The Narration of Success or Failure in Large IT Projects in UK Government

Chris Hall

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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My thesis is about the success and failure of IT projects in UK Government, and the role of audit and review organizations such as the Major Projects Authority and the National Audit Office in ascribing success and failure. This role is examined by analysing the narratives of a number of actors in this system: project managers and project owners; reviewers; auditors; and politicians who hold civil servants to account for the overall system of project delivery, including the systems of review and audit that are intended to decrease the probability of failure.

Following Fincham (2002), whether a project is considered a success or failure is a result of the power relations present in this system, of which project review and audit are a part. Examination of the narratives present in this system generates insights into the political struggles taking place around each project and how a narrative of success or failure became dominant.

Analysis of the narratives of actors also suggests that while in public they attributed failure to the management approach adopted (which in turn led to people or process failures), their private narratives often attributed failure to political activity generated by the system of power relations within which the projects were executed. Analysis of conflicting narratives suggests that discussion of such political activity was largely excluded from public accounts because of constraints placed on the authors via the system of power relations.

There is also evidence in the narratives that the rationalist paradigm of the system of review and audit reinforced the message to project managers to keep going with the same management approach, only next time try harder. Reviewers and auditors did not challenge the status quo by highlighting those characteristics of the system of power relations that generated and sustained narratives of project failure.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Symon, Gillian, Supervisor
  • Grey, Christopher, Supervisor
Award date1 Jul 2021
Publication statusUnpublished - 3 Jul 2021


  • Narrative
  • Project Management
  • Discourse Analysis
  • Project Failure

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