The Prevalent Theory of Construction a Hindrance for Innovation

Lauri Koskela1 & Ruben Vrijhoef2

1Senior Researcher, VTT Building Technology, Concurrent Engineering, P.O.Box 1801, FIN-02044 VTT, Finland, Phone +358 9 4564556, Fax +358 9 4566251, E-mail
2Research Scientist, TNO Building and Construction Research, Department of Strategic Studies, Quality Assurance and Building Regulations, P.O.Box 2600, NL-2600 AA Delft, The Netherlands, Phone +31 15 2695228, Fax +31 15 2695335, E-mail


It is argued that construction innovation is significantly hindered by the prevalent theory of construction, which is implicit and deficient. There are three main mechanisms through which this hindrance is being caused. Firstly, because production theories in general, as well as construction theories specifically, have been implicit, it has not been possible to transfer such radical managerial innovation as mass production or lean production from manufacturing to construction. Direct application of these production templates in construction has been limited due to different context in construction in correspondence to manufacturing. On the other hand, without explicit theories, it has not been possible to access core ideas of concepts and methods of these templates, and to recreate them in construction environment. In consequence, theory and practice of construction has not progressed as in manufacturing. Secondly, it is argued that the underlying, even if implicit, theoretical model of construction is the transformation model of production. There are two first principles in the transformation model. First, the total transformation can be achieved only by realising all parts of it. Thus, we decompose the total transformation into parts, finally into tasks, ensure that all inputs are available and assign these tasks to operatives or workstations. Second, minimising the cost of each task, i.e. each decomposed transformation, minimises the cost of production. It is argued that these principles, in which uncertainty and time are abstracted away, are counterproductive, and lead to myopic control and inflated variability. Practical examples show that these deficiencies and related practical constraints hinder the top-down implementation of innovations. Thirdly, empirical research shows that also bottom-up innovation - systematic learning and problem solving - is hindered by this deficient theory. Thus, the advancement of construction innovation requires that a new, explicit and valid theory of construction is created, and business models and control methods based on it are developed.


Production theory, innovation in construction, radical innovation, top-down innovation, bottom-up innovation, diffusion of manufacturing templates



Koskela, L. & Vrijhoef, R. 2000, 'The Prevalent Theory of Construction a Hindrance for Innovation' In:, 8th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction. Brigthon, UK, 17-19 Jul 2000.

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