Improving Project Delivery (Project X)

Project Details


This research project is a collaboration between academia, industry and the non-ministerial department responsible for the oversight and effective delivery of major projects and programmes in government, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA). We seek to enrich societies' understanding of the project and programme delivery landscape by generating high quality evidence and insights that will inform future policy making, improve ministerial awareness and drive the development of the project delivery profession.

Projects are temporary, flexible organisational structures that are now the central way in which large scale, complicated systems and change programmes are delivered. New transport, energy and water infrastructure systems are typically delivered in projects, as are most large scale military systems like aircraft carriers. Similarly, when government seeks to implement a major policy that will transform how government delivers services and interacts with citizens, it will typically use projects to implement that policy change.

Unfortunately projects have a tendency to run over-budget, take longer than planned to finish and sometimes don't deliver the outcomes that were promised. It is common to find projects' costs and delivery times more than double, and many major projects have to be cancelled. When projects are delivered, they often represent poor value for money in hindsight and under-perform. Because the UK has so many large and expensive projects, the potential costs of poor performance are very high.

However, in recent years the UK has developed a world-class ability to delivery complex projects. The UK has some major project successes (Heathrow T5, the 2012 London Olympics, Crossrail, etc). This suggests poor performance is not inevitable. It is not easy to understand why some projects are successes and others perform poorly. This research project aims to deepen understanding of how project delivery can be improved. By working in partnership between university researchers and the Government, we aim to help the UK Government set up, deliver and hand over projects more effectively. In doing so, we hope to help reduce the costs of projects, ensure more are delivered on time, and improve how effectively they deliver final outcomes, so that Government policy is implemented more successfully. Because project are so expensive, and many are subject to cost-overruns and lower than expected outcomes, the potential cost-savings for the UK from this research are very significant, and could easily run into many billions of pounds.

To deliver on this potential, our main objectives are to:

(a) conduct a body of high quality, strategic research on the delivery of major government projects and programmes including defence acquisition, government transformation, IS/IT systems and infrastructure;

(b) build research capacity and provide an outstanding training environment for early career researchers;

(c) further develop the resilience of our innovative model of academia, government and industry collaboration;

(d) generate significant policy and economic impacts by improving mandated guidance on public sector project and programme delivery,and

(e) leave legacy data and governance procedures for future researchers in the discipline.

These objectives will be realised through co-produced research with the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) within the Cabinet Office, Government departments, industrial associations, and firms. The research is being conducted across six main themes:

Theme A - How policy problems emerge and are translated into policy objectives and values that define what project and programme success is.

Theme B - How the 'front and back ends' of projects and programmes are set up (how policies emerge, translate into projects and are started, and how projects are handed over into operational phases) and their influence on final outcomes.

Theme C - Variations in how projects and programmes are delivered and the downstream influence on outcomes, and how that influence is mediated during the project by internal behaviour (i.e. managerial practices, the governance of projects), project specific features (the distributed web of actors who may not have convergent aims and values) and external environmental factors.

Theme D - How the "infrastructure" of controls, governance, technologies, procedures, data objects etc., is used to both monitor and manage behaviour, and how this links to outcomes.

Theme E - How project capabilities and knowledge can be accumulated and shared across projects and departments (and external organisations).

Theme F - How particularly complex transformational projects are delivered.

Short titleProject X
Effective start/end date6/12/185/12/21


  • Economic and Social Research Council


  • Projects
  • Programmes
  • Megaprojects
  • Infrastructure
  • Organisational change
  • Government policy


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