nt. J. Project Organisation and Managemen
, Vol. 11, No. 1, 2019 1
Copyright © 2019 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.
Identification of failure factors in large scale complex
projects: an integrative framework and review of
Faculty of Business, Economics and Law,
The University of Queensland,
Brisbane, Queensland, 4072, Australia
QUT Business School,
Queensland University of Technology,
2 George Street, Brisbane,
Queensland, 4000, Australia
Abstract: Project cost and time overruns have been the subject of much debate
in large scale complex project management, however, there is no study of its
determinants. This study identifies some specific factors contributing to poor
performance in the large scale complex project – none of these is uncommon
but here they come together in a more systematic and an integrative way. By
providing an integrative framework of failure factors, this study fills an existing
gap in the project management literature regarding the lack of understanding of
determinants of project cost and time overruns and, from a practice perspective,
assists in more effectively distributing limited resources, such as budget, time
Keywords: failure factor; project failure; complex project; large project;
systematic review; integrative framework; project organisation; project
management; risk factor.
Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Rezvani, A. and
Khosravi, P. (2019) ‘Identification of failure factors in large scale complex
projects: an integrative framework and review of emerging themes’, Int. J.
Project Organisation and Management, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp.1–21.
Biographical notes: Azadeh Rezvani is a Lecturer and Research Fellow in the
Business School at The University of Queensland, Australia. Her research
interests include leadership, emotional intelligence, innovation adoption and
project management. Her work appears in various journals and conferences
including International Journal of Information Management, Team
Performance Management, Computers in Human Behaviours and International
Journal of Project Management.
. Rezvani and P. Khosravi
Pouria Khosravi is a Researcher in the School of Management at the
Queensland University of Technology, Australia. His research focuses on
innovation adoption, leadership and IS implementation. His work appears in
journals including International Journal of Project Management, International
Journal of Information Management, Computers in Human Behaviours and
International Journal of Medical Informatics.
Why do large scale projects fail? This question has motivated researchers and
practitioners to investigate the underlined problems of poor performance in complex
projects. Complex projects have certain characteristics that make them fragile against
collapse (Mazur et al., 2014). They are characterised by high complexity and uncertainty,
a large number of stakeholders that contributes to time and budget overrun (Flyvbjerg
et al., 2016; Rezvani et al., 2018b; Williams, 2016). Typically, these projects are
commissioned by governments and delivered by private enterprises (Dvir et al., 2006).
Many of these projects attract public attention because of their substantial impacts on
communities, the environment and budgets (Van Marrewijk et al., 2008).
Challenges and problems to large-scale complex projects can negatively influence
organisational capabilities, productivity and performance of these projects (Toor and
Ogunlana, 2009a). Several researchers conducted studies to identify the causes of failure
in complex projects (Thamhain, 2013; Yau and Yang, 2012; Han et al., 2009). For
example, Thamhain (2013) has revealed that the main causes of cost overruns stem from
a lack of a competent and effective leader, lack of management commitment, instability
of project team and redesign or changing project requirements. Shenhar et al. (2016)
indicated that major causes of schedule delay arise from lack of underestimating the
project requirements, material procurement and, incorrect installation of software.
Although these studies provide a ground for understanding why projects fail in complex
projects. However, the literature lacks up-to-date synthesis of such phenomenon
regarding complex projects. We also found no study in the literature about a generic
taxonomy of barriers to success within large-scale complex projects.
It is, therefore, of value to conduct a systematic review of the literature on the failure
factors for large scale complex projects so as to broaden the understanding of the best
ways of delivering successful complex projects to both practitioners and researchers.
Recognising and understanding the potential failure factors in large scale complex
projects is essential for acquiring and preserving the capabilities that are needed to
perform well in dynamic, uncertain and constantly changing environments (Toor and
Ogunlana, 2009b; Shenhar et al., 2016).
This paper, which focuses on failure factors, in large-scale complex projects, makes
several contributions. First, this research synthesises the contribution of research on
failure factors, in large scale complex projects. A key distinction is made among failure
factors, in the domain of large scale complex projects management. By distinguishing
different loci of failure factors, the paper identifies the determinants of project failure in
complex projects. Specifically, this review initially analyses separately failure factors into
meaningful categories. By identification of the problems in managing complex projects,
this research provides an integrative framework for future research, including the
dentification of failure factors in large scale complex projects 3
development of a new managerial approach for managing complex projects. Finally, the
research findings provide practitioners with a better understanding of common challenges
in managing complex projects so that practitioners are aware of these problems and take
appropriate measures to address them.
