Leading Extreme Projects: Strategy, Risk and Resilience in Practice


Advances in Project Management Series

Dr. Alejandro Arroyo and Dr. Thomas Grisham

Argentina, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, USA

and around the world

Imagine a Project Manager leading a Consortium for an integrated gas field program in the Peruvian Rain Forest — program that includes construction of an energy site in the Americas that involves Peruvians, Argentines, Swedes, and Americans.  It is a huge program in the Peruvian rainforest requiring a complex logistic operation carried out by three different consortia on a tight schedule, and in demanding topography. It includes new infrastructure, ocean shipping, port operations, ground transportation, aerial operations, and river barging.  It also includes indigenous communities, politics, drug trafficking exposure, and “shining path” events (Shining Path is a brutal Maoist political group in Peru).

All of these elements are components of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and they play an important role in all projects, especially global ones.  People have discussed and debated ethics for thousands of years, and the relationship between capitalism and socialism.  Needless to say, the debate continues and there are as many visions of CSR as there are people.  For example, the USA passed the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids bribing a foreign official.  If an organization is found guilty, the CEO goes to jail, in theory.  But, a criminal offense in the USA is an accounting issue in Germany where bribes were, at one time, a tax deduction.  Thus the rules and the application of the rules vary widely, and the rules in the Peruvian rain forest are far more flexible than in the Western world.  Can you imagine leading such an endeavor?

In a new work, the authors use Case Studies to demonstrate what was actually done on a number of extreme projects such as the one described above, to illustrate the challenges, and to recommend steps that can be taken to help diminish the impact upon future projects. We have explained and developed the structure of each Case Study in detail but the names of the actual participants have been changed.  By extreme projects we mean those conducted in demanding physical, political, multi-cultural, multi-country, multi-organizational global environments, and were often the operational windows turn out to be as tight as they are unpredictable.  Or as Cockburn and Smith write in a recent article in this column, VUCA projects that are volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous!  The Case Studies encompass the Americas, Africa, and Asia, and cover the extractive industries portion of the author’s experience as well as transportation infrastructure-related projects.

Examples of issues which the authors have encountered often, in all sectors of our global economy include:

  • JV or alliance partners with different goals and objectives
  • Suppliers and vendors with questionable ethics and hidden agendas
  • The importance of effective logistics
  • The need for political fluency and competence
  • The need for cultural fluency and competence
  • The need for strong leadership
  • The need for multidisciplinary teams, and interdisciplinary leadership
  • The importance of principled leadership
  • A strong understanding of local communities and societies
  • A lack of infrastructure
  • A lack of operational monitoring and financial control
  • Poor communications
  • A lack of concern for the environment

We consider it critically important to lead projects from conceptualization, through design and construction, and into operations, utilizing what we call Collaborative Project Enterprises (CPE’s).   A CPE is naturally constructed of diverse interdisciplinary teams with a variety of organizational goals…


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Editor’s note: The Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books previously published by Gower in UK and now by Routledge. Information about the series can be found at https://www.routledge.com/Advances-in-Project-Management/book-series/APM



About the Authors

Dr Alejandro Arroyo

Argentina, Australia, Canada, Sweden
Many other countries

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Alejandro Arroyo
has more than 30 years’ experience as operator and consultant in global project logistics, stakeholder management, environmental management, operations optimization, and strategic contextual assessment with respect to mining, oil and gas, hydropower, infrastructure, nuclear power and alternative energy projects. Alejandro has worked for and cooperated with a long list of well-known companies both in the natural resources and global transportation industry such as Pan American Silver, Silver Standard, Aura Minerals. Talisman Energy, Talon Metals, AECL-CANDU, Areva, ABB, Alstom, Galaxy Resources, FMC Lithium, Hunt Oil, ZIM Israel Navigation,  and many others.  He is at present lecturing on global operations, international business, and project-related topics at various universities in Latin America and Canada further to running his own company SOUTHMARK LOGISTICS with branches across South America and worldwide operations. His credentials include a Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Business (UMM, Buenos Aires, Argentina), Master’s degree in Marine Economics and Operations (WMU, Malmo, Sweden), MBA in Marine Resource Management (AMC, Launceston, Australia), and Doctor of Project Management (REMIT University, Melbourne, Australia).


Dr Thomas Grisham

Switzerland, UK, USA
Many other countries


Dr Thomas Grisham
has over 45 years of experience on domestic and international business and programs up to US$3 billion in the power, infrastructure, transportation, education, commercial, communications, manufacturing, business development, and dispute resolution sectors. This experience has been gained in 73 countries across a variety of business models, with expat assignments in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, and part-time in India, Spain, and the UK. He has over 16 years of research and teaching experience at all levels in numerous universities, in a variety of countries, currently in Switzerland. He provides executive education in numerous countries, with over 400 companies, from Alcatel-Lucent to ZTE. His has written two books, portions of two others, and is an arbitrator for AAA and ICDR, and is a member of the Economist Magazine panel for the good judgment project. Dr Grisham can be contacted at [email protected]