Of the new production philosophy of Lean Construction (LC), Koskela (1992) has argued “The conceptual basis of construction management and engineering is obsolete. Formalization of the scientific foundations of construction management and engineering is a primary goal for the research community. […] The practical application of the new philosophy has commenced and diffused without any scientific, formalised basis […] The theoretical and conceptual understanding of the new production approach is still limited. […] [T]here is yet no unified, coherent and consistent theory. […] An explicit, preferably formalized theoretical basis is necessary for transfer of the new philosophy to new settings and for effective education.” Before successful efforts at development of this theoretical and conceptual understanding can be made, there is an a priori need to achieve a sound understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of what ‘Lean Construction Theory’ might consist of. We will argue that LC theorising is a form of social enquiry and hence empirical studies of the social interaction of managers involved in projects must be the starting point, the focus, the culmination and the ultimate and only basis of all theoretical activity in LC. We examine the nature of the phenomena LC theorists are investigating and as a result dispute that LC theory will necessarily have a scientific foundation. We therefore undertake a preliminary attempt to sketch out some ground rules for a consistent and coherent approach to LC Theory. We suggest that just as construction management is the practical accomplishment of the situated social action of managers, so management theorising is the practical accomplishment of the situated social action of management theorists. Drawing throughout on the respecification of sociology offered by ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, 1984), we will highlight the nature of theorising as an exercise in practical reasoning. Just as Lean Construction has respecified the construction process, ethnomethodology has respecified the process of social research and theorising. This approach highlights the similarity between the entirely practical exercise of theory-building and those activities the theory is about.
Lean Construction, theory, methodology, ethnomethodology, interpretive paradigm