2 Large scale complex project
Researchers have not yet determined a single definition for a large scale complex project
(Vidal et al., 2011) however, project complexity refers to the project with undefined
(Qureshi and Kang, 2015; Thomas and Mengel, 2008), chaotic (Thomas and Mengel,
2008), interrelated (Browning, 2014; Qureshi and Kang, 2015; Yang et al., 2011),
fast-paced, erratic, ambiguity and non-linear (Qureshi and Kang, 2015; Senescu et al.,
2012; Yang et al., 2011). Complexity has increased due to the ‘hypercompetitive
economy’ and multiple success parameters put in place by an organisation [Assudani and
Kloppenborg, (2010), p.67]. Complex projects – like their non-complex cousins,
traditional projects – are about adding value to the organisation. In this study, following
the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standard (GAPPS, 2007) guidelines and
prior studies in complex projects (Ahern et al., 2014; Rezvani et al., 2018; Locatelli et al.,
2014; Rezvani et al., 2016c; Bosch-Rekveldt et al., 2011) we consider a project as being
‘large-scale’ if it has at least one of the following characteristics: a high degree of
uncertainty and mixture of joined organisations and sub-contracting (Ahern et al., 2014);
rapid change of technology (Davies and Mackenzie, 2014; Bosch-Rekveldt et al., 2011);
high degree of interdependency between a number of system parts and organisations
involved (Locatelli and Mancini, 2012; Rezvani et al., 2018b); strong legal, social or
environmental implications from undertaking the project (William, 2016); strategic
importance of the project to the organisation or organisations involved (Mazur et al.,
2014; Bosch-Rekveldt et al., 2011); stakeholders with conflicting needs regarding the
characteristics of the project’s product (Locatelli et al., 2014); and newness of technology
(Robinson Fayek et al., 2006).
In spite of the huge interest by governments worldwide in large-scale complex
projects, its implementation is still experiencing lots of impediments which need critical
attention. Among such obstacles encountered with successful delivery of large-scale
projects include lack of transparent communication, lengthy time period, lack of top
management support, lack of detailed plan, lack of user/owner satisfaction (Fortune and
White, 2006; Yu et al., 2005; Ogunlana, 2008; Alshawi et al., 2012; Rezvani and
Khosravi, 2018). These obstacles within large-scale complex projects contribute to the
importance of a review of studies on barrier factors in order to inform the future
successful delivery of large-scale complex projects. In addition, large scale complex
projects are infamous for their high failure rate. Only one in eight large scale complex
projects is delivered on time, within budget and meeting requirements (McManus and
Wood-Harper, 2007). The failure of large-scale projects has been disastrous for many
organisations. A recent estimate of the cost of project failure across the European Union
was $142 billion Euros in 2004 (McManus and Wood-Harper, 2007). Identification of
failure factors in large and complex projects will actually enable practitioners to be more
enlightened with the challenges and issues for implementing successful future large-scale
complex projects thereby reducing the setbacks towards its implementation. Therefore,
. Rezvani and P. Khosravi
the measurement of failure factors that lead to poor performance is frequent research
topics that deserve attention.
Following guidelines offered by Tranfield et al. (2003), a systematic review was
conducted to identify and synthesise all the available research evidence of sufficient
quality over three stages: planning, conducting and reporting the review. In the planning
stage, the author identified a need for a review and developed research questions and the
review protocol. In the conducting stage, the author performed searches, identified
included studies, extracted data from studies and synthesised the data. In the reporting
stage, the authors reported the results.
3.1 Search terms
This systematic literature review was guided by the research questions investigating
project barriers or failure factors in the context of complex project management. A
three-step search strategy was used (see Figure 1). An initial search of Science Direct,
Wiley and ABI/INFORM databases was undertaken to determine optimal search terms,
followed by a second search using all relevant keywords. In the second search, a number
of search terms were identified and grouped into two categories: (‘complex project*’ OR
‘mega project*’ OR ‘large-scale project*’ OR ‘large project*’ OR ‘major project*’)
AND (‘failure’ OR ‘project barrier factor*’ OR ‘poor performance’ OR ‘project failure’
OR ‘cost overruns’ OR ‘project risk*’ OR ‘time overruns’).
