Strategizing in construction: Exploring practices and paradoxes
Doctoral thesis, 2015
The starting point of this thesis was an identified lack of strategy-related research within the construction industry as well as a lack of comprehensive strategy management at the organizational level in construction. A growing number of researchers have highlighted the importance of strategy research in construction in regards to increase understanding of long-term development and change on the organizational levels of construction companies. The overall purpose of this thesis is to explore how strategizing in construction is deployed using a Strategy-as-Practice (SAP) lens. Two main research questions have driven the research: 1) How is strategy perceived and enacted at the micro level in a construction company? 2) What practices enacted at the micro level can be linked to organizational outcomes and change on various macro levels in a construction company?
In order to answer these questions, I draw on rich empirical data from an in-depth case study of a large construction company (Alpha) and combine insights from using three different methodological approaches: narrative analysis of interviews, observation studies, and a short ethnographic study. The findings show that traditional strategy practices such as annual reviews, strategic planning, and strategic workshops did not seem to be overtly consequential for organizational outcomes and directions in the organization. Instead the findings reveal how the managers collectively identify with and foregrounded the craftsmanship of to the building site. This over time seems to have embedded a common set of practices that permeate all the organizational levels, including project levels, middle-management levels, and higher levels, through a top-down as well as bottom-up negotiation encompassing mainly those with the appropriate and legitimate craftsmanship-grounded habitus. This phenomenon could be considered as a pattern of strategizing in itself and it highlights that there is a tension (paradox) in regards to what the key practices are and what the actors actually do in relations to strategy in construction.
It is suggested that the social process relating to the strong collective identification may have negative consequences for long-term change and development in the construction industry since one of its main mechanisms is to self-reinforce itself to remain the same. This thesis also contributes methodologically and theoretically, both to SAP and to construction, by showing how underlying logics of practices are more readily discerned by studying them as they are enacted between different groups interacting at boundary interfaces.