Action Learning for Continuous Improvement and Enhanced Innovation in Construction

James A. Powell1

1Eur Ing, OBE, DSc, CEng., B.Sc., M.Sc, PhD, AMIST, FIOA, FIMgt., FCIOB, FASI, MIOD, Professor, Director of the Academic Enterprise, University of Salford, M54WT, England, M5 4WT, [email protected] , 0161 295 5464 , fax: 0161 295 5553. Academic Enterprise is the third major arm of a University activity that is endeavouring to reach out and support industry and commerce to enable it to flourish.


Action Learning (AL) for Continuous Improvement and Enhanced Innovation in Construction is a research programme of Academic Enterprise, University of Salford. The aim of the project was to find out how effective action learning might be in developing more innovative working methods in small and medium-sized building businesses in the construction industry. Four construction based AL SETs have been set up in different parts of the UK; a SET is a group of people, normally between 6-8 people with complementary problems, who band together as “partners in adversity” to discuss how they might learn from their own actions as they attempt to resolve key and complex issues. Each of our Construction AL SETs is in a different phase of its development, but the progress made by them all is exciting. Members of such SETs first seem to gain a systemic confidence of the new construction tasks in front of them and then become more innovative and creative in their resulting every day actions. They begin to explore new possibilities for change and seem to be able drive improvement from the “ashes” of their own site problems, issues, and failures. The innovations they come up with are typically fairly small scale to begin with, but soon grow, and often combine with others to have a fairly large impact on the productivity of their organisation. Our evidence suggests AL does seem to be able to create the sort of deep-seated cultural change needed by the construction. The AL process is initially heavily dependent upon the support of skilled SET Advisors who facilitate necessary changes in attitude and behaviour. This early facilitation is essential if it is to work successfully, however, SETs soon learn to look after themselves, growing from strength to strength in confidence and then develop creative responses to their own real site problems and issues. The AL process is initially extremely intensive in facilitator support costs, however, video conferencing has been shown to help make this form of construction.


Action Learning, innovation, continuous improvement, kaizen



Powell, J. A. 1999. Action Learning for Continuous Improvement and Enhanced Innovation in Construction, 7th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction , 433-444.

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