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The construction industry as a loosely coupled system: implications for productivity and innovation


  • Anna Dubois
  • Lars-Erik Gadde


Previous research suggests that the construction industry is characterized by (1) particular complexity factors owing to industry specific uncertainties and interdependences, and (2) inefficiency of operations. The aim of this study was to analyse the operations and behaviour of firms as a means of dealing with complexity. The observations made indicate that the industry as a whole is featured as a loosely coupled system. Taking this as a starting point, the couplings among activities, resources and actors were analysed in different dimensions. The pattern of couplings builds on two interdependent layers: tight couplings in individual projects and loose couplings based on collective adaptations in the permanent network. It is concluded that the pattern of couplings seems to favour short term productivity while hampering innovation and learning.

Suggested Citation

  • Anna Dubois & Lars-Erik Gadde, 2002. "The construction industry as a loosely coupled system: implications for productivity and innovation," Construction Management and Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 20(7), pages 621-631.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:conmgt:v:20:y:2002:i:7:p:621-631
    DOI: 10.1080/01446190210163543

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    Cited by:

    1. Pia Pässilä & Lauri Pulkka & Seppo Junnila, 2015. "How to Succeed in Low-Energy Housing—Path Creation Analysis of Low-Energy Innovation Projects," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 7(7), pages 1-22, July.
    2. Francisco Brahm & Jorge Tarzijan, 2016. "Relational Contracts and Collaboration in the Supply Chain: Impact of Expected Future Business Volume on the Make-or-Buy Decision," Journal of Supply Chain Management, Institute for Supply Management, vol. 52(3), pages 48-67, July.
    3. Jan Bröchner, 2010. "Innovation in Construction," Chapters,in: The Handbook of Innovation and Services, chapter 31 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    4. Graeme Larsen & Tabarak Ballal, 2005. "The diffusion of innovations within a UKCI context: an explanatory framework," Construction Management and Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 23(1), pages 81-91.
    5. Antonelli, Cristiano & Gehringer, Agnieszka, 2015. "Knowledge externalities and demand pull: The European evidence," Economic Systems, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 608-631.
    6. Rémy Guichardaz & Laurent Bach & Julien Penin, 2016. "Music industry intermediation in the digital era and the resilience of the majors’ oligopoly: The role of transactional capabilities," Working Papers of BETA 2016-47, Bureau d'Economie Théorique et Appliquée, UDS, Strasbourg.
    7. Peter Harrison, 2007. "Can Measurement Error Explain the Weakness of Productivity Growth in the Canadian Construction Industry?," CSLS Research Reports 2007-01, Centre for the Study of Living Standards.
    8. de Vries, Henk J. & Verhagen, W. Pieter, 2016. "Impact of changes in regulatory performance standards on innovation: A case of energy performance standards for newly-built houses," Technovation, Elsevier, vol. 48, pages 56-68.
    9. Beerepoot, Milou & Beerepoot, Niels, 2007. "Government regulation as an impetus for innovation: Evidence from energy performance regulation in the Dutch residential building sector," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(10), pages 4812-4825, October.
    10. repec:gam:jsusta:v:10:y:2018:i:7:p:2211-:d:154971 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Holmen, Elsebeth & Pedersen, Ann-Charlott & Torvatn, Tim, 2005. "Building relationships for technological innovation," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 58(9), pages 1240-1250, September.
    12. Per Erik Eriksson & Ossi Pesamaa, 2007. "Modelling procurement effects on cooperation," Construction Management and Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 25(8), pages 893-901.
    13. Ting-Kwei Wang & Qian Zhang & Heap-Yih Chong & Xiangyu Wang, 2017. "Integrated Supplier Selection Framework in a Resilient Construction Supply Chain: An Approach via Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) and Grey Relational Analysis (GRA)," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(2), pages 1-26, February.
    14. Osabutey, Ellis L.C. & Williams, Karen & Debrah, Yaw A., 2014. "The potential for technology and knowledge transfers between foreign and local firms: A study of the construction industry in Ghana," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 49(4), pages 560-571.
    15. Peters, Linda D. & Pressey, Andrew D. & Johnston, Wesley J., 2016. "Contingent factors affecting network learning," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 69(7), pages 2507-2515.
    16. Andrew Chang & Chih-Chiang Tien, 2006. "Quantifying uncertainty and equivocality in engineering projects," Construction Management and Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 24(2), pages 171-184.
    17. Butzin, Anna & Rehfeld, Dieter, 2008. "Innovationsbiographien in der Bauwirtschaft," Forschung Aktuell 10/2008, Institut Arbeit und Technik (IAT), Westfälische Hochschule, University of Applied Sciences.
    18. Brahm, Francisco & Tarziján, Jorge, 2012. "The impact of complexity and managerial diseconomies on hierarchical governance," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 84(2), pages 586-599.
    19. Zubizarreta, Mikel & Cuadrado, Jesús & Iradi, Jon & García, Harkaitz & Orbe, Aimar, 2017. "Innovation evaluation model for macro-construction sector companies: A study in Spain," Evaluation and Program Planning, Elsevier, vol. 61(C), pages 22-37.
    20. Shahin Mokhlesian, 2014. "How Do Contractors Select Suppliers for Greener Construction Projects? The Case of Three Swedish Companies," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 6(7), pages 1-19, June.


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