Commenced in January 2007
Frequency: Monthly
Edition: International
Paper Count: 32451
The Underestimation of Cultural Risk in the Execution of Megaprojects

Authors: Alan Walsh, Peter Walker, Michael Ellis


There is a real danger that both practitioners and researchers considering risks associated with megaprojects ignore or underestimate the impacts of cultural risk. The paper investigates the potential impacts of a failure to achieve cultural unity between the principal actors executing a megaproject. The principle relationships include the relationships between the principle Contractors and the project stakeholders or the project stakeholders and their principle advisors, Western Consultants. This study confirms that cultural dissonance between these parties can delay or disrupt the megaproject execution and examines why cultural issues should be prioritized as a significant risk factor in megaproject delivery. This paper addresses the practical impacts and potential mitigation measures, which may reduce cultural dissonance for a megaproject's delivery. This information is retrieved from on-going case studies in live infrastructure megaprojects in Europe and the Middle East's GCC states, from Western Consultants' perspective. The collaborating researchers each have at least 30 years of construction experience and are engaged in architecture, project management and contracts management, dealing with megaprojects in Europe or the GCC. After examining the cultural interfaces they have observed during the execution of megaprojects, they conclude that globally, culture significantly influences their efficient delivery. The study finds that cultural risk is ever-present, where different nationalities co-manage megaprojects and that cultural conflict poses a real threat to the timely delivery of megaprojects. The study indicates that the higher the cultural distance between the principal actors, the more pronounced the risk, with the risk of cultural dissonance more prominent in GCC megaprojects. The findings support a more culturally aware and cohesive team approach and recommend cross-cultural training to mitigate the effects of cultural disparity.

Keywords: Cultural risk underestimation, cultural distance, megaproject characteristics, megaproject execution.

Procedia APA BibTeX Chicago EndNote Harvard JSON MLA RIS XML ISO 690 PDF Downloads 460


[1] Al Mahrouqi, A. (2018). Cross-cultural communication and the adjustment of western and non-western expatriates in multicultural companies : investigating operations in Oman.
[2] Al Mazrouei, H., & Pech, R. J. (2014). Expatriates in the UAE: Advance training eases cultural adjustments. Journal of Business Strategy, 35(3), 47–54.
[3] Archibald, R. D. (1991). Overcoming cultural barriers in project management. Project Management Journal, 5(4), 27–30. Retrieved from
[4] Barnes, N. M. L., & Wearne, S. H. (1993). The future for major project management. International Journal of Project Management, 11(3), 135–142.
[5] Barratt, M., Choi, T. Y., & Li, M. (2011). Qualitative case studies in operations management : Trends, research outcomes, and future research implications Edited by Foxit Reader Copyright ( C ) by Foxit Corporation, 2005-2009. Journal of Operations Management, 29(4), 329–342.
[6] Barrett, P., & Sutrisna, M. (2009). Methodological strategies to gain insights into informality and emergence in construction project case studies. Construction Management and Economics, 27(10), 935–948.
[7] Baumann, L. (2013). The Impact of National Culture on Project Management in the Middle East (Loughborough University). Retrieved from
[8] Berry, J. W. (2005). Acculturation: Living successfully in two cultures. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29(6 SPEC. ISS.), 697–712.
[9] Beugelsdijk, S., Maseland, R., & van Hoorn, A. (2015). Are Scores on Hofstede’s Dimensions of National Culture Stable over Time? A Cohort Analysis. Global Strategy Journal, 5(3), 223–240.
[10] Biesenthal, C., Clegg, S., Mahalingam, A., & Sankaran, S. (2018). Applying institutional theories to managing megaprojects. International Journal of Project Management, 36(1), 43–54.
[11] Bitektine, A. (2008). Prospective case study design: Qualitative method for deductive theory testing. Organizational Research Methods, 11(1), 160–180.
[12] Black, J. S., & Gregersen, H. B. (1999). The Right Way to Manage Expats. International Business, 2(March-April). Retrieved from
[13] Brookes, N., Sage, D., Dainty, A., Locatelli, G., & Whyte, J. (2017). An island of constancy in a sea of change: Rethinking project temporalities with long-term megaprojects. International Journal of Project Management, 35(7), 1213–1224.
[14] Capka, J. R. (2004). Megaprojects -They Are A Different Breed. Federal Highway Administration.
[15] Confederation, E. B. (2019). European Builders Confederation. Retrieved April 30, 2019, from the online website:
[16] Cox, J. P. (1993). Waking a Sleeping Giant—The Planning for Success of a Large Project Process at a Large Urban Teaching Hospital. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 36(1), 20–23.
[17] Davies, A., Dodgson, M., Gann, D. M., & Macaulay, S. C. (2017). Five Rules for Managing Large, Complex Projects. MIT Sloan.
[18] Dulaimi, M., & Hariz, A. (2011). The impact of cultural diversity on the effectiveness of construction project teams. Engineering Project Organization Journal, 1(4), 213–221.
[19] Dwivedula, R., Bredillet, C., & Müller, R. (2018). Work Motivation in Temporary Organizations: Establishing Theoretical Corpus. Management and Organizational Studies, 5(3), 29–42.
[20] Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989). Building Theories from Case Study Research. Academy of Management Review, 14(4), 532–550.
[21] El-sabek, L. M. (2017). Framework for managing integration challenges of production planning and control in international construction megaprojects.
[22] Elena, R. D. (2010). Cultural Differences in Project Management. Annales Universitatis Apulensis Series Oeconomica, 12(2).
[23] Erin, M. (2014). Navigating the cultural minefield. Harvard Business Review, 92(May).
[24] Ertek, G., & Tahir, R. (2017). Cross-cultural training: a crucial approach to improve the success of expatriate assignment in the United Arab Emirates. In Middle East J. of Management (Vol. 5).
[25] Eweje, J., Turner, R., & Müller, R. (2012). Maximizing strategic value from megaprojects: The influence of information-feed on decision-making by the project manager. International Journal of Project Management, 30(6), 639–651.
[26] Flyvberg, B. (2017). The Oxford Handbook of Megaproject Management.
[27] Flyvbjerg, B. (2014). What you should know about megaprojects and why: An overview. Project Management Journal, 45(2), 6–19.
[28] Flyvbjerg, B., Bruzelius, N., & Rothengatter, W. (2003). Megaprojects and Risk An Anatomy of Ambition (Vol. 4).
[29] Free, R., & Love, P. (2018). Academics clash over causes of transport project cost rises. TransportXtra, (757), 28.
[30] Garemo, N., Matzinger, S., Palter, R., & McKinsey. (2015). Megaprojects The good the bad and the better. McKinsey & Company, (July), 8.
[31] Grabher, G., & Thiel, J. (2015). Projects, people, professions: Trajectories of learning through a mega-event (the London 2012 case). Geoforum, 65, 328–337.
[32] GSR news. (2017). Saudi Arabia to build $ 500bn “new global capital” in the desert. Global Construction Review - CIOB, (25/10/2017), 1–7.
[33] Hammerich, K., & Lewis, R. D. (2013). Fish can’t see water. Wiley.
[34] Hillson, D. (2012). How much risk is too much risk ? Understanding risk appetite. PMI Global Congress Proceedings, 1–7.
[35] Hillson, D. (2014). Defining “ overall project risk ” Current risk standards. PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Dubai, UAE, 1–9. personal Copy
[36] Hillson, D. (2015). Five Dimensions of Risk Management. Project, 58–59. copy from Author
[37] Hillson, D. (2018). Managing risk in complex megaprojects (webinar) - YouTube.
[38] Hofstede, G. (2010). Culture defined. Hofstede Insights.
[39] Hofstede, G. J. G., Pedersen, P. B., & Hofstede, G. J. G. (2002). Exploring Culture. Retrieved from
