The Client as a Complex System

Sven Bertelsen1 & Stephen Emmitt2

1Sven Bertelsen, Management Counselor within the field of Lean Construction (
2Stephen Emmitt, Architect and Hoffmann Professor of Innovation and Management in Building, Department of Civil Engineering, Technical University of Denmark (


Construction is a process of delivering value to the client through a temporary production system, which consists of elements shared with other projects. The completed work is a one-of-a-kind product assembled at a temporary production facility, the site. This is a very complex production system that has been studied extensively over a number of years. Some members of the International Group for Lean Construction (IGLC) have recently used the complexity point of view to try to understand this system and to create guidelines on how to better manage it. The production system is, however, only one part of the process. The other part, and one worthy of more extensive investigation, is the client. The term ‘client’ tends to imply a person or a well-defined body of persons that act as a single entity. In the majority of projects this is not the case. The ‘client’ is a representative for a number of—often conflicting— values,interests and time perspectives. A closer look can reveal that the client is just as complex as the production system. This paper examines the characteristics of the client as well as the customer-supplier relationship in the built environment, where a better understanding of client complexity may help to deliver value to a wider range of stakeholders.


Client, Complexity, Stakeholders interests, Value, Design



Bertelsen, S. & Emmitt, S. 2005, 'The Client as a Complex System' In:, 13th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction. Sydney, Australia, 19-21 Jul 2005. pp 73-79

Download: BibTeX | RIS Format