Delivering Superior Megaproject Performance Outcomes Through Timely Intervention in the Civil Engineering Curriculum

Danielle Lester

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Civil Engineers represent a significant percentage of Project Managers, and Project Contributors, on the proliferation of transport infrastructure megaprojects. Whilst these megaprojects (>USD$1 billion) are now commonplace, colossal cost overruns, and schedule delays are the norm, not the exception. Transport infrastructure megaprojects have become a focus of public interest, due to the impact of the success of a project, particularly during times of political and economic uncertainty. A review of megaproject performance propositioned the problem as behavioural, and attributed project failure to acts of delusion and deception, citing the ability to learn lessons, and the misalignment of incentives as factors influencing this behaviour. To understand these phenomena, a mixed-methods study was designed to gain insight into the decision-making behaviors of undergraduate civil engineers, and the role that education could play in enhancing decision-making to moderate delusion and deception in graduates and practicing civil engineers. An opportunity to measure the effect of a pilot co-curricular intervention ‘The Icarus Program’, led to qualitative exploration of decision-making of second and fourth year civil engineering undergraduates. Motivation featured heavily, particularly a conflict between interest and enjoyment, and the reward structures of traditional education and industry. These results led to a post-intervention quantitative measure of intrinsic motivation and critical thinking ability; and further investigation into nuances between the Icarus and Non-Icarus group. Self-Determination Theory was used to illustrate the impact extrinsic motives of traditional education have on the intrinsic motivation of undergraduates. Results indicated the students participating in the Icarus Program scored higher levels of intrinsic motivation, specifically in terms of relatedness with peers and instructors. The Icarus Program also produced higher critical thinking scores, despite students having lower Grade Point Averages than the Non-Icarus group. Despite the limitations of an exploratory study, findings from the educational environment had implications for industry and led to recommendations regarding the application of the contributing factors of the Icarus Program, to a megaproject environment. Implementing these recommendations has the potential to increase the ability to learn lessons, and moderate delusion. In parallel, recognising and removing the cognitive biases associated with incentives and rationalisation can also mitigate the opportunity for deception, leading to superior project performance outcomes on transport infrastructure megaprojects.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Queensland
  • Torero, Jose, Principal Supervisor, External person
Award date29 Aug 2017
Place of PublicationBrisbane
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Delivering Superior Megaproject Performance Outcomes Through Timely Intervention in the Civil Engineering Curriculum'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this