Problems and problem attention in the construction sector – understanding the influence of human factors

Lars Sunding, Anders Ekholm


Problems concerning quality and productivity in the construction sector have been a recurrent issue for many years and seem to remain in spite of various initiatives for resolving them. This situation is a result of human action. From social sciences we know that psychological factors crucially influence action design. Knowledge of this influence seems however to be underestimated in the construction sector, and could represent a missing link between strategies, plans and instructions, and the actions carried out.

In order to prospect for new problem solving approaches we undertook a questionnaire-based survey to investigate how individuals in the sector perceive the importance and occurrence of, and attention directed to, different proposed causes of inadequate performance. The design of the questionnaire enabled comparisons of different answers to look beyond the respondents’ overt answers.      

The result suggests that (1) the whole problem solving situation, including individual, relational and contextual problem components should be addressed as ‘the problem’; (2) the workforce has the ambition and courage to do what is expected but does not always have adequate information and the ability or resources to do it; (3) mental information distortion might be responsible for affecting the way the world is understood.

Full Text:



Argyris, C., Putnam, R., McLaine Smith, D., 1985, Action Science. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass.

Bazarova, N N., Hancock, J T., 2012, Attributions After a Group Failure: Do They Matter? Effects of Attributions on Group Communication and Performance. Communication Research, 39 (4), 499-522.

Boyd, D., 2013, Using events to connect thinking and doing in knowledge management, Construction Management and Economics, 31 (11), 1144-1159.

Brady, T., Maylor. H., 2010, The improvement paradox in project contexts: A clue to the way forward? International Journal of Project Management, 28 (8), 787 - 795.

Bresnen, M., Marshall, N., 2001, Understanding the diffusion and application of new management ideas in construction. Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management. 8 (6), 335-345.

Bresnen, M., Goussevskaia, A., Swan, J., 2005, Implementing change in construction project organizations: exploring the interplay between structure and agency. Building Research & Information. 33 (6), 547-560.

Bryman, A., 2001, Social Research Methods. Oxford: Oxford Press.

Byggkommissionen, 2002, Skârpning gubbar! â om konkurrensen, kvaliteten och kompetensen i byggsektorn. [Shape up guys! On competition, quality, costs and competence in the construction sector], SOU 2002:115, Stockholm: Fritzes.

Chiu, W. Y. B., Ng, F. F., 2013, Improvement of job satisfaction and organisational commitment through work group identification: an examination of the quantity surveyors in Hong Kong, Australasian Journal of Construction Economics and Building, 13 (3), 80-95

Cohen, G. L., Sherman, D. K., 2014, The psychology of change: Self-affirmation and social psychological intervention. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 333-371.

Cramer, P., 2000, Defence mechanisms in psychology today. American Psychologist Association, 35 (6), 637-646.

Davey, C. L., Powell, J.A., Powell, J.E., Cooper, I., 2002, Action learning in a medium-sized construction company. Building Research & Information. 30 (1), 5-15.

Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M, 2002, Handbook of self-determination theory research. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Dozier, R.W., 2000, Râdsla. [Fear itself] Stockholm: Wahlstrâm & Widstrand.

Ericson, B., Johansson, B-M., 1994, Bostadsbyggandet i idâ och praktik â om kunskap och fârestâllningar inom byggsektorn. [House-building in notion and practice â on knowledge and conceptions in the building sector]. Dissertation in Sociology, Lund: University Press.

Garel. G., 2013, A history of project management models: From pre-models to the standard models. International Journal of Project Management, 31 (5), 663-669.

Green, S.D., May, S.C., 2005, Lean construction: areas of enactment, models of diffusion and the meaning of 'leanness'. Building Research and Information, 33 (6), 498-511.

Hamilton, D.E., 1981, Cognitive processes in stereotyping and intergroup behaviour. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Heider, F., 1958, The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. New York: Wiley.

Hoorens, V. 1993, Self-enhancement and Superiority Biases in Social Comparison, European Review of Social Psychology, 4 (1), 113-139.

Johnson-Laird, P.N., 2004, The history of mental models. In Manktelow, K., and Chung, M.C. (Eds.) Psychology of Reasoning: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives. New York: Psychology Press. 179-212.

Kahneman, D., 2011, Thinking fast and slow. Penguin, London.

Kanter, R. M., Stein, B.A., Jick, T.D., 1992, The Challenge of Organizational Change. New York: The Free Press.

Kotter, J.P., 1996, Leading Change. Boston, MA: Harward Business School Press.

Kutsch, E. Maylor, H. Weyer, B. Lupson, J., 2011, Performers, trackers, lemmings and the lost: Sustained false optimism in forecasting project outcomes â Evidence from a quasi-experiment. International Journal of Project Management, 29 (8), 1070-1081.

Lalonde, P-L. Bourgault, M. Findeli, A., 2012, An empirical investigation of the project situation: PM practice as an inquiry process. International Journal of Project Management, 30 (4), 418-431.

Lowe, D., Skitmore, M., 2011, The learning climate of chartered quantity surveying practices. Australasian Journal of Construction Economics and Building, 11 (4), 1-20

Luecke, R., 2003, Managing Change and Transition. Boston, MA: Harward Business School Press.

Malle, B.F., 2004, How the mind explains behaviour: Folk explanations, meaning, and social interaction. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Malle, B. F., 2008, Fritz Heiderâs legacy â Celebrated insights, many of them misunderstood. Social Psychology, 39 (3), 163-173.

Mangione, T.W., 1995, Mail Surveys: Improving the Quality. Thousand Oaks, California, USA: Sage.

McWilliams, N., 2011, Psychoanalytic diagnosis: Understanding personality structure in the clinical process, 2nd ed. New York: The Guilford Press.

Ofori, G. and Toor, S. R., 2009, Research on cross-cultural leadership and management in construction: A review and directions for future research. Construction Management and Economics, 27 (2), 119 â 133.

Oyedele, L.O., 2010, Sustaining architects' and engineers' motivation in design firms: an investigation of critical success factors. Engineering Construction and Architectural Management 17 (2), 180â196.

Oyedele, L. O., 2013, Analysis of architects' demotivating factors in design firms. International Journal of Project Management. 31 (3), 342-354.

Pritchard, R. D., Payne, S., 2003, Performance management practices and motivation. In Holman, D., Wall, T. D., Clegg, C. W., Sparrow, P. & Howard, A., (Eds.) The New Workplace: People, Technology and Organisation: A Handbook and Guide to the Human Impact of Modern Working Practices. John Wiley, 219-244.

Reason, J., 2007, Human Error. Cambridge: University Press.

Ross, L., 1977. The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: Distortions in the attribution process. In Berkowitz, L. Advances in experimental social psychology 10. New York: Academic Press, 173â220.

Russo, J. E., Carlson, K. A., Meloy, M. G., & Yong, K., 2008. The goal of consistency as a cause of information distortion. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 137, 456-470.

Statskontoret, 2009. Sega gubbar? En uppfâljning av Byggkommissionens betânkande Skârpning gubbar! [Stubborn boys? - A follow-up of the Construction Industry Commission's report: Still no better, boys?]. Stockholm: Statskontoret [Swedish Agency for Public Management]. (2009:6),

Sunindijo, R. Y., Zou, P. X. W., 2013. The roles of emotional intelligence, