Special Issue on productivity improvement in the construction process

Click here for PDF of call. First draft submissions due: 1 Apr 2012.

The 1990s saw an explosion of interest in improving productivity in construction through a wide range of methods and techniques. This was driven in part by government, through productivity reports (for example: Gyles 1992, Latham 1994, Egan 1998, Bourne 2000, etc.) and partly through collaborative industry initiatives – for example Constructing Excellence (amalgamated reform organizations, UK), Building Smart (International) or the CRC for Construction Innovation (Australia) – and also partly through corporate sector initiatives.

The aims of these initiatives are admirable, for example: Latham (1994) called for efficiency savings of 30% over five years. Egan (1998) set targets of 10% reduction in both cost and time per annum. While such improvements are notoriously difficult to measure and therefore rarely taken as absolutes, there is no doubt that a huge amount of research has been spawned in a direct effort to address improvements in all aspects of the built environment development cycle, from design through construction to use.

Much of this effort has been devoted to procurement systems (collaborative or integrated project delivery) and the “soft” issues of communication and relationships. However, there has also been growing interest also in the technical issues such as design data communication (for example BIM and collaborative design) and production management – in particular, emergent methods for planning and controlling work (such as lean construction or location-based management). More recently there is an emerging interest in blended approaches to performance improvement, where initiatives that address different aspects are integrated to take a multi-attribute approach to solving productivity improvements in the industry. Examples are blending integrated project delivery systems with model-based production workflows, or lean construction blended with location-based management.

It is interesting that the research response to these drivers has been dominated by a focus on front-end activities of the construction process. Thus, procurement systems and integrated project delivery have had considerable attention. So have design development and data communication (sharing digital models); similarly, design for construction (buildability) has been addressed.

In contrast, there has been relatively little research into the processes of construction itself – the planning and organisation of work – that has found its way into publication. If an empirical filter is applied then even less research can be identified.

Clearly, there are some exciting and very practical initiatives being taken in the industry to improve the performance of the sector. Yet the archival publication record, typified by this journal, does not reflect this effort and, certainly, the ambitious aims of the early productivity reports cannot be said to have been proven. It may be observed that there is a disconnection between the theoretical or conceptual posturing and the practical measurement of performance. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that organizations are increasingly wary of the optimism bias implicit in broad claims of productivity gains. Such claims may even act as a barrier to implementation of new methodologies.

Therefore, the aim of this special issue is to gather empirical evidence for productivity improvement following process change. After 20 years of effort, what can we say will actually make a difference? Further, the emphasis in this special issue is directed at practice. So papers are sought which inform industry about process change and which provide evidence of consequential improvement. Such a Special Issue should provide compelling evidence for productivity improvements following process change and thereby give heart to change agents.

However, it may be that the productivity improvement claims are merely hocus pocus (the magic words spoken when bringing about some sort of change). Thus, papers are sought that contradict improvement claims or that argue that such gains come at a cost, such as adverse social impacts (safety or work-life balance) or direct factors such as reduced quality or profitability. It is therefore desirable to encourage a critical approach to this Special Issue and encourage all views of the change process and its benefits.

The Special Issue has some boundaries. The emphasis should be on construction processes, not design or procurement systems. Thus, papers which discuss logistics of materials management would be welcome but papers which propose collaborative project structures would not. Papers which illustrate the effectiveness of changing methods of planning, scheduling and controlling work would be appropriate, whereas papers about data exchange would not.

All papers should address some process change intended for performance improvement. However, measurement of such improvement could be demonstrated in many ways, such as cost reduction, reduced time, improved quality, reduced risk, reduced hazards (safety) and improved client value. Topics range among, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Planning, scheduling and control of construction projects
  • Physics of production
  • Off-site manufacture
  • Lean construction
  • Location-based management
  • Model-based (BIM) construction management workflows
  • Optimizing productivity
  • The special challenges of managing mega-projects
  • Linear scheduling
  • Process modelling
  • Work flow improvement

As well as papers that report the results of empirical research, papers and notes taking a critical stance are welcome.



Bourn, J (2000) Modernising Construction. London: The Stationery Office.

Egan, J (1998) Rethinking construction: the report of the Construction Task Force to the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, on the scope for improving the quality and efficiency of UK construction, London: Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions Construction Task Force.

Gyles, R V (1992) Royal Commission into productivity in the building industry in New South Wales. Sydney: Government of New South Wales.

Latham, M (1994) Constructing the team: final report of the government/industry review of procurement and contractual arrangements in the UK construction industry, London: HMSO.

Author guidelines

International and comparative studies are especially welcome. Manuscripts should be in the range of 4000 – 10,000 words. The call is open and competitive, and all contributions will go through a double-blind peer review process. The Guest Editor for the special issue is happy to discuss ideas for papers:

Professor Russell Kenley, Professor of Management, Faculty of Business and Enterprise, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia.

Program Leader, Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre (SBEnrc).

Adjunct Professor, Queensland University of Technology.

Visiting Professor of Construction, Unitec Institute of Technology, New Zealand.

E-mail: rkenley@swin.edu.au



About Will

Professor of Construction Management and Economics, University of Reading, UK. Editor-in-Chief, Construction Management and Economics (1992-2016). Programme Director, MSc Construction Management. School Director of Postgraduate Teaching Programmes.
This entry was posted in Past calls, Special issue call and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s