A study of the innovation process within the construction project environment

  • Craig S. Thomson

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Over the last decade the low levels of innovation observed within the construction industry have been identified as potentially threatening the long-term future and sustainability of the industry. The root of the problem centres not on its idea generation or creativity capabilities, but on an inability to implement and manage the innovation process. Construction management is identified as focusing predominantly on `innovation' and its management implications within three predominant lines of enquiry; by focusing on specific types of innovation, from an institutional viewpoint and from an emerging organisational perspective, and therefore neglecting a project focus. Academics expressed concern that this failure was aligned to a wider failure to understand the realities of managing innovation within the project environment as a mode of production. This thesis aims to understand the conceptual existence of innovation within the project environment, and to develop an understanding of the nature of the interaction of the innovation process and its management within the wider processes and requirements of the project. The research sought to develop a set of attributes for innovation in projects, assess the possibility of developing a model of the innovation process, and a set of management success factors.

    A qualitative research approach was adopted using the principles of grounded theory, with the objective of allowing an understanding of the innovation process to emerge within the context of the construction project. A representative sample of nine case studies were selected and considered using a longitudinal approach. 75 semi- structured interviews were conducted across the case studies and analysed using grounded theory. A pilot study of analysis techniques revealed the value of applying the Nvivo software package to assist in the handling of complex data and an advanced cross comparison of the influence of the individual attributes.

    The thesis presents a generic model of the innovation process, highlighting the factors of influence and management requirements for its successful management. The model is structured as a linear process model, with four phases (initial, formulation and development, implementation and handover) with the boundaries between each determined by a decision gate. Two layers of management were observed for each phase, the phase specific management control system and the overall innovation management. Emphasis was placed on the inclusion of feedback within the model, highlighted at all levels and phases of the process. The research observed the contrasting nature of the integration of the innovation and project processes for the different innovation types, highlighting the varying significance of the activities of the process depending on the form of the attribute. The model displayed a generic structure, however it was observed that within each phase the nature of the activities and influencing factors were fluid and fuzzy, determined by the contextual nature of the attributes.

    22 generic management success factors were identified across the innovation process divided into strategic, structural and cultural factors. Analysis observed that the significance for management of each of these factors varied depending on the influence of the form of each of the attributes. Key success factors for facilitating the form of each attribute were presented, however evidence suggested that only by considering the influence of the attributes as a set would successful management be achieved. A management facilitation grid is presented to aid practitioners in identifying the nature of an appropriate management response, representative of the requirements of the particular context.

    The findings of this research present the opportunity for the further investigation of its specifics and wider implications as it marks merely the starting point of our understanding. An expansion of the number of case studies would provide the opportunity to increase the focus on the specifics of the research and allow for the widening of its scope to include for example, the role of SME's and the implications of the supply- chain. However, it is the potential offered within the research by taking its findings back to the industry for practical consideration that is particularly exciting. The adoption of its principles within practical examples would further the development of the model and the understanding of its practical relevance. Further, the findings of the research have the potential to be developed into training packages for those managing innovation, with particular reference to the use of the grid as a tool.
    Date of Award2006
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAndrew Munns (Supervisor)

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