Constructing new ways to manage Megaprojects
As the world’s urban populations continue to grow, societies’ infrastructure needs are becoming more complex and expensive to deliver.
‘Megaprojects’, like Sydney’s WestConnex, often suffer delays and cost blow-outs because their complexity is poorly understood and managed.
Researchers from UTS and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) in Chennai are developing new solutions to better understand and manage high-cost, high-impact infrastructure projects.
“The complexities of Megaprojects are very different from traditional infrastructure projects,” says Dr Ashwin Mahalingam from IITM. “It’s not as simple as putting in 10 times the resources because the project is 10 times the size.”
“We are studying a large metro rail project in Chennai that will connect the whole city. But building it is not as simple as normal construction.
“You have the issue of acquiring land in a congested city. You have stakeholders who either want the metro or don't want the metro. The project goes through political cycles, with one government that awards the project but another government that executes it.”
Dr Mahalingam, from IITM’s Department of Civil Engineering, has partnered with Professor Shankar Sankaran, from the UTS Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, to lead the new research collaboration.
Their research is unique in its cross-disciplinary approach, combining perspectives from the disciplines of Engineering, IT, Business and Design.
“Because Megaprojects have so many problems, the research has to be interdisciplinary,” says Prof Sankaran.
“We might encounter problems relating to stakeholder management and political issues, which is more interesting to Business. Some issues are to do with contracting and construction which is interesting to Building and Design. Some are related to new technologies and innovation, which is interesting to Engineering and IT.”
The pair hope to equip government and industry with a new approach to planning and executing Megaprojects.
“If you look at the traditional project management research, it still focuses on 'plan and execute'. However, there’s only so much planning you can do when things are so complex and uncertain,” says Dr Mahalingam.
“You need to have more flexibility in your plans, your contracts and your designs. It’s important to give practitioners the knowledge to make better decisions on planning, contracting, organising and developing these Megaprojects.”
The research is also unique in its focus on nation-building infrastructure projects in the Asia-Pacific region.
“If you look at the megaproject literature, there is a lot written about projects in UK, USA and Europe, but not very much about Megaprojects in Southeast Asia and Asia Pacific,” says Prof Sankaran.
The partnership between UTS and IITM has been facilitated by the UTS Key Technology Partnerships program, a flagship UTS initiative that offers international mobility opportunities and joint/dual PhD arrangements between UTS and 18 partner universities.
Under the initiative, Prof Sankaran and Dr Mahalingam are co-supervising two PhD students, Santhosh Loganathan and Johan Ninan.
“Personally, I feel it's a good idea for students who want to enter into academia to be exposed to different academic systems. I did my PhD in the US and that was very beneficial to me,” says Dr Mahalingam.
“The cultural part of the exchange is important. It's not just about working but also being able to live in a different country and understand a different culture.
“From both professional and personal perspectives, I think it's good for PhD students to do these kinds of things.”
- Following the KTP visit to UTS the two academics co-organised a seminar on megaprojects with PMI India.
- The seminar led to the creation of a whitepaper titled ‘Managing Indian Megaprojects’.
- The two academics also published a paper on an Institutional Theory perspective on megaprojects titled “Applying institutional theories to managing megaprojects” in the highest ranked Project Management Journal: The International Journal of Project Management (IJPM)