Research studies indicate the existence of three generic ways for dealing with variation: control, flexibility and buffering. These are the ways of assuring organizational robustness to support the proactive and reactive management of events that occur during the project life cycle. Traditionally, project management practices have strongly relied on the combined use of control and buffers. However, the growing recognition of problems associated with organizational complexity has been changing paradigms and pushing structural changes towards the development of flexible competences. This paper critically discusses the concept of flexibility, regarding its definitions applied to construction projects. The first objective is to provide a better understanding of the concept by looking at its inter-relationship with control and buffering. The three concepts are explained as different but complementary ways of handling variations. The second objective is to show that, in any context, the emergence of a flexible competence is the result of many internal adjustments in the content of production strategy. The idea is to present flexibility as a multi dimensional concept that requires a core discipline and various enablers. In doing so, the authors hope to provide further understanding of the inner workings of production system robustness and to highlight the important role of lean practices.
Flexibility, buffering, organizational robustness, production system design.