Figure 1 The three-phase search strategy
Search in target d atabases
Remove irrelevant papers
after reading full papers
Formul ate research
Yang et al. (2011) and Mok
et al. (2015)
dentification of failure factors in large scale complex projects 5
Finally, the selected terms were searched for across publication keywords, titles and
abstracts. In total, the search identified in excess of 1,654 papers. It was possible to get a
large number of papers, even with some limitations to the search, while performing
searches in databases with search strings. However, most of these papers were discussion
papers, duplicate papers or contained one of the review search terms but did not address
project success in complex projects. Therefore, once all studies had been retrieved from
the databases, the inclusion and exclusion criteria were used to determine whether the
study was relevant to the review, leaving a total of 433 publications for further analysis.
After removing duplicates and unrelated papers, we applied a two-stage filtering process
previously adopted by Yang et al. (2011) and Mok et al. (2015) in their literature review
(see Figure 1.). In the first stage, we reviewed the abstracts and introductions of the
remaining 433 papers that addressed barrier factors. This process led to the extraction of
311 papers, leaving 64 papers for further review. In the second stage, the author excluded
irrelevant papers after the full text was retrieved and thoroughly assessed. As a result,
32 articles were included in this study and were considered to offer insights about project
success in complex project environments based on the inclusion criteria. It must be
emphasised that the extraction and examination of papers are solely based on the data
acquired from the specific databases adopted in this study. Furthermore, this study does
not intend to examine a complete population of papers on barrier/failure factors but to
review the trend of research on challenging factors that impede the chance of success in
large scale projects and the most reported barrier factors for future examination and
implementation of large scale projects. However, we believe the articles identified for the
systematic review are demonstrative of the literature, owing to the rigorous search
3.2 Inclusion/exclusion criteria
The systematic review limited to empirical papers that:
1 were published in peer review journals
2 provided empirical evidence regarding the barrier factors in complex projects.
Studies in languages other than English, conceptual papers, conference papers,
unpublished full-text documents and review papers were excluded from the search. This
review also excluded reports because reports have criticised for failing to describe the
research method used (Savolainen et al., 2012; Jørgensen and Moløkken-Østvold, 2006).
3.3 Data synthesis for systematic review
This study used a combination of analytical approaches to guarantee a rigorous research
process and to increase the validity and reliability of the systematic literature review
(Levy and Ellis, 2006), namely descriptive and thematic analysis (Morgan and Smircich,
1980; Ritchie et al., 2013). The descriptive analysis allows the main characteristics of the
field under investigation to be identified (Dey, 2003) such as a year of publication,
countries and methodology. The thematic analysis consists of synthesising the main
outcomes extracted from the literature and condensing the text into fewer content-related
. Rezvani and P. Khosravi
categories of qualitative data via content analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006; Guest et al.,
2011). Content analysis is a method used to determine the major facets of a data set by
counting the number of times a topic appears (Neuendorf, 2002). According to the
literature, this is a valid method to undertake a systematic literature review (Levy and
Ellis, 2006). Following Ritchie’s et al. (2013) method, a series of steps were undertaken
in order to conduct a thematic analysis. First, the literature was read and textually
analysed to derive a set of suitable categories. This led to identifying recurring themes
from the collected literature with specific reference to various barrier factors. After the
themes were identified the authors arranged the main categories and their attributes using
a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to integrate the identified categories. Finally, the results of
the complete categorisation set were condensed into Table A1.
4 Overview of selected publications
4.1 Annual publications
As shown in Figure 2, a rapid increase of publication in the complex project began in
2000. The fast pace of complex or large project development can be attributed to the
advanced technology and rapid globalisation (Mok et al., 2015). This shows the gradual
rising of interest in exploring the best ways of delivering successful large scale complex
projects. It is predicted that this trend of increasing research on complex projects would
continue as more governments and countries are now embracing and implementing these
types of projects, which would naturally foster more research in that area.
Figure 2 The annual number of publications (see online version for colours)
4.2 Projects per country
In order to ascertain countries with most large-scale projects, a simple counting of papers
on countries was conducted. However, publications with a research focus in more than
one country were considered ‘International’, therefore, were not attributed to any specific
country. This is because such publications discuss more on international large-scale
complex projects rather than being country specific. With this approach, the countries
with most studies are presented in Figure 3. The vast majority of studies investigating
barrier factors for large scale complex project come from International studies, UK,
China, Australia, USA, Thailand and Vietnam which have the highest numbers of
publications, with 6, 4, 3 and 2 publications respectively. It is noticeable that
dentification of failure factors in large scale complex projects 7
contributions from researchers in other countries are very low. This could be due to a
limited number of large scale projects or could be the publication in another language
than English, which was not considered in this study. More studies should be conducted
in other countries to account for the nature and structure of the local industry, scale of
complex projects, procurement strategies, the maturity of the concerned organisations and
local cultural values and norms.
