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International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

Governance of major public investment projects: in pursuit of relevance and

Ole Jonny Klakegg Tore Haavaldsen
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Ole Jonny Klakegg Tore Haavaldsen, (2011),"Governance of major public investment projects: in pursuit of
relevance and sustainability", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 4 Iss 1 pp. 157 -
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Governance of major public projects
investment projects: in pursuit
of relevance and sustainability
Received 13 August 2010
Ole Jonny Klakegg and Tore Haavaldsen Accepted 20 September 2010
Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway

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Purpose – The ultimate purpose of this paper is to report on a research thesis that contributes to
making public projects more relevant and sustainable. The objective of this paper is to make readers
aware of the thesis. The objective of the thesis was to develop a deeper understanding of how
governance frameworks can contribute to such development. The research study aimed at developing
new knowledge about governance frameworks and how they influence major public projects.
Design/methodology/approach – Critical realism was chosen for the research as an ontological and
epistemological position. A whole array of different research methods are used, ranging from theoretical
analysis to group processes, in dept interviews and a survey. Document studies and triangulation
support the conclusions.
Findings – The research is structured around five research questions including identifying the most
important governance functions in an owner perspective, how to design a governance framework, what are
the most important problems that lead to lack of relevance and sustainability, what characterizes an effective
improvement strategy for governance frameworks, how to charge public infrastructure investment projects
with the right direction and level of ambitions. The questions are thoroughly answered in the thesis.
Practical implications – This research contributes to both project governance and project
management through a more clarified interface between these two spheres. The thesis offers practical
help to those involved in developing or improving governance frameworks for major projects.
Originality/value – The thesis offers new insight in the interplay between governance functions
and management functions, challenges in developing and implementing governance frameworks, adds
new awareness about the lack of logic and consistency in current Norwegian projects. Its greatest
potential is in its contribution to relevant infrastructure investment projects with sustainable effect.
Keywords Governance, Project management, Public administration
Paper type Research paper

Several researchers, such as Morris and Hough (1987), Nijkamp and Ubbels (1998), and
Flyvbjerg et al.(2003), have studied a large number of major infrastructure investment[1]
projects, and found that such projects often fail to meet expectations and agreed goals. The
most frequently reported shortfalls are the failure to meet deadlines, exceeding budget and
not delivering the specified quality. These shortfalls are usually linked to problems in
planning or executing activities within a project. Another common category of
shortcomings is the failure to deliver the functionality, benefit or contribution to business International Journal of Managing
objectives intended upon initiation of a project. Projects sometimes do not deliver what the Projects in Business
Vol. 4 No. 1, 2011
users need (Frame, 1987; Kreiner, 1995). In Norway, similar studies have been performed pp. 157-167
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
URL for the thesis: DOI 10.1108/17538371111096953
IJMPB by Berg et al. (1999), Odeck (2004), Torp et al.(2004), and Magnussen and Samset (2005). This
4,1 seems to be a more serious category of shortfalls and may also be more difficult to solve.
The focus of this study is not how management should improve the performance of
ongoing projects by the use of tools, techniques or even leadership skills, nor is it about
how project planning activities should prepare projects for efficient execution. Rather,
the focus is on the decision-making process leading to the definition of a project and the
158 control mechanisms which an owner or investor may use to ensure that a project will
fulfil its purpose. The choice of concept and the fundamental design of projects are vital
tasks in the front-end phase. Downey (1969), Pinto and Slevin (1992), World Bank (1996),
Miller and Lessard (2000), Hopkinson (2007), and others have documented that low
quality-at-entry resulting from low performance in the front-end phase corresponds
to limited success rates, whereas high quality-at-entry more often results in successful
projects. This clearly indicates the importance of the early phases in a project’s life cycle.
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Miller and Hobbs (2005) highlights some success factors concerning the relations
between a project and its governing party:
Anchoring of the project in institutional frameworks, and having strong sponsors.
Construction of coalitions within networks of relations.
Strategic flexibility to cope with uncertainty and changes over time.
High performance projects are subjected to intensive scrutiny.

These factors indicate the importance of governance and the need for a strong governing
party. Traditionally, project management literature does not have much focus on
governance, but currently research literature in this field is emerging (Dinsmore and
Cooke-Davies, 2006; Shannon, 2007; Crawford et al., 2008, Müller, 2009) indicating a
growing awareness. More knowledge is needed about the functions and systems used on
a governance level. The thesis tries to pick up this challenge.

Point of departure
The following three items was defined as starting points for the research.

1. The Norwegian quality assurance scheme

In the year 2000 the Norwegian Ministry of Finance initiated a quality assurance (QA)
scheme under which all proposed major public infrastructure investment projects, with
an expected total cost of more than NOK 500 million (USD 80 million, March 2009) and
financed by the State, had to be subject to critical scrutiny before being presented to
Parliament for a final decision on financing and execution. Only the oil and gas sector
was excluded. This scheme has later been expanded in 2005 and developed into a new
governance framework for major public projects in Norway. The current QA scheme
includes two interventions:
QA1. Quality assurance of the choice of concept, including scrutiny of four
documents; a needs analysis, a strategic management document (objectives),
documentation of requirements, and an alternative analysis.
QA2. Quality assurance of the basis for project execution including cost estimation.
This includes scrutiny of several documents (plans) embedded in the owners
steering document.
The early intervention (QA1) is designed to secure that the right concept is chosen before Major public
project planning starts. This leads up to the decision by the Cabinet to acknowledge the investment
project and accept the use of resources in planning and start-up of the pre-project phase.
The late intervention (QA2) is designed to ensure that the chosen concept is developed projects
into a mature project proposal before it is accepted to be presented to Parliament for final
approval and financing. More information about the Norwegian QA scheme can be
found on the concept web site on the Internet (Concept, 2010), and in Klakegg et al. (2009). 159
The Concept Research Programme at The Norwegian University of Science and
Technology (NTNU) was established by the Ministry of Finance to perform trailing
research following up the QA scheme and developing new knowledge from these public
projects. The research behind this thesis was financed by the Concept Research
Programme. The QA scheme is the first starting point of this research.
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2. Systems engineering and the logical framework approach

The basis for the QA scheme is compatible to intervention logic similar to that of the
logical framework approach (LFA) (Samset, 1999), although not referring explicitly
to the LFA. The logic of the LFA is the second starting point of this research. The
structure and thinking is clearly related to systems engineering. The logic of LFA
includes the hierarchy of objectives defined by the sequence from resources put into
activities, through the creation of outputs, to the harvesting of benefits. For all of these
steps, or levels, there are uncertain assumptions and risks that may threaten the
success of a project. This instrumental logic is frequently built into methods and tools
for evaluating projects and similar logic also seems to be form basis of many project
management (PM) concepts. This logic is also built into the Norwegian QA scheme.

3. The OECD-integrated evaluation criteria

A third starting point of this research is the OECD-integrated evaluation criteria. This
evaluation model includes five criteria and six cross-cutting issues which have to be
considered for each criterion (OECD, 2006). The model is an integral part of the
philosophical fundament for the Norwegian QA scheme. The five evaluation criteria
are efficiency, effectiveness, impact, relevance, and sustainability. For each of these
criteria it is necessary to consider six cross-cutting issues: economic and financial
aspects, policy support measures, institutional aspects, choice of technical solutions,
socio-cultural aspects, and environmental matters.
The OECD evaluation model is used in several ways in the research reported in this
thesis. It is used to limit the scope and create a profile for the whole dissertation by
choosing to focus on relevance and sustainability. The other criteria are simply left out.
The argument is that these two are the superior criteria in a strategic perspective
because failing to fulfil these cannot be compensated by good performance in the other
criteria. The OECD standard or the integrated evaluation model is not explicitly
mentioned in the Norwegian QA scheme, but the inherent logic is part of the fundament
of the QA scheme.

Context of the thesis

A number of important trends in business and the projects’ environment influence
governance and project management. We see the emergence of a more complex, changing
and unpredictable world. Investments are getting more critical, competition creates
IJMPB a need for speed and integration of all parties in the development of advanced new
4,1 solutions. Globalisation increases the cultural challenges and creates a need for new
modes of communication and collaboration. Focus on environmental challenges and
climate change creates both opportunities and restraints for project owners and project
management. Current trends in project management include the development of strategic
project management and project governance. There is a need for clarity in definitions and
160 principles both in governance and project management. This is yet to be achieved. There
is a strong need for further development in this field. The thesis tries to contribute to such
The thesis does not enter the field of politics, but it is limited to investigating into
the sphere of the professional parties. These are the parties with formal roles in the
preparation and processing of documents and plans that make up the basis for decision
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making and managing the execution. Professionals are assigned to make plans for
projects or review the quality of project documents. It is their responsibility to make sure
the right needs, relevant alternatives, the effects and consequences of the infrastructure
investment are identified and taken into account. The Norwegian Government, along
with many other governments, international organizations and companies, has already
recognized this and has made an effort to increase its probability of success. A typical
reaction is to implement governance frameworks and to improve the public (front-end)
decision making. This is also the area for the research in this thesis. Considering the
current trends in project management literature, this dissertation takes a position in the
new fields of interest emerging from the traditional project management approach and
which are influenced by new perspectives and research areas. This author has gone
through the same stages of development as the PM community over the last two decades:
from traditional execution focus, through a period of influence by decision-making
theories and focus on activities in the front-end of projects, to a different level: governance.
The dissertation goes beyond project management. The perspective is strategic and
focuses on the owner’s and financing party’s position – it represents a version of the
world view of the permanent organization or the representative of society. The project
organization and the operational perspective are given little attention here. Still, the
author acknowledges his background from many years in PM research and practice.
The language used is close to the PM community jargon.
Governance literature dominates the literature studies in the dissertation.
Governance perspectives are also dominant in the discussions and analysis of the
institutional frameworks (governance frameworks) installed by project owners to secure
successful infrastructure investment projects. This indicates that the approach here
comes from a different angle than many contributions coming from the PM community.
Contributions from the PM community tend to focus on the link between a project and
permanent organization on an individual level, such as how to be a good project sponsor.
This study focuses more on the perspective of organizations and society: how can we
define and design a project to secure benefits for the owner and society?
The thesis is paper based upon and includes 11 papers. Five of them are published in
journals: Project Management Journal (Klakegg et al., 2008), International Journal of Project
Management (Williams et al., 2010), International Journal of Managing Projects in
Business (Klakegg, 2009), International Journal of Project Organization and Management
(Klakegg and Olsson, 2010), Projects and Profits (Klakegg and Haavaldsen, 2009),
and one at the Euram Conference (Samset et al., 2006). The thesis is available for Major public
downloading – see the reference section. investment
Over recent years there is a more explicit focus on methodology in research and
scientific literature. This has lead this author to take on an ambition to challenge some of projects
the traditional ontological and epistemological positions dominating project
management up till today. Methodically this study takes a position in between the
traditional positivist, rational path and the modern constructivist, relational path, trying 161
to combine the better of two worlds, and maybe even bridging the gap. The governance
framework with structured decision making, evaluation criteria and rational analysis is
an instrumental phenomenon. This phenomenon cannot be understood without looking
at it through positivist glasses, but it is better understood if it is seen through
constructivist glasses too. None of these perspectives gives the whole picture, but using
both gives a fuller and richer picture. Throughout the many different research tasks and
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papers a whole array of different research methods are used, ranging from theoretical
analysis to group processes, in dept interviews and a survey. All the way through
accompanied with document studies and triangulation to support conclusions.

Summary of thesis
The ultimate purpose of this research is to contribute to making public infrastructure
investment projects more relevant and sustainable. The objective is to develop a deeper
understanding of how governance frameworks can contribute to such development. The
study aims at developing new knowledge about governance frameworks and how they
influence major public infrastructure investment projects. One reason for doing this is
the acknowledgement that even well-managed projects may end up as failures in the
perspective of their owner and financing party. Another reason is that this recognition
has given rise to the development of a new generation of governance frameworks in the
public sector in several countries.
As indicated in the title, this research focuses on the governance of projects, not on
project management. It takes a position with an owner’s perspective and is about how
projects may become more relevant and sustainable – not how they may become more
efficient, effective or what other impact they have. The focus of the study is public
projects, not private sector ones; infrastructure investment projects, not financial
transactions; and major projects, not normal, routine tasks. This dissertation represents
a step towards making more successful public infrastructure investment projects
possible – it does not present a readymade solution. To perform this study, critical
realism was chosen as an ontological and epistemological position. Critical realism
encourages interdisciplinary research, and this opens up for the use of multiple research
methods inspired from both technical sciences and social sciences. This dissertation
represents an engineer’s attempt to stretch beyond the usual approaches in the
engineering field.
The first research question asked in this dissertation is:
RQ1. What are the most important functions (from an owner perspective) that
ought to be carried out by governance frameworks that govern the front-end
of major public projects?
Based on the view that governance is complex, including both hierarchical and
relational mechanisms, the basis for this study in terms of understanding governance
IJMPB and specifically governance of projects is developed. A discussion about governance
4,1 functions and how they correspond to management follow-up is included in an attempt
to discover what the most important governance functions in a governance framework
are. The discussion is limited to governance functions supporting decision making,
planning and execution of projects. It is found that: “The most important governance
functions in the front-end of projects are defining a clear decision-making process, and
162 controlling the quality of documents used as basis for decisions”.
The second research question asked in this dissertation is:
RQ2. How can a governance framework for major projects be designed?
The first step in answering this question is defining the term governance framework.
No established definition was found and to date this has not been given much
attention, although many authors have described aspects of it and used several terms.
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Some authors question the idea of having a common framework for projects, but this
author found it appropriate to formulate a definition:
A governance framework for projects is a set of principles and an organized structure
established as authoritative within the institution, comprising processes and rules
established to ensure projects meet their purpose.
Several governance frameworks are studied as examples. We describe and analyse them
to add to the understanding of their development process, structure and content. Three
archetypes of frameworks are identified in the study: the lean framework (characterized
as simple, flexible, control based), the integrated framework/quality system
(characterized as strong on operational tools, limited in scope) and the complex
framework (characterized as open, including options to fit different settings). This gives
a platform for discussing how governance frameworks may be designed. The conclusion
is that there are two basic design strategies: “Model framework design (copying and
adaptation of existing framework elements) and unique design (developing framework
elements from ‘blank sheets’ and based on own experience)”. Three supporting design
strategies may help in this development: using a system approach (system engineering),
using design criteria (criteria for how a unique framework should work) and using a
theoretical model (currently only presented as an idea). No conclusion is reached as to
what combination of design approaches are the best. This is a question of what fits the
purpose of development, the tradition and culture in the organization in question and the
situation at the outset.
Having established an understanding of governance and governance frameworks,
the next research question addresses the practical situation in which the governance is
supposed to work:
RQ3. What are the most important problems that occur in the front-end of major
public projects, which may lead to lack of relevance and sustainability?
These are the key problems to handle, in order to attain the objective of this study.
From an owner perspective these are the most important problems and have to be fixed
first. In order to identify these most important problems, the author conducted a
survey. Based on answers from 80 respondents, the following conclusion is drawn:
The most important reasons for lack of relevance are: user needs are unknown, misunderstood
or ignored, and project objectives are unknown or misunderstood. The most important reasons
for lack of sustainability are: lack of commitment to the project from key stakeholders, conflict Major public
over objectives and/or strategies concerning the project, low economic and financial benefits
compared to and operational costs, and business or other conditions changing between concept investment
stage and final delivery. projects
The respondents were clear about the problems leading to lack of relevance. They were
not clear about what problems lead to lack of sustainability. This is interpreted as
a consequence of the more complex nature of the issues concerning sustainability 163
compared to relevance.
The interpretation of the results of the survey implies that it will be easier to achieve
relevant projects than to achieve sustainable effects. However, being relevant is a
prerequisite for a project to have sustainable effect, which is an important finding for
answering the next research question:
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RQ4. What characterizes an effective development strategy for improving

governance frameworks?
As a consequence of the findings referred to above, the first and most important
objective is to ensure relevance is secured. Sustainable effect as intended is only
realistic when this is the case. These two criteria are superior to the other three criteria
of the OECD-integrated evaluation model (efficiency, effectiveness and impact) in an
owner perspective. “To be effective the improvement strategy has to adopt following
logic: first secure relevance, then sustainability and then other criteria as suitable for
the purpose and situation at hand.” The next characteristic is to make sure there is a
balance between values (attitudes, communication, and knowledge) and structure
(process, roles, methods, and control). This is also necessary to achieve the intended
Thus, far the dissertation focuses on governance and governance frameworks – the
setting in which projects are planned and executed. The final research chapter
addresses a research question that has to do with projects as such:
RQ5. How can a public project be charged with an appropriate direction and the
right level of ambition?
In this study, “direction” expresses where to go – the clarification of results, the
definition of goals. Similarly, the level of ambition expresses the degree to which the
project organization has to stretch – the expected level of achievement. The answer to
the question turns on two concepts:
(1) Project definition. The definition of objectives based on society’s and users’
needs; the choice of which objectives to define on strategic, tactical and
operational levels determines the direction of the project.
(2) Project design. The definition of the means to achieve the objectives; the choice
depends on identifying the possible means and their anticipated effect.

The most critical issue is securing consistency. The constraints that lie in combinations
of availability of resources and present uncertainties determine what is realistic and thus
contribute to defining the right level of ambitions. The results of a survey including
responses from 76 international experts indicate a need for more systematic approaches
to defining project objectives. There is considerable nonconformity when comparing
IJMPB what the experts actually recognize in practical life and what they hold to be the ideal
4,1 way to define objectives and evaluate alternatives. An analysis of empirical data from 51
Norwegian major public infrastructure investment projects revealed that approximately
one-third of the projects were well designed, approximately one-quarter of the projects
had technical faults in their definition (missing one level of objectives), and the
remaining projects, less than half, had strategic faults in their definition (mirroring the
164 political process rather than the instrumental logic). These results confirm the need to
increase the effort to check fundamental qualities such as consistency and logic in the
documents and methods used to support decisions about, and planning and execution of,
major public projects.

Outcome of the research

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The research in this dissertation has many limitations and the validity of the results
varies from research question to research question, as discussed in each chapter. The
main conclusions seem valid, although some details are missing. The following specific
areas are where this dissertation contributes new insight:
Governance of projects – the interplay between governance functions and
management functions and how governance frameworks regulate and stimulate
this interplay.
The theoretical and practical challenges in the development and implementation
of governance frameworks in different contexts.
The current reality in major public infrastructure investment projects in Norway
in terms of the lack of fundamental logic and consistency.
Added new knowledge to improve governance by potentially help create
relevant projects with sustainable effect.

In practical terms the research supports the development and implementation of

governance frameworks, in Norway specifically the implementation of QA1 and QA2.
Other research (Klakegg et al., 2009 and others) indicate that these frameworks are
working as intended, but also that there are great potential for improvement, as
confirmed in this thesis.
The concluding chapter of this dissertation includes identification of many potential
areas for further research – too many to be mentioned here. An indication of direction
may look like this:
Governance of projects; even deeper understanding and clarity of roles,
specifically more detailed on the interface between governing bodies and
Governance frameworks; more detailed studies in different contexts to establish
how governance instruments actually influence project performance.
Major public infrastructure investment projects; how to secure consistency of
goals and means through better processes in the front-end of projects.

A main question that remains is why professionals continue making the same mistakes
despite knowing better. Awareness is established and relevant knowledge and good
guidelines and instructions are available. Still problems continue.
About the author and The Norwegian University of Science and Major public
Technology (NTNU) investment
Klakegg’s background is a combination of academic and practical experience. In three
periods, including the current – all together 13 years, he has been teaching at the projects
university and doing research in the field of project management. In three periods –
nine years – he has worked as a consultant and manager in private consultancy
companies. His current position is Research Director of the Concept Research 165
Programme where he investigates the performance of major public projects. This work
lead him to develop a keen interest in project governance. This interest gave him
motivation for further studies. The existence of the concept programme created an
opportunity to dig further into an area of theoretical and practical significance and
where a limited amount of research is published. Haavaldsen is Professor at NTNU and
Supervisor for the PhD research reported here. He is also a member of the Steering
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Committee of the Concept Research Programme.

The NTNU is Norway’s primary institution for educating the nation’s future
engineers and scientists. The university also has strong programmes in the social
sciences, teacher education, the arts and humanities, medicine, architecture and fine art.
NTNU’s cross-disciplinary research delivers creative innovations that have far-reaching
social and economic impact. The PhD education programme is primarily comprised of
active research work under supervision. The university typically allows three years for
the completion of a PhD, but the position can be extended to four years, including a
25 percent work requirement that is often fulfilled by teaching. One of the three years
comprises a study program of courses on PhD level or supervised self studies with
an exam.
Project management education at NTNU includes ordinary courses for bachelor and
master students, an international master-programme in project management given in
English, and a wide selection of continuing education courses. The PM education is
shared among several departments across faculties. The most important ones are the
Department of Civil and Transport Engineering and Department of Production and
Quality Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering Science and Technology, the
Department of Industrial Economics and Technology Management at the Faculty of
Social Science and Technology Management and the Department of Architectural
Design and Management at the Faculty of Architecture and Fine Art.

1. The term “investment” is used to distinguish from financial instruments like trading shares,
etc. The cases used in this research are infrastructure investments spanning from roads and
buildings to computer systems and defence equipment.

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Further reading
Klakegg, O.J. (2010), “Governance of major public investment projects: in pursuit of relevance and
sustainability”, doctoral thesis at NTNU, 2010:15, Norwegian University of Science and
Technology, Trondheim, available at:¼urn:nbn:no:ntnu:diva-6887

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Ole Jonny Klakegg can be contacted at:

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