Applicability of Selectionism and Trial and Error in Large-Scale Development Projects


Dr. Mohammad Baydoun

Project Manager, Millennium Development International

Lecturer, American University of Beirut

Beirut, Lebanon



The aim of this paper is to discuss the applicability of selectionism and trial and error theories in the context of large-scale development projects in developing countries. These two theories are widely known as presenting the opposing intellectual discourse for risk management of projects with high level of complexity and unforeseeable uncertainty. The trial and error theory promotes continuous unplanned update of the project plan based on changes in the project environments. The selectionism theory promotes running parallel tracks to solve the same problem and pick-up the one that seems to be best upon completion of the study. These two theories have been widely discussed in the context of technological projects, which are highly complex and entail a lot of unforeseeable uncertainty. These two characteristics apply to large-scale development projects as these projects contain a large number of complex systems and are executed over an extended period of time, which cause a large number of changes in the assumptions and plans of these projects.  Therefore, discussing these two theories in this context will help to better understand the nature of risk in these projects and the approach to be followed in order to manage its risks.  The context of developing countries was selected as investments in these countries are generally risky due to the high level of instability.

Key words: large-scale projects, selectionism, trial and error, developing countries.


During the last two decades, the development sector was booming worldwide, especially within developing countries that are rich in natural resources. This boom increased pressure on governments to develop large-scale urban projects that can contain the newly emerging developments (Sagalyn 2007). The purpose of these projects is to divide large land areas into smaller parcels that meet demand requirements while providing necessary infrastructure for these parcels. In order to secure success of urban development projects, it is essential to mitigate or reduce the impact of its risks, especially that its processes usually entail a large number of unforeseen risks (Kyvelou and Karaiskou 2006).

The definition of a “large-scale project” differs from one reference to another. Some references consider the cost to be the indicator of the project’s scale (Verveniotis 2008). Other references define large-scale projects as the projects that have a social, economic and ecological impact on its context (Alastair et al. 2005). For the purpose of this paper, the later definition will be adopted as the relevance of the development cost varies upon the economic status of the country and the time, during which the project was executed as time is related to inflation.

Despite the fact that the development process extends till the end of construction, the main work is conducted prior to construction. This is the period, during which the investment framework is defined and the most critical decisions are taken. In addition, it holds the highest level of unforeseeable risk as the project is still at the beginning and the number of unforeseen risks at this stage is high (Figure 1). Partnership is established, consultants are appointed, funds are raised and approvals on studies are obtained prior to beginning of construction. Any wrong decision at this phase will have a ripple effect that might endanger the whole project. In addition, this is the period, during which the project manager have the highest level of control over the project as margin of change during later periods will be very limited. Furthermore, during the construction phase, trial and error is not an option due to its high implication on cost. Therefore, this period is the main focus of this paper.


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mohammad-baydounLebanon-flagDr. Mohammad Baydoun                                       

Dr. Mohammad Baydoun has a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture, a Master’s Degree of Architecture in Urban Design, an Executive Masters of Business Administration Degree, and a Doctorate of Business Administration from Grenoble Ecole De Management. Dr. Baydoun is a project manager at Millennium Development International s.a.l. in Beirut, Lebanon and a lecturer at the American University of Beirut. As a project manager, Dr. Baydoun is responsible for managing and working jointly with a team of urban planners, urban designers, financial analysts, architects and engineers. His multidisciplinary background combined with his experience allows him to participate in structuring complex development projects, authoring of development strategies and, through management and collaboration with consultants of diverse disciplines (technical and financial), to realize integrated business plans and commercial success of projects. His expertise spans a wide geographical spread with special focus on the Saudi market. Dr. Baydoun is also a thesis supervisor for the Doctorate of Business Administration Program of Grenoble Ecole De Management and a visiting research fellow at the Management Science Laboratory of Athens University of Economics and Business. Dr. Baydoun won a number of professional and academic awards, the most prominent of which are Saraya’s Spirit to Serve Award that is awarded to distinguished employees for their dedication and outstanding performance, and Ghanem Al Shama’ Prize for the best graduation project. Dr. Baydoun has authored several publications on management of large scale development projects. Dr. Mohammad Baydoun can be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected]