The Role of Ethnography in the Implementation of Lean Construction

David Seymour1 & John Rooke2

1Senior Lecturer, Dept. of Civil Eng., U. of Birmingham, U.K. [email protected].
2Research Associate, respectively, Dept. of Civil Eng., U. of Birmingham, U.K.


Lean Construction is a radically new way of thinking about the construction process. To engineer its adoption means questioning assumptions, ways of thinking and practices - the culture - into which people have long been schooled. Therefore, efforts have been made to understand the existing culture; to establish the reasoning and rationales it embraces in order to change it. Part of this project has resulted in the presumption that there are mental models, mindsets or general dispositions to think and act in a certain way. While these constructs may be a useful first step in putting oneself ‘in the other’s shoes’ in order better to develop and negotiate change strategies, there are a number of dangers associated with them. There are two in particular. The first is the ‘cultural dope’ fallacy where another’s action is seen simply as the acting out of a version of that other’s culture which has been constructed by the analyst. The second is the presumption that it is possible for an analyst to provide such constructs without being subject to the fact, which has become a commonplace in management studies, that everybody (including the analyst) has a point of view; a mental model of her own. With reference to case material, the paper explores some ways in which ethnographic research methods can help to avoid these dangers and at the same time contribute to the management of change.


Lean construction, ethnography, culture, research methodology, action research, change management



Seymour, D. & Rooke, J. 2001. The Role of Ethnography in the Implementation of Lean Construction, 9th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction , -.

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