Overt obstacles and covert causes: An exploratory study of poor performance in megaprojects

Johan Ninan, Stewart Clegg, Steve Burdon, John Clay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
30 Downloads (Pure)


Megaprojects are plagued with failures and inefficiencies, often due to an inability to handle the obstacles that occur throughout the process. The present research deepens and extends our understanding of the obstacles and causes of poor megaproject performance by drawing on the ‘circuits of power’ as a theoretical framework for analyzing such projects. Empirically, we investigate what are regarded as some frequent obstacles occurring in megaprojects in the Australian and New Zealand context, such as coordination issues between stakeholders, poor estimates of the project, and inefficient contracts. Conducting 40 semi-structured interviews with different participants in the sector enables us to highlight that the overt obstacles were dependent on covert causes, such as fragmented industry, political push for projects and an owner-centric industry, respectively. For addressing these covert causes, we record innovative interventions such as delivery through precincts, creating a pipeline of projects, and raising awareness among contractors. We create a framework anchored in the circuits of power theory to show the relationships between overt obstacles, covert causes and suggested solutions. Infrastructure megaprojects can be set up for success by addressing the covert causes through proper interventions, such as changing culture and implementing innovations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100011
Number of pages8
JournalProject Leadership and Society
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Causes
  • Infrastructure
  • Megaprojects
  • Obstacles
  • Organizational power
  • Poor performance


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