Up-Front Assessment and Quality Assurance of Major Investment Projects
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The work reported in this thesis comprises an exploration of the up-front assessment and quality assurance of major investment projects. It was conducted by investigating a sequence of projects planned and executed under a common framework for project improvement launched by the Norwegian Government in 2000. The investigation included a detailed examination of the project approval process, its theoretical underpinnings and its embedded principles, as well as of how it is carried out in practice and more specifically of the outcome of the process in terms of cost estimation and budgeting, risk assessment and management frame. Project management research has traditionally been concerned with the implementation phase of projects and has sought answers on how planning and control of project execution may affect actual outcomes. The work reported in this thesis attempts to break new ground in the sense that it concentrates on empirical investigation of improvement measures introduced in the front-end. The work reported is covered in 10 papers that have been presented at international conferences or published in scientific journals, eight of which were submitted to peer review. Part of the work also has been described in a report published by the Project Management Institute. These papers and the report constitute the substantial and major part of the thesis and are included as Part 2 of it. Part 1 provides a summary of the research process and overviews of how the study was conceived and designed and how data were collected and analyzed, and concludes with the major findings as well as recommendations for further research in the field. Chapter 1 comprises a brief introduction to the topic area. It presents some of the key issues that are addressed and specifically focuses on some fundamental problems that frequently are associated with projects. In turn, this provides justification for studies in this particular area. Some key questions are identified, and the basic attributes of the thesis are outlined. Chapter 2 starts with a more detailed overview of the methodological issues involved. The epistemological and paradigmatic bases that underlie research on projects and on their management are discussed. It continues with a description of and reflection the challenges and dilemmas in the theories and concepts being drawn upon. After this overall discussion of how we know what we know through research about projects, the chapter goes on to describe the relevant data and sources of information. Then there’s a discussion of the extent to which the work provides reliable and valid information and produces consistent results. In a sub-chapter dedicated to research design and methods, there’s an overview of the key characteristics of the specific approaches and tools used to undertake research activities. The work is based on an extensive approach in which a number of methods have been used to collect data, including document studies, case studies and semi-structured interviews. Also, a variety of publiclyavailable and limited data files on projects subjected to quality assurance have made it possible to weigh multiple sources of information. Some reservations regarding the interpretation of results are made, particularly with respect to resource limitedness and sample sizes. It is pointed out that the work may be regarded as a partial and preliminary report from an evolving area of study, although possible answers to some key issues are put forth. In Chapter 3 some basic concepts that are important in the exploration of up-front assessment and quality assurance are defined, to ensure that the work has relevant theoretical underpinnings. The focus is on the main concepts involved (the project and management aspects, the meaning of and the role of the project life cycle), on the particular essential characteristics of the front-end (uncertainty and strategic importance), and on the approaches to how project outcomes are assessed. One fundamental dilemma is acknowledged: the work focuses on the front-end (which is mainly associated with strategic, long-term issues), but is designed to explore issues primarily associated with the immediate outputs of a project. Again, it should be kept in mind that this study may be seen to be a first step towards dealing with more fundamental issues. Chapter 4 provides a summary of the main results from the papers presented in Part 2, which constitute the research work, in order to arrive at a brief, integrated overview of central issues that emerge. Finally, Chapter 5 highlights some lessons learned and some possible implications of the work. It is understood that more extensive studies are needed to provide more reliable answers, so a few avenues for future research are identified.