Make a Big Project Succeed

In “How Big Things Get Done” by Bent Flyvbjerg and Dan Gardner, the authors provide insights and examples on what makes big projects succeed.

Drawing on the world’s largest database of big projects, the book offers recommendations to help project managers achieve success. Here are some key takeaways:’Drawing on the world’s largest database of big projects, the book offers recommendations to help project managers achieve success. Here are some key takeaways:

Start by Asking “Why?”

 It’s important not to jump to a specific solution too quickly when starting a project. Defining the problem or goal first will help you identify the best solution. By asking “why” at the outset, you’ll gain clarity on the project’s purpose and be better equipped to identify and evaluate potential solutions.

Maximize Experience 

An experienced team and project leader are crucial for project success. While theoretical knowledge is important, experience with similar projects will help you navigate challenges and mitigate risk.

Think Slow, Act Fast 

When working on a big project, resist the temptation to jump straight into execution. Planning, designing, and prototyping can save time and money in the long run, as it’s easier and cheaper to redesign a blueprint or virtual model than to make changes during construction. Taking time to plan and design thoroughly before starting work will help ensure project success.

Reference Class Forecasting

Using comparative estimation to estimate project costs and timelines is not new, but Flyvbjerg takes it to the next level with “reference class forecasting.” By grouping projects into reference classes based on similarity, you can more accurately estimate costs and timelines for your own project.

Use Reference Classes for Risk Mitigation 

Flyvbjerg’s database shows that when big projects go bad, they often go very bad. To mitigate risk, use data from similar projects to identify potential risks and develop a robust risk mitigation plan.

Embrace Modularity 

Modular projects, such as road, pipeline, wind power, energy transmission, and solar power projects, are less likely to experience budget overruns. By designing your project to deliver small modules or increments, you can get fast feedback and make improvements along the way.

Don’t Go for the Biggest, Fastest, or First 

The most reliable way to execute a project is to use standard components or modules delivered by an experienced team. Pursuing a project that’s the biggest, fastest, or first can create challenges, such as difficulty in finding an experienced team and inability to use standard components.


With its data-driven approach, “How Big Things Get Done” provides reliable strategies for successful project management. By following these recommendations, you can increase your projects’ chances of success and avoid costly pitfalls.