Today, mega projects continue to amaze and inspire. The Abraj Al-Bait Towers in Saudi Arabia, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, and the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino in Singapore seem to be calling project managers to go bigger, taller, and to be more extravagant. These projects and the many mega projects that are either being planned, executed, or have been built and completed are all excellent examples of project management in action. Each of these projects began with a vision or a very special need. Imagination, creativity, and innovation were also factors in the development of yesterday’s and today’s mega projects.
We often think of the mega project in terms of building and construction, but we can find extremely large, complex projects in almost any industry or technical discipline. You may find a mega project in your own community or at your place of business. If it is high profile, involves lots of people, has significant risk, and a potentially significant return on investment, it’s probably considered to be a mega project. (Politics is probably also involved).
In any case, whether it’s the building of the Hoover Dam, a space shuttle launch, or the building of the tallest hotel in the world, there is a need for project management. Actually, there is a need for extreme project management. Years ago, a friend of mine, Doug DeCarlo, wrote a book entitled Extreme Project Management. I think he was a little bit ahead of his time but he had great insight. He specifically stressed that failure was not an option, that speed, innovation and profitability were important, and that bureaucracy should be avoided. These ideas seem to fit in very nicely today.
As we see more and more mega projects being planned, it is important to think about the qualities of the “Mega Project Manager.” Do these projects require a new set of skills? How are mega project managers selected? I am sure there are lots of things to consider. If we go back in history to the 1940’s to the Manhattan Project (certainly a mega project), that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II, the records show that there were more than 600,000 people working on that project. Imagine leading that team! What type of leader is needed to manage a project of such magnitude? I believe it is safe to say that the mega project manager must possess extraordinary leadership skills, must assume a great deal of accountability, and must be fully visible and connected with the project at all times. In addition, the mega project manager must be completely aware of the intended outcome of the project and the stakeholders who will be affected at completion. Most importantly, mega projects are far more than the definition of a project in the PMBOK® Guide. They are not just “unique”, they are AMAZING, BREATHTAKING, AWESOME adventures and require a very creative and innovative style of leadership.
Regardless of project type, the “mega” or “extreme” project manager has one overarching role: gain and sustain commitment to the mission and objectives from the entire project team.
A lesson we can learn from the mega project is that strong project leadership is critical and a clear vision and commitment will make the difference between success and failure. You may not be working on a mega project today, but you can apply the same principles and obtain mega results in terms of team satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and organizational success. And then watch out – you may be rewarded for your success by being asked to lead a mega project tomorrow!
© 2010 allPM.com
Frank P. Saladis, PMP is Senior Consultant with International Institute for Learning, Inc. He has been involved in the development of standardized Project Management Guidelines (PMGs) for the AT&T Corporate Information Technology Services (Corporate ITS) organization and is the author of the Project Evaluation Review Process (PERP). He is th