An assessment of the impact of front-end project initiation activities on the long-term deliverability of major projects

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: School of Management

Abstract

Context / Objectives
Since the evolution of project management as a research discipline, the field has suffered from chronic lack of understanding surrounding the complexity and challenges facing the initiating phase (i.e. project front-end) of large-scale projects (Lundin and Söderholm, 1995; Davies, 2017). There has been a fundamental lack of research into the ways that projects have been set up after the policy phase but before the project enters the business as usual phase.

This research addresses that gap through an investigation into the activities completed at the front-end of large-scale projects in order to help better understand, and provide reasoning behind, why this under-researched stage in the project life-cycle can have such a significant impact upon a projects end result (Artto, 2011). Extant literature evidences the importance of front-end practices and concedes that front-end activities can often be the root of cause of 'success' or 'failure' highlighting the considerable need for further research (Morris, 2013).

Many authors support the view that the front-end practices contribute significantly to the successful execution of projects (Edkins et al, 2013; Samset & Volden, 2016). The aforementioned previous studies merely seem to highlight the importance of front-end practices however. They detail the importance of front-end activities usually in relation to one specific case study example. This research will consider front-end practices more broadly and assess the impact of initiation activities on a macro scale, drawing out key emerging themes and good practice across a range of projects being delivered within a range of contexts.

Methodology / Data
This research will adopt a mixed-methodology approach obtaining primary data from project delivery professionals within different government departments alongside utilising secondary sources of data available from external agencies such as the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA). The rich primary data will be obtained through semi-structured interviews and observations with key stakeholders involved in the front-end delivery process. The secondary data analysis will involve content analysis completed through the scrutinising of existing reports (IPA/IfG) and key performance measures providing details on longer term measures of project performance.

One key advantage with this project concerns the accessibility to high quality and appropriate data sources. Building on access to large-scale projects via the ESRC funded Project X and HPC Supply Chain Innovation Lab, will allow unique access to rich primary and secondary datasets to advance management theory, practice and policy with regard to large-scale projects.

Application / Impact
The impact arising from this research is likely to be significant. There have been calls for more research into this specific area of project delivery knowledge from within both academia and government (Edkins et al, 2013; Cabinet Office, 2019). Existing research highlights the opportunity for value creation in the front-end of projects however no study has had the time, nor the resources to be able to provide an in-depth, comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of different activities completed within the front-end and the resultant impacts (Attro, 2016).

This research possesses significant potential not just through its contribution to academic theory but also in relation to social and economic value creation for the UK. This research has significant potential to positively impact the 133 major projects with a net whole life cost of £442 billion pounds currently being undertaken by the UK government (IPA, 2019). As illustrated through existing research links (e.g. Project X) it is clear to see that the UK government are actively looking to academia to help improve and shape their practice (Project X, 2018). As a result, this research is likely to be greatly utilised in a governmental context.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2229577 Studentship ES/P000630/1 30/09/2019 29/09/2023 Joseph William Harrison