MSc Operations, Project and Supply Chain Management / Course details

Year of entry: 2022

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Course unit details:
Megaproject Leadership and Strategy

Course unit fact file
Unit code BMAN72262
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Alliance Manchester Business School
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course introduces the students to fundamental conceptual frameworks and methods relevant to any student (in planning, management, or engineering) with ambitions to take leadership roles in capital-intensive development projects. These so-called ‘megaprojects’ are project-based organizations purposely established to develop complex socio-technical systems including transport, energy, and water systems, telecommunication infrastructure, networks of social assets (prisons, schools, hospitals), and defence systems. Mega-projects are a complex form of organizing work employed by governments and private businesses to achieve complex system goals, and thus an important form of public-private partnership. The aim of the course is to further our understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the leaders of megaprojects, and how leaders can design structures and processes that encourage social norms of collaboration to flourish, and thus bring out the best of people in these complex interorganizational settings.


BMAN72262 Programme Req: BMAN72262 is only available as an elective to students on MSc Operations, Project and Supply Chain Management and MSc Management and Implementation of Development Projects


This elective course introduces students to fundamental challenges faced by the leadership teams of capital-intensive technology developments, so-called megaprojects, in different societies around the world including fragile and robust democracies, single-party systems, and autocratic monarchies. Megaprojects are capital-intensive projects and programmes set up to develop and deliver a range of technologies including infrastructure (e.g., airports, sewerage systems, high-speed train networks, sports facilities, power stations), backbone IT systems, science infrastructure (telescopes, particle accelerators) and aircraft. Megaprojects are challenging interorganizational contexts where many independent organizational actors must work together towards a unifying higher-order goal with a view to co-produce value and agree a way to distribute the value to be co-produced.


Typical leadership roles in megaprojects include chief executive, chairman of the board, and director of design/ engineering/ construction/ procurement/ or communications. Project executive leaders (also called project directors) typically report and some integrate an executive board which also includes executive and non-executive representatives of the funders and other resourceful stakeholders such as ministerial departments, local authorities, delivery partners, and corporate executive directors. Project leaders are responsible for overseeing and steering the project management teams in charge of delivering the project. This is, they manage the project managers. Further, together with their political masters, project leaders must manage the interdependencies with many stakeholder groups and institutions in the external environment to enable value to be created and distributed.


The course will equip students with systems-wide knowledge to lead the megaproject lifecycle from the development of an idea in the planning stage through the capital-intensive implementation stage to the handover of the new technology to operations. In addition, we will shed light on key executive roles and alternative governance and organisational structures through which decision-making authority is allocated and value is co-produced and distributed. Students will also learn practical tools and conceptual framing useful to support the difficult judgement calls at the essence of exercising megaproject leadership.


Specifically, the course will discuss key factors affecting the megaproject planning and implementation stages including conflicting interests and subgoals, uncertainty in requirements, interdependency with numerous stakeholder groups in the environment, and technological flexibility. We will also discuss complex tradeoffs such as between contracting for stakeholder resources vs. enfranchising key stakeholders; setting performance targets vs. creating strategic ambiguity; or between the costs and benefits of creating financial slack. We will introduce theory, conceptual framing, and methods suitable for guiding strategic decision-making on designing the megaproject organizational and the governance structures, the delivery processes, the supplier contracting and procurement strategies, and coping with uncertainty and externalities through the delivery life-cycle. We will also discuss the challenge of acquiring the complementary resources towards value creation from stakeholder groups that cannot be internalised into the megaproject, and may lack incentives to enter into formal or relational contracts. We will also discuss how to factor in concerns for sustainable development in megaprojects. Finally, we will discuss alternative forms of governance by which megaproject promoters seek to navigate the institutional voids that characterize

Learning outcomes

  • Understanding of the megaproject lifecycle from the inception of an idea, through planning and implementation and finally hand over to operations
  • Awareness of a megaproject as a capital-intensive technology development which encapsulates multiple subprojects, delivered concurrently and/or sequentially.
  • Understanding of megaprojects as complex interorganizational contexts that combine different governance structures (collective action, hierarchy, managed supply chains)
  • Understanding of key challenges facing megaproject leadership teams including coping with uncertainty, reconciling heterogeneous and conflicting interests between resourceful participants and key stakeholders, combining different governance structures, and meeting performance targets set at the onset of development
  • Understanding of alternative ways to speed up megaproject development albeit high uncertainty in requirements
  • Understanding of key strategic choices for megaproject leadership
  • teams including enfranchising key stakeholders, renegotiating the value distribution,  designing a supplier procurement & contracting strategy, setting performance targets, and building financial slack ,
  • Understanding of the value and challenge of building design flexibility - and options logic - more broadly to cope with uncertainty
  • Understanding of how to factor in sustainability concerns into megaprojects
  • Understanding of how to adapt megaproject governance to navigate institutional voids


