Organising the Early Design Phase in a Large Infrastructure Project
Large physical infrastructure projects are complex, lengthy endeavours usually initiated on a political level and managed by public clients. Many important decisions are made in early design phases, when the knowledge of numerous technical specialists is integrated to balance cost, quality and scope over the whole project lifecycle. Since projects and their contexts are unique, there are no comprehensive standard models for how to organise decision making in these early phases. Instead collaboration and coordination processes result from project members’ conscious efforts to merge existing organisational routines and tools with their own previous experiences and input from other projects. To enable a learning project organisation capable of managing complex coordination and cooperation issues, organisational structures and processes need to be carefully designed and open to successive adaptation.
The aim of this thesis is to investigate what aspects affect the development of organisational structures and routines of the little researched but influential phase of early design in major infrastructure projects. An in-depth, single case study was conducted to investigate everyday practices and interpretations in management of the West Link project, an urban major railway tunnel project. The approach was longitudinal and mainly based on non-participant observation. Four papers are presented in this thesis. The first focuses on how perceived needs for cooperation and coordination influence the design and continuous development of the project organisation. The second paper looks into formal and informal knowledge transfer, primarily from other projects, to the case study project. Paper three investigates the development and implementation of a cooperation bonus. The last paper is based on an earlier case study of a tunnel project in its construction phase and looks into communication and interactions between client, contractor and consultant parties. One conclusion drawn from these papers is that aspects influencing early design organisations often relate to both coordination and cooperation, influenced by constraints in available resources as well as in participant cognition. The project organisation continuously develops as changing circumstances are revealed in formal and informal communication, both internally and in relations beyond the individual project. However, focus on cooperation declines as relations are established and project activities commence, while issues of coordination remains as explicit concerns. Further it seems that factors concerning predominantly coordination tend to influence and explicitly add to formal structures, while effects of factors related to cooperation tend to be integrated into existing routines and procedures.