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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Managing Projects with Strong Technological Rupture - Case of High-Speed Ground Transportation

  • Author(s): de Tilière, Guillaume
  • et al.

Managing the launch of new technological trajectories is a complex task, especially in the case of High-Speed Ground Transportation (HSGT) Systems. For instance, Maglev systems are now developed since 40 years, and none of these technologies has been implemented until the first Transrapid contract for Shanghai (which could lead to a 1250 km track between Beijing and Shanghai).

What are the future challenges for cutting-edge technologies such as a Swissmetro or the Japanese MLX-01? Behind such a question stands the problem of managing technological rupture. This brings us beyond the engineering field since it implies leading change and innovation through organizations, institutions and policy.

HSGT innovations with strong technological rupture are complex to manage, involving industry, operators, institutions and politicians. The structure of public/private investments and the long lead-life of such projects (much longer than many industrial ones) require from decision-makers a good understanding of the management of complex systems. This presupposes a good technology assessment, in order to identify technological lock-ins, performances and benefits. However only assessing the intrinsic and extrinsic projects’ value without the ability to introduce change wouldn’t be enough: The ability to lead changes in cultures, organizations and processes is a determinant of the successful development and diffusion of such technologies.

Therefore, the aim of this research is to examine the role of industry, operators and institutions in the implementation of innovative transportation networks and in the diffusion of innovations. Depending on the national context, experiences have been different depending on the countries. Innovative projects have sometimes been successful; other times they have failed, with millions of dollars wasted. Decision-making is a hard task, especially when it concerns R&D investments in projects that imply strong technological rupture. The assessment of risks and uncertainties is not an easy task, as decision-making unfolds in design, construction and operation phases. Therefore, the importance of integrating structural and organizational factors into the analysis seems to be necessary to provide pertinent recommendations for the management of such projects.

For this purpose, this research provides a methodological approach with a view to understanding the impact of the technological rupture on project management, leading to a set of recommendations. Those ones are based on case studies, as well as the elaboration of Two HSGT Innovation Models, whose understanding is also enlightened by the development of several conceptual Models. The methodology can be described as follow:

1. Case studies: identification of critical factors of success/failure:

- Related to the structure of the market and its evolution

- Related to the notion of innovation and rupture

2. Elaboration of innovation models for HSGT technologies:

- Modeling innovation processes: main existing models

- Modeling diffusion processes of innovations, and decision-making

- Elaboration of 2 HSGT innovation models – Putting into perspective the critical factors identified

3. Modeling the influence of institutional & organizational factors

4. Developing an approach centered on the notion of risk/opportunity

- Defining a methodological approach in order to identify the risks related to the rupture

- Identifying the impacts of the technological rupture on risks and uncertainties

5. Providing recommendations on project management

Recommendations related to the critical factors underlined by the case studies and the conceptual models.

This constitutes the important steps of this research, leading to a better understanding of innovation processes and how to manage them. The identification of critical factors in the management of such projects as well as recommendations are embodied in a Project Management Assessment Tool (PMAS). which is presented in annex.

The originality of this research is to analyze, in a multi-perspective approach, innovation processes in the development of new technological trajectories characterized by strong technological rupture. The value of this research also resides in the international perspective of experiences through the case studies: This led to better take into account market and political contexts for recommendations on how to manage the rupture.

This being said, this approach also provides a good basis for analyzing innovations in large technical systems in general, the nature of which go beyond private interests and are by nature dependent on public and political interests.

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