Teaching and learning methods

Formal Contact Methods

Minimum Contact hours: 20 

Delivery format: Lecture and Workshops 

Assessment methods

Group Project (50%)

Individual Essay (50%)

Based on a selected case study, the group project (up to 5 students) can be: i) a podcast (3 min max); ii)  written report (suggested maximum around 4,000 words); or iii) an extended slide pack

Individual essay (suggested maximum around 2,000 words) will assess each individual separately.  Each essay needs to be focused on a case study to enable the student to apply analytical skills to a real-world problem, formulate a recommendation as to how to move forward, and devise an implementation strategy


Feedback methods

Informal advice and discussion during a lecture, seminar, workshop or lab.
Responses to student emails and questions from a member of staff including feedback provided to a group via an online discussion forum.
Specific course related feedback sessions.
Written and/or verbal comments on assessed or non-assessed coursework.
Written and/or verbal comments after students have given a group or individual presentation.

Recommended reading

Baldwin, C. and Clark, K.B. (2006). “Modularity in the Design of Complex Engineering Systems,” in Complex Engineered Systems, Braha, Minai, Bar-Yam. (Available from

Cornelius, P., Van de Putte, A., and Romani, M. (2005). Three Decades of Scenario Planning in Shell, California Management Review, Fall, 48 (1) 92-109.

DeMeyer, A., Loch, C.H., and Pich, M.T. (2002). Managing Project Uncertainty: From Variation to Chaos, MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter, 60-67.

Fichman et al. (2005). Beyond Valuation: ‘Options Thinking’ in IT Project Management. California Management Review.

Flyvbjerg, B. (2005). Policy and Planning for Large Infrastructure Projects: Problems, Causes, Cures. Policy Research Working Paper, WPS 3781, World Bank, Washington, DC, 2005, 32 pp.

Gil, N., Lundrigan, C. (2012). The Leadership and Governance of Megaprojects. Centre for Infrastructure Development (CID), Manchester Business School, The University of Manchester, CID technical report No.3/2013.

Gil, N., Biesek, G. (2012). Design for Evolvability: Theory and Methods. CID Working Paper. The University of Manchester

Gil, N., Tether, B.(2011). Project Risk Management and Design Flexibility: Analysing a Case and Conditions of Complementarity. Research Policy, 40, 415-428.

Gil, N. (2009). Project Safeguards: Operationalizing Optionlike Strategic Thinking in Infrastructure Development. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 56 (2) 257-270.

Gil, N. (2009). Developing Project Client-Supplier Cooperative Relationships: How much to Expect from Relational Contracts? California Management Review, Winter, 144-169

Colm, Lundrigan, Gil, N. Puranam, P. (2014) Linking Evolution in Structure to Ambiguity in Performance: The Case of Large Infrastructure Developments. A Hybrid Form of Meta-organization. Working Paper. Manchester Business School

Gil, N. and Baldwin, C. (2013). Sharing the Right to Design: A Commons approach to Collective Development. Harvard Business School Working Paper.

Jacobides, M.G., Winter, S.G., (2005). The Co-evolution of Capability and Transaction Costs: Explaining the Institutional Structure of Production, Strategic Management Journal, 26 (5) 395-413

Mitchell, R.K., Agle, B.R., Wood, D.J. (1997). Toward a Theory of Stakeholder Identification and Salience: Defining the Principle of Who and What Really Counts, Academy of Management Review, 22 (4) 853-886.

Ostrom, E. 2010. A Long Polycentric Journey. Annual Review of Political Science 13(1):1-23

Ostrom, E. et al. (1999) Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges, Science 284, 278–282.

Williamson, O.E. (1979). Transaction-Cost Economics: The Governance of Contractual Relations. Journal of Law and Economics, 22 (2) 233-261

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 30
Independent study hours
Independent study 120

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Nuno Gil Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Informal Contact Methods
Office Hours
Drop in Surgeries (extra help sessions for students on material they may be struggling with)

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