The Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction


Is Covid-19 the largest megaproject of modern history?

1 April 2020

The School’s Dr Juliano Denicol and Professor Andrew Davies connect concepts from their recent PMI research with the managerial challenges of the global response to Covid-19.

Covid and megaprojects

The School’s Dr Juliano Denicol and Professor Andrew Davies connect concepts from their recent PMI research What Are the Causes and Cures of Poor Megaproject Performance? A Systematic Literature Review and Research Agenda with the managerial challenges of the global response to Covid-19.

Dr Juliano Denicol states, “We are probably dealing with the largest project in modern times, triggering an unprecedented cross-country collaboration. The scale is uncharted and probably thousands of times bigger than megaprojects, in the order of Teraprojects or Petaprojects.”

The research addresses the challenges involved in managing megaprojects, but there have been few, if any, projects of this scale and urgency in human history. It had an overwhelming response in the first month of its publication, receiving over 7,000 downloads and ranked as the journal’s most read article of the past six months. The paper suggests managerial solutions after reviewing more than 6,000 papers associated with the most complex and challenging megaprojects reported so far.

Since the publication of the paper in February 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has swept the world with global cases breaking past 700,000 and deaths over 30,000 globally in March 2020.The pandemic faces many of the same pitfalls identified in the paper including the handling of stakeholder, leadership and industrial orchestration.

Dr Juliano Denicol commented, “We are observing the emergence of interconnected megaprojects at different levels aiming to stabilize economies and solve the health crisis. Given the complexity, scale and scarcity of resources (at country and global scales), we have one ultimate global project, to win the battle against the virus. Below this level, several nations are coordinating the emergence of their portfolio of megaprojects (meta-megaproject management), with each country developing megaprojects across several industrial sectors, not only to address the needs of the crisis, but also to save entire industries with a combination of different incentive packages and solutions. One of the future avenues proposed by our research anticipated this challenge, where we emphasised the design of the system architecture to deal with multiple levels and layers.

Professor Andrew Davies said, “Countries face the challenge of planning and dealing with this emergency. What is interesting is various ways countries are attempting to tackle the problem. Some are adopting a rapid and proactive approach to manage and contain the pandemic (e.g. China and Korea), while others have been slow, cumbersome and ineffectual (e.g. USA). Our research is clear about the key role of leadership in megaprojects to build teams and collaborations between the public and private sectors often across national boundaries, and the need for global collaboration applies to Covid-19 perhaps more than any other megaproject. Beyond transparency and lack of ambiguity, global megaprojects of this magnitude require leaders who understand the whole picture, build bridges between multiple stakeholders, integrate the various pieces of activity and provide managers with the resources, power and autonomy required to manage parts of the project.

Although the Covid-19 is a challenging time for all, Denicol and Davies suggest that it is essential to put in place mechanisms to learn lessons and capture the strategies and practices developed to address the emergency. This could later be used by government agencies of each country, and to address other global emergencies such as climate change and poverty. It is important to change the narrative of measuring megaproject success only by its final cost, shifting towards unpacking the solutions, which was one of the inspiring drivers of the research.

To learn more about managing coronavirus as a global megaproject, read the full article on Inverse.