managing change in construction projects: a knowledge-based approach

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Western Ontario]On: 03 June 2014, At: 02:47Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Construction Management and EconomicsPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:

    Managing Change in Construction Projects: AKnowledge-based ApproachRussell Kenley aa Swinburne University of Technology , AustraliaPublished online: 28 Feb 2012.

    To cite this article: Russell Kenley (2012) Managing Change in Construction Projects: A Knowledge-based Approach,Construction Management and Economics, 30:2, 179-180, DOI: 10.1080/01446193.2012.655751

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  • Book Reviews

    Managing Change in Construction Projects: A

    Knowledge-based Approach

    Sepani Senaratne and Martin Sexton, Wiley-Blackwell,

    London, 2011

    200 pp., ISBN 978 1 4443 3515 6, 74.99 (hb)

    Managing Change in Construction Projects is a book that

    seems not to know its purpose. It is a beautifully writ-

    ten research publication, but one that presents in the

    style of a PhD or major research project, and seems

    well described by the abstract for the first authors

    thesis, although no such acknowledgement or refer-

    ence is given. Indeed, as an academic, I eventually

    suspended my attempts to read it as a book and

    instead read the work as a thesis. This indicates that

    the audience is limited to those interested in highly

    structured research publications. This is a shame,

    because those who fail to persevere will miss out on a

    great deal of valuable information. For the research

    student, this will be a very useful reference and it can

    provide the foundation for much subsequent research.

    In contrast, this is not a book for practitioners.

    The title of the book misled me; I inferred that the

    book would be about change management: the pro-

    cess of managing change in people and processes.

    This reflects reader bias as much as imprecision in

    the title. The book actually targets managing reactive

    change in construction projects, as it discusses varia-

    tions or change orders that occur during the construc-

    tion phase of a project.

    As a research publication the book is well struc-

    tured, if concise. The chapters follow a structured

    academic format:


    Key issues from the literature

    Research methodology

    Case study results

    Cross-case analysis


    The work draws heavily on knowledge management

    literature as it may be applied to change in construc-

    tion projects and develops models for knowledge-

    based reactive change management.

    The short introduction rapidly builds a powerful

    case for the investigation and leads directly into the

    literature review. This is an exhaustive review of the

    nature of construction, the nature of change, the nat-

    ure of change in construction, knowledge manage-

    ment and its role in reactive change processes. This

    erudite chapter is well worth the time devoted. As a

    reference, it will be both informative and interesting.

    However, a dichotomy emerges which is never


    The work discusses change from the premise of a

    dictionary definition and draws upon organizational

    change literature. However, as one is drawn through

    the argument, it becomes apparent that the changes

    included in the scope of the subsequent research are

    much more limited: to reactive changes (variations or

    change orders). One is left wondering at the connec-

    tion between managing change in organizations and

    managing reactive change events.

    Further, the literature draws upon previous work

    identifying the likely causes of reactive change, but

    does not resolve the separation of client-driven change

    and change required due to errors (whether design or

    construction). As such, the fundamental premise

    comes into question.

    The work implies that knowledge management can

    improve our capacity to manage or prevent change

    events, although the mechanism is not clear. This is a

    reasonable premise. Certainly one can see that knowl-

    edge has a role in preventing errors. However, the

    connection between knowledge management and pre-

    venting a client from making design changes (request-

    ing a variation to the design) is never established nor,

    I suspect, can it be.

    So the work must necessarily deal with changes

    arising from mistakes. Chapter 4 discusses the meth-

    odology for the investigation. This provides a fairly

    typical case-based design. Surprisingly, however, the

    design only includes three cases. Cases were supposed

    to be theoretically significant cases such as represen-

    tative, disconfirming and/or extreme cases. Here,

    representative cases were chosen, but the selection is

    not representative of reactive change, nor indeed par-

    ticularly interesting. Certainly they were not cases

    that, on the surface, would reveal any inherent truths

    Construction Management and EconomicsISSN 0144-6193 print/ISSN 1466-433X online


    Construction Management and Economics (February 2012) 30, 179187




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  • about the role of knowledge management in managing

    reactive change.

    The cases were:

    A change in floor specification required to preventoperational disruption to the owners businessanimpact of which the contractor had previouslyadvised the client, yet the advice (knowledge) wasignored until construction. This, as a client change,arose too late to prevent disruption.

    Incorrect installation height of whiteboards due toa design change (client request) and failure of pro-cesses of documenting and following up the change(the change was neglected). This is a process error,where a design change failed to be activatedbecause a proper process was not followed.

    Change in location of radiant panels due to adesign error. This is a change arising from identify-ing a design error during construction.

    While each case is different, it is difficult to accept

    that one case of each type is sufficient to draw conclu-

    sions about that type of change. Further, while the

    cases may be representative, they do not seem repre-

    sentative of changes that would have benefited from

    knowledge management.

    The results and cross-case analysis chapters make a

    compelling and interesting case. The book benefits

    from innovative cognitive maps illustrating the various

    situations and strategies provided by the literature.

    For those interested in detailed observations of knowl-

    edge theory applied to cases of reactive change in

    construction, this does not disappoint. The chapter

    develops models of such issues as knowledge

    properties during change, knowledge identification,

    intra-project knowledge creation and inter-project

    knowledge transfer.

    The book concludes with a summary of the

    research propositions and models of knowledge flows

    during reactive project change, enablers and barriers

    in knowledge-based reactive change process and

    draws the theory together in some really cool dia-

    grams illustrating the prevalent reactive change pro-

    cess and a knowledge-based reactive change process.

    Overall I think the work has considerable merit and

    is a sound use of theory and research method to

    develop powerful models for knowledge-based reac-

    tive change management. However, it fails to con-

    vince in the sample size and in the range of change

    contexts analysed. Furth