The Conspiracy of Optimism: Why Mega Projects Fail – Findings Paper

/The Conspiracy of Optimism: Why Mega Projects Fail – Findings Paper

ICCPM 2009 Roundtable

The term ‘Conspiracy of Optimism’ (CoO), sometimes referred to as the Megaprojects Paradox, has only been in common use for the past decade. Interestingly, the behaviours involved in the practice have been around for a long time.  The ‘Conspiracy of Optimism’ is a term used in areas as diverse as economics, environmental change  and complex project management. Essentially, it describes a situation where a number of  stakeholders, each with their own priorities and unique worldviews, tacitly ignore the reality of a  situation in order to gain approval to proceed with a venture no-one would sanction if the true  outcome were known.  When both planners and promoters, either knowingly or otherwise, determine to optimistically  misrepresent, a CoO exists.

This paper discusses the findings of the two ‘Round Table’ events facilitated by the International Centre for Complex Project Management (ICCPM), held in Canberra and Washington DC in May and October 2009, respectively. The ‘Findings’ do not seek to replicate discussion verbatim, rather, the purpose is to extract the main issues identified, contrasted during discussions with the existing project management paradigm, and therefore inform a research agenda to support appropriate intervention and process improvement.  Although the original intent of the first global Roundtable series was to simply consider the “Conspiracy of Optimism”, the subsequent discussions and Findings Paper extended beyond this theme to consider more broadly why mega projects fail.