Figure 3 Publications by county focus (see online version for colours)
4.3 Methodologies adopted for studies on large-scale complex projects
Three major categories of research methods were identified including case studies,
questionnaire survey and mixed method (questionnaire and cases studies). The respective
numbers of papers for the various categories are presented in Figure. 4. As demonstrated
in the figure, a case study is the most favoured research method in exploring the failure
factors for large scale projects accounting for 59% of the total number. This statistical
result is understandable as the case study approach provides an in-depth information
about the phenomenon under study (Orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991).
Figure 4 Research method (see online version for colours)
. Rezvani and P. Khosravi
Another favoured research method adopted on barrier and failure studies is the
questionnaire survey. This research method accounts for 25% of the total number of
publications. Questionnaire survey has always been the preferred method in project
management research (Edmondson and McManus, 2007). It allows more experts to
participate in the research study especially a sensitive and public policy like large scale
projects. The third research method adopted is the mixed method.
This also accounts for 16% of the total number of publications. The mixed method
adopted involves a mix of interviews, case study and questionnaire survey. This method
presents some advantages by combining the positive of different methods to study a
particular phenomenon. However, it must be noted that the use of a particular method to
explore failure factors for large scale projects depends on the time and jurisdiction of
4.4 Journal names
The articles included in this study were published in 16 different journals (see Table 1).
These include: International Journal of Project Management, Project Management
Journal, Construction Innovation, Cost Engineering, Utilities Policy, The Journal of
High Technology Management Research, Engineering, Construction and Architectural
Management, Government Information Quarterly, Information System Journal, Public in
Administration, European Planning Studies, Information Systems Management, IEEE
Transactions on Engineering Management, Construction Management and Economics,
and Decision Science and Progress in Planning. Based on the studies in our final pool,
18 Out of 32 articles were published in the International Journal of Project Management
(n = 9), Project Management Journal (n = 5) and Engineering, Construction and
Architectural Management (n = 4). This could be useful to researchers seeking to conduct
future studies on failure factors to the existing discussions.
Table 1 Papers on failure factors in various journals
Journal name No.
International Journal of Project Management 9
Project Management Journal 5
Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management 4
Information Systems Journal 2
Decision Sciences 1
Construction Innovation 1
Information Systems Management 1
The Journal of High Technology Management Research 1
Public Administration 1
Construction Management and Economics 1
Cost Engineering 1
Progress in Planning 1
European Planning Studies 1
Utilities Policy 1
IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management 1
Government Information Quarterly 1
dentification of failure factors in large scale complex projects 9
5 Integrative framework
A new and integrative framework is proposed based on the system theory
(Von Bertalanffy, 1968) as shown in Figure 5. System theory is appropriate as it is an
interdisciplinary theory that integrates diverse complex systems in society or nature.
More specifically, the system theory argues that organisational systems comprise of
interconnected subsystems or elements that need to continually work and coordinate with
each other to produce change and desirable results. According to the system theory, every
organisation, as a part of a larger system, depends on its environments such as industry or
the society (Weihrich et al., 2008). In addition, system theory posits that organisations
obtain inputs, process them and produces the outputs to the environment. Inputs can
include resources, personal attribute, attitude, behaviour, knowledge and strategy. It
shows that project management can be categorised into three general phases: input,
process and outcome (Toor and Ogunlana, 2009b). Inputs can include project objectives,
resources, personal attribute, attitude, behaviour, knowledge and strategy. The process
can include devising an adequate project management knowledge and techniques to
achieve goals and project objectives (Toor and Ogunlana, 2009a). Finally, outputs can
include a combination of several factors that might contribute to project failure or poor
Figure 5 Integrative framework
•Poor communication/relationship w ith
•Lack of organizational st ructure
•Lack of uniform standards for
•Lack of access to relevant information
•Changing organizational priorities
•Disproportionate focus on policy
•Excessive and misplaced trust in
•Use of unproven vendors
•Lack of learning f rom past project
•Outsourcing structures where owner
firms do not maintain high levels of
dominance over the activities
•Lack of top management support
Project Personnel Factors
•Lack of competent and eff ective leader
•Poor risk management
•Poor project control
•Lack of management co mmitment
•Wrongful use of power
•Poor operation management
•Lack of top management support
•Inst ability of project team
•Conf lict in proje ct t eam
•Lack of trust to team members
•Lack of team work experiences
Contractual F actors
•Complexity in managing contract
Project design and implementation
•Poor planning/ unclear initial
•Redesign / Rework / Changing
•Ineffect ive response plan
•Inaccuracy of project information
•Inadequate business process model
•Inadequate security measures for
the eventual operation of the
•Undervaluation / changing of
•Lack of coordination with local
•Legal operating environment
•Lack of political ant ennae
Technical & Financial
•Price inc rements
•Unava ilability of resource s
•Changing market or customer
•Diff iculty in la nd acquis ition or
site availa bility
•Technical diff iculties
•Newness of the project
•Inappropriate scheduling tools
Cost & Time
Figure 5 represents the result of our systematic review. The selected studies were
thoroughly examined in a search for barriers to success in large scale projects. After
arriving at several distinguishable failure factors, we have classified them into six groups
namely organisational, project personnel, contractual, project design and implementation,
political and legal, financial and technical grounded in system theory as a theoretical lens
which permits a more comprehensive means to integrate barrier factors. The groups are
. Rezvani and P. Khosravi
interrelated as can be shown from the figure. A factor in one group can influence a factor
in another group and a combination of several factors from various groups might
contribute to project failure or poor performance. Identified factors and related groups
could be considered as input related factors based on system theory affecting the project
outcomes directly and indirectly.
The first category, organisational, is based on Yetton et al. (2000); the second
category contractual is adopted from Flyvbjerg (2008); the third category of project
personnel, is on the basis of Anthopoulos et al. (2016) and Toor and Ogunlana (2009b)
work. The fourth category, project design and implementation are based on the Hall et al.
(2012) work. The political and legal category is adapted from Van Marrewijk et al.
(2008); Financial and technical is based on Alshawi et al. (2012) and Shenhar et al.
(2016) work. The complete set of categorisations was discussed in a meeting (Rust and
Cooil, 1994). Any discordances were settled during the meeting and the complete set of
final categories were finalised as shown in Figure 5.
Various failure factors in the groups can come into play simultaneously and cause
new difficulties or lead to additional obstacles during project implementation, which in
turn might cause projects to fail. Based on the system theory a system can respond to
these challenges in many ways. For example, a project personnel competency is being
affected by the factors related to the organisation, especially top management support, by
the project manager’s ability to implement a project, by technological, economic and
social factors and by the factors related to the project such as its complexity, newness of
the project. Similarly, lack of effective communication between all project stakeholders,
as one of the organisational factors, was seen as a factor influencing trust and conflict
among project personnel during the project stage which leads to poor performance
(Mazur et al., 2014; Rezvani et al., 2018a). As a result, by analysing the cause-effect
relationship given in the framework, project managers would be able to identify and
eliminate the factors that have a negative effect on their performance. These activities
result in the client’s acceptance of the project outcome, which is then perceived as a
success. For instance, lack of detailed plan and control decrease effective communication
and management of stakeholders.
The groups are interrelated as can be shown from Figure 5. A factor in one group can
influence a factor in another group and a combination of several factors from various
groups might contribute to project failure or poor performance. Identified factors and
related groups could be considered as an input related factors based on system theory
affecting the project outcomes directly and indirectly.
6 Discussions and recommendations
Organisational factors refer to the lack of structural and organisational priorities and
policies, as well as the lack of understanding of cultural aspects of an organisation (Hall
et al., 2012; Thamhain, 2013). For example, improper communication or failure to
communicate effectively with internal and external stakeholders was considered a
hindrance factor for project success in complex projects (Rezvani et al., 2016c). This
could be due to organisations engaged in complex projects focusing primarily on the
technical aspects of a project, but lacking emphasis on communication with internal and
external stakeholders. Organisational barriers can be overcome by ensuring more
effective communication focused on setting clear goals and requirements and upholding
dentification of failure factors in large scale complex projects 11
the principles of transparency and open communication among all the stakeholders
involved in complex projects (Liu et al., 2016; Remington and Pollack, 2007). This will
help to ensure the commitment of all organisations, allow all possible requirements to be
identified and all voices to be heard (Janssen et al., 2015).
Project personnel factors are related to a lack of or poor managerial skills and
competencies throughout the project life cycle. These can have negative consequences,
affecting everything from technical feasibility to cost, market timing, financial
performance and strategic objectives (Alshawi et al., 2012; Hall et al., 2012, Rezvani,
2013). For example, lack of a competent and effective leader is the most frequently cited
barrier in the project management literature. This illustrates the lack of attention to
managerial behaviours and skills in complex projects. Earlier research in complex
projects has shown that managerial skills and competencies can be trained (Clarke, 2010;
Rezvani et al., 2016a, 2016b). In large scale complex projects, organisations should
introduce training approaches that increase managerial competency and skills in project
leaders and managers. In addition, lack of trust among team members and lack of
teamwork experiences produce management pressures and exacerbate conflict and
instability within the team (Rezvani and Khosravi, 2018; Rezvani et al., 2018a; Rose and
Schlichter, 2013; Yetton et al., 2000). Project personnel failure factors can also be
softened through applying effective approaches to conflict management, focused on
transparency and open discussion of any differences between project teams and joint
problem-solving. Researchers have advocated that effective conflict management
increases mutual trust and allows teams to successfully resolve their disagreements and
develop team cohesion (Somech et al., 2009). Strong intergroup leadership to enact a
shared group identity is also critical to decreasing conflict and instability in project teams
(Hogg et al., 2012).
Contractual problems arise when stakeholders pursue self-interested goals in
initiating contracts and there are an inadequate and ineffective coordination and lack of
information sharing among the parties (Alshawi et al., 2012; Anthopoulos et al., 2016;
Long et al., 2004). This highlights that in complex projects many contractors and
sub-contractors are involved, resulting in complex relationships between parties. Such
intricate relationships often cause deficiencies in contractual agreements. These barriers
can be overcome by ensuring transparency in defining goals and clarity of contractual
agreements. Kent and Becerik-Gerber (2010) assert that as a backup plan, project-based
organisations can buy insurance against the risk of either party breaching the contract.
Through such contractual arrangements, both parties can secure their interests. However,
it is important to note that complex projects often have ambitious and ambiguous goals
and a very long time horizon, thus these recommendations are difficult to implement in
practice (Rezvani et al., 2016a). A more realistic strategy is to employ a strong
contractual agreement based on shared risk and reward arrangements, such as a policy of
‘sink or swim together’ (Kent and Becerik-Gerber, 2010). A good example of contractual
success through shared risk and reward is the London Heathrow Terminal 5 project,
where both parties agreed on mutual risk and gain sharing; all stakeholders in the project,
including project partners and contractors, worked collaboratively and responded to
emergent, unforeseen problems in real-time, a risk budget was maintained and remaining
profits were shared (Kardes et al., 2013). The project was finished on time and within the
budget of £4.2 billion in 2008.
. Rezvani and P. Khosravi
Project design and implementation failure factors refer to the lack of detailed
specification of the implementation process (Patanakul, 2014). Project design and
implementation problems may highlight the lack of clear initial requirements it also
reflects the nature of complex projects, which includes ambiguous project goals, a long-
time horizon, unforeseen challenges and complex relationships which might alter its
course and force the team to learn and continuously readjust the plan. It has been argued
that without a clear project design and documented requirements there is a high
possibility of new requirements being added to the project and existing requirements
being discarded (Patanakul, 2014), undermining the chance of project success (Hall et al.,
2012; Thamhain, 2013). Large projects cannot be completed without detailed planning
from the start as the complexity is very high, which in turn may influence their
development (Janssen et al. 2015). In order to overcome project design and
implementation challenges one solution would be to start out with a sufficient front-end
plan, especially for the nearest tasks, that accounts for likely changes in the project
direction, or changes in technology and the legal environment, since most complex
projects have little flexibility after initiation due to their high degree of regulation.
Studies have highlighted that projects with better initial design processes and monitoring
progress show a higher success rate than those with insufficient front-end plans and a
progress update (Davies and Mackenzie, 2014). Investment in the early stages of the
project can help to maintain the schedule and improve quality. Therefore, cost reduction
is secured and better outcomes are achieved (Davies and Mackenzie, 2014).
Political/legal factors relate to government or political intervention, which interferes
with or prevents business transactions, or changes in the terms of agreements in the
project planning phase (Alshawi et al., 2012). These barriers arise from the actions of
local as well as national governments due to the uncertainty from possible changes in the
policies of regulatory bodies, which may affect project costs and revenue (Thamhain,
2013). These changes include the levels of local and national taxation, limitations on the
import and export of foreign and local currencies and changes in the levels of customs
duties on imported equipment and supplies (Yau and Yang, 2012). To cope with
political/legal barriers one solution would be to co-operate and maintain good
relationships with local government departments by preparing all necessary documents
and feasibility reports in a timely manner (Alshawi et al., 2012). It is also important to
obtain support from foreign firms’ home governments and international monetary
institutions, such as the World Bank, against expropriation by local government or its
agencies. In addition, forming a cooperative joint venture with local partners, especially
the central-local government agencies or state-owned companies is also vital (Yau and
Yang, 2012). It is also very important to carefully study the differential taxation laws and
find legal and reasonable measures to reduce taxes (Locatelli and Mancini, 2012).
Financial factors refer to the lack of money, funding and resources for complex
projects (Alshawi et al., 2012). Large scale projects are sturdily affected by the economy
in a society. Generally, the scale of complex projects is typically associated with the
degree of a nation’s economic foundation (Alshawi et al., 2012). Scholars exploring the
impact of financial difficulty on complex projects has shown that communication and
maintain good relationships with local government and public interest do indeed
influence time and cost management in large scale projects. The outcome is even more
noticeable for the whole region or nation. High degree of support from the government,
dentification of failure factors in large scale complex projects 13
can increase the chance of project success because they have the resources and
experience to deal with financial barriers (Alshawi et al., 2012). In particular, the
government has the legal power to ensure that the required resources are obtained (Bing
et al., 2005). Other dominant sources of project financing are the World Bank and other
aid agencies. A good example is the ‘land acquisition’ of the YD2nd Tunnel in Shanghai,
China, where the local authority took responsibility for providing financial support (Bing
et al., 2005).
Technical factors refer to the lack of relevant knowledge and experience of the
technical aspects of the project and expertise that can lead to several problems and
inefficiencies in developing projects, increasing the risk of failure (Khosravi et al., 2012;
Yetton et al., 2000). The expertise of operation and maintenance of new technology
impacts considerably on the success of large scale complex projects, which has been
demonstrated by many studies (Hartmann et al., 2009; Shenhar et al., 2016). According to
Hartmann et al. (2009) and Rezvani et al. (2017a, 2017b), technical knowledge enables
the use of correct working methods to competently handle machinery and equipment. To
cope with technical difficulties in complex projects, managers, project managers and
project teams should possess the necessary skills and knowledge to use and maintain the
newly implemented technology (Brookes and Locatelli, 2015; Khosravi et al., 2013;
Rezvani et al., 2016a). In this domain, training, investing additional time, more testing
and prototyping the new and advanced technology play an important role to ensure the
new technology is used efficiently and to reduce resistance to change (Shenhar et al.,
To sum up, the new framework we developed in this paper (Figure 5) presents the
factors in a more systematic and integrative way. Identified failure factors and related
groups help project organisations to understand different factors that contribute to project
failure or poor performance. The integrative framework help project participants to
understand, for example, that lack political support influences many organisational
factors affecting the project outcome and these factors should be carefully considered
during project stage. In addition, the new framework shows that poor performance in
large scale projects depends on several factors which may include project personnel
factors or human-related factors, organisational factors, technical and financial factors
and factors related to contract and political factors. The new and integrative framework is
suited for the strategic planning and includes and goes beyond the traditional project
management role which is mainly concerned with technical and business/work process
design contents. The project management must now also be involved in creating the big
picture and taking into account other ‘soft related factors’ of human factors. The
traditional project management largely based on ‘hard’ systems engineering approach
will be found to be inadequate and incapable of coping with many of the ill-defined ‘soft’
As a practical implication, executives and project leaders in large scale projects can
use these findings, to sum up and provide reflections of all the challenges and barriers to
success before constructing and implementing new large-scale projects. More
importantly, a careful early analysis of the barrier factors and potential difficulties might
have foreseen many of the difficulties that shadowed and possibly evaded some of the
losses, including the subsequent reputational damage (Rezvani et al., 2015).
. Rezvani and P. Khosravi
Overall the success of a large scale complex project can be improved with the knowledge
of failure factors and their influences on large scale complex projects. This research
offers practitioners a more comprehensive and systematic understanding of the potential
barriers to success in managing complex projects so that they might proactively address
those failure factors prior to problems emerging and effectively acquire and preserve the
capabilities that are needed to perform well in a dynamic, uncertain and constantly
changing the environment (Rezvani, 2018). As shown in Figure 5, the challenges in large
scale projects are abundant, so it is important to learn the lessons and pick up the failure
factors, to diminish the mistakes and guide the future constructions of large scale project.
