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The client's complex decision-making environment on international mega projects
conference contributionposted on 2010-01-01, 00:00 authored by Jessica Siva, Kerry London
More than ever before, architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) firms are working on international mega projects. The mega project environment offers a range of opportunities for firms but is but is characterised by a high level of risk and uncertainty. International mega projects bring together networks of people with differing backgrounds and cultures to work in unfamiliar locations to integrate the social, economic, technical and political components of design and construction. Within such an intense environment there is a process of rapid relationship development at an unprecedented level. The interests and power relations on such projects are often very strong given the vast amount of money, jobs, environmental impacts, publicity and national prestige involved. Therefore in a field as costly or consequential as mega project design and construction there is an increased need to effectively manage these projects given the associated high risks of failure. Internationalisation is a relatively new field of research in the AEC sector and past research has tended to focus on explaining the attitudes and behaviour of the industry itself towards improving performance on such projects. To date there has been little research investigating the sophistication of the international client in terms of their regular business environment which is characterised by a set of social, economic and political responsibilities. The values that clients ascribe to their everyday practices and experiences inevitably condition how they act economically, which in turn impacts upon project decision-making. Clients establish the structural organisation of project teams through the procurement strategy and establish the context for effective decision-making. To a large extent they establish a unique culture that project team members need to work within and make decisions. Since clients establish the context within which firms operate the findings of past studies on the industry’s position and attitudes are more indicative than enlightening. Clients occupy a distinctly different position in the construction supply chain and therefore experience and respond to project matters based upon their environment and not the construction industry environment. Clients are confronted with uncertainties and need support to help them understand the critical role that they play in creating good decision-making environments. This theoretical paper seeks to develop a rationale for studying the client’s complex decision-making environment on international mega projects. Specifically it charts the quest for improved industry performance through client leadership as documented in various industry and government publications since the 1940s and highlights that there has been considerable attention to address industry problems through client leadership, however, with little evidence that the issues have been resolved. This paper is positioned within a PhD study, which seeks to move beyond the aspirations of policymakers and idealistic descriptions of how clients ought to behave to explain the reality of what really happens on mega project client decision-making based upon a critique of cultural political economy.