[40] Irimia-Diéguez, A. I., Sanchez-Cazorla, A., & Alfalla-Luque, R. (2014). Risk Management in Megaprojects. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 119(March), 407–416.
[41] Jaeger, M., & Adair, D. (2013). Organisational culture of construction project managers in the GCC countries. Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, 20(5), 4
[42] Jun, S., & Gentry, J. W. (2005). An exploratory investigation of the relative importance of cultural similarity and personal fit in the selection and performance of expatriates. Journal of World Business, 40(1), 1–8.
[43] Kardes, I., Ozturk, A., Cavusgil, S. T., & Cavusgil, E. (2013a). Author’s personal copy Managing global megaprojects : Complexity and risk management. International Business Review, 22, 905–917.
[44] Kardes, I., Ozturk, A., Cavusgil, S. T., & Cavusgil, E. (2013b). Managing global megaprojects: Complexity and risk management. International Business Review, Vol. 22, pp. 905–917.
[45] Karen Smits, Alfons van Marrewijk, M. V. (2014). The Collabyrinth of Cross-cultural Collaboration in the Panama Canal Megaproject.
[46] Kultur, T., Chalhoun, N., & Justice, D. (2005). Ryszard Kapuscinski: On Others. Religion, (87).
[47] Leiß, G. (2013). International Human Resource Management Master „ International Business “. 1–125.
[48] Lewis, R. D. (2016). When Cultures Collide : Leading Across Cultures.
[49] Love, P. E. D., Ika, L., & Ahiaga-dagbui, D. D. (2019). Why does the Planning Fallacy Explanation for Cost Overruns Fall Short ? Transportation Research A : Policy and Practice Why does the Planning Fallacy Explanation for Cost Overruns Fall Short ? ResearchGate, 1–29.
[50] Lundrigan, C., & Gil, N. (2015). The ( Under ) Performance of Mega-projects : A Meta-organizational Perspective.
[51] Mayer, R. C., Davis, J. H., & Schoorman, D. F. (2014). An Integrated Model of Organisational Trust. International Journal of Electronic Commerce, 3(3), 709–734.
[52] Merron. (1988). Merrow1988 - Understanding the Outcomes of Mega-Projects.
[53] Meyer, E. (2014). The Culture Map. Persues Books Group.
[54] Mok, K. Y., Shen, G. Q., & Yang, J. (2015). Stakeholder management studies in mega construction projects: A review and future directions. International Journal of Project Management, 33(2), 446–457.
[55] Moran, R. T., Harris, P. R. ., & Moran, S. V. (2011). Managing Cultural Differences. In Managing Cultural Differences.
[56] Myer, E. (2018). Erin Meyer Website.
[57] Pauget, B., & Wald, A. (2013). Relational competence in complex temporary organizations: The case of a French hospital construction project network. International Journal of Project Management, 31(2), 200–211.
[58] Pollack, J., Biesenthal, C., Sankaran, S., & Clegg, S. (2018). Classics in megaproject management: A structured analysis of three major works. International Journal of Project Management, 36(2), 372–384.
[59] Rafindadi, A. D., Mikić, M., Kovačić, I., & Cekić, Z. (2014). Global Perception of Sustainable Construction Project Risks. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 119(Williams 1995), 456–465.
[60] Ryszard, K. (2006). The Other.
[61] Smits, K. (2019). Home - Cross Culture Work.
[62] Smits, K., & Brownlow, R. A. (2017). Collaboration and Crisis in Mega Projects: A Study in Cross Corporate Culture Conflict and its Resolution. Independent Journal of Management & Production.
[63] Statista. (2019). Building construction industry: employed persons 2008-2016 | EU-28. Retrieved April 30, 2019, from the online website:
[64] Struggles, &, & Heidrick. (2015). A new era for megaproject leadership.
[65] Suprapto, M., Bakker, H. L. M., Mooi, H. G., & Hertogh, M. J. C. M. (2016). How do contract types and incentives matter to project performance? International Journal of Project Management, 34(6), 1071–1087.
[66] Trompenaars, F., & Woolliams, P. (2001). Dilemmas of Multicultural Leaders A New Unified Model of Trans-Cultural Competence. Velocity, Quarter 1.
[67] Turner, J. R. (2018). The management of the project-based organization: A personal reflection. International Journal of Project Management, 36(1), 231–240.
[68] Van den Ende, L., & van Marrewijk, A. (2015). The social construction of cultural differences in a Siberian joint-venture megaproject. Journal of Strategic Contracting and Negotiation, 1(2), 168–185.
[69] Van Marrewijk, A. (2007). Managing project culture: The case of Environ Megaproject. International Journal of Project Management.
[70] Van Marrewijk, A., Veenswijk, M., & Clegg, S. (2014). Changing collaborative practices through cultural interventions. Building Research and Information.
[71] Van Marrewijk, A., Ybema, S., Smits, K., Clegg, S., & Pitsis, T. (2016). Clash of the Titans: Temporal Organizing and Collaborative Dynamics in the Panama Canal Megaproject. Organization Studies, 37(12), 1745–1769.
[72] Wang, C. H., & Varma, A. (2019). Cultural distance and expatriate failure rates: the moderating role of expatriate management practices. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 30(15), 2211–2230.
[73] World Bank. (2019). World Bank Open Data | Data. Retrieved March 18, 2019, from the online website:
[74] Yin, R. K. (2006). Case Study Research - Design and Methods (Vol. 2).
[75] Zein, O. (2016). CulturePM - managing diversity at work. Online, 2016. Retrieved from
[76] Zidane, Y. J.-T., Johansen, A., & Ekambaram, A. (2013). Megaprojects-Challenges and Lessons Learned. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 74, 349–357.
[77] Nowak, C. and Linder, C. (2016) ‘Do you know how much your expatriate costs? An activity-based cost analysis of expatriation’, Journal of Global Mobility, 4(1), pp. 88–107. doi: 10.1108/JGM-10-2015-0043. (Table 10.1)