Given the complexity and dynamics of complex projects, all stakeholders who are
involved in complex projects should have an understanding of the different factors that
impede the success of complex projects in order to implement proper strategies from the
initial project stages (Khosravi et al., 2012; Rezvani et al., 2012a, 2012b; Van Marrewijk
et al., 2008). The integrative framework and respective recommendations inform
governors and decision makers in making measures and control standards to minimise
challenges and difficulties. An integrated framework of failure factors and its related
influence on complex project performance could help organisations to effectively
distribute limited resources, such as budget, time and manpower (Toor and Ogunlana,
2010). By increasing awareness of various barriers, managers may be able to proactively
respond to unexpected problems before they pose a significant threat. Proactive responses
could significantly enhance project efficiency and increase the chance of success (Kardes
et al., 2013).
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Table A1 Full list of failure factors and related categories
Poor communication/relationship with
Hui et al. (2008), Yau and Yang (2012), Toor and
Ogunlana (2009b), Tai et al. (2009), Thamhain
(2013), Ling and Lau (2002), Van Marrewijk
et al. (2008), Janssen et al. (2015)
Lack of organisational structure Tai et al. (2009)
Lack of uniform standards for
Toor and Ogunlana (2009b)
Lack of access to relevant information Dimitriou et al. (2013)
Changing organisational priorities Thamhain (2013)
Disproportionate focus on policy setting Hall et al. (2012)
Excessive and misplaced trust in
Hall et al. (2012)
Use of unproven vendors Robinson Fayek et al. (2006)
Change management Anthopoulos et al. (2016)
Organisational complexity Chang (2013)
Lack of learning from project Yu et al. (2005)
Outsourcing structures where owner firms
do not maintain high levels of dominance
over the activities
Hui et al. (2008)
. Rezvani and P. Khosravi
Table A1 Full list of failure factors and related categories (continued)
Incompetent and ineffective leader and
Patanakul (2014), Toor and Ogunlana (2009b),
Poor risk management Alshawi et al. (2012), Hall et al. (2012)
Poor project control Koppenjan et al. (2011), Anthopoulos et al.
Lack of management commitment Thamhain (2013)
Wrongful use of power Toor and Ogunlana (2009b)
Poor operation management Phua and Rowlinson (2004)
Lack of top management support Rezvani et al. (2016a)
Instability of project team Yetton et al. (2000), Thamhain (2013),
Anthopoulos et al. (2016)
Conflict in project team Yetton et al. (2000), Thamhain (2013)
Lack of trust to team members Rezvani et al. (2016c)
Unqualiﬁed engineers Alshawi et al. (2012)
Lack of team work experience Toor and Ogunlana (2009b)
Project design and implementation
Poor planning/ unclear initial
Alshawi et al. (2012), Patanakul (2014), Hall
et al. (2012), Locatelli and Mancini (2012),Yau
and Yang (2012), Flyvbjerg (2008),Van
Marrewijk et al. (2008)
Anthopoulos et al. (2016), Akkermans and
Van Oorschot(2016), Lech (2013), Thamhain
(2013), Ling and Lau (2002), Giezen (2012), Han
et al. (2009), Anthopoulos et al. (2016), Shenhar
et al. (2016), Akkermans and van Oorschot(2016)
, Janssen et al. (2015)
Ineffective response plan Patanakul (2014), Frinsdorf et al. (2014)
Inaccuracy of project information Ling and Lau (2002)
Inadequate business process model Hall et al. (2012)
Inadequate security measures for the
eventual operation of the scheme
Hall et al. (2012)
Governmental processes Alshawi et al. (2012), Yau andYang (2012)
Undervaluation/changing of regulation
Locatelli and Mancini (2012), Thamhain (2013)
Lack of coordination with local
Alshawi et al. (2012)
Political intervention Yau andYang (2012)
Lack of political antennae Van Marrewijk et al. (2008)
dentification of failure factors in large scale complex projects 21
Table A1 Full list of failure factors and related categories (continued)
Technical and financial
Price increments Alshawi et al. (2012),Thamhain (2013)
Unavailability of resources Alshawi et al. (2012), Shenhar et al. (2016),
Frinsdorf et al. (2014)
Difficulty in land acquisition or site
Liu et al. (2016)
Changing market or customer needs Thamhain (2013)
Technical difficulties Yetton et al. (2000), Thamhain (2013), Khosravi
et al. (2016)
System complexity Brookes and Locatelli (2015), Davies and
Newness of the project Locatelli and Mancini (2012), Robinson Fayek
et al. (2006), Khosravi et al.(2013)
Inappropriate scheduling tools Han et al. (2009)
Technology change Han et al. (2009), Khosravi et al. (2012)
Incorrect installations Shenhar et al. (2016)
Software delay Shenhar et al. (2016)
Contractual disputes Alshawi et al. (2012), Patanakul (2014)
Complexity in managing contract Janssen et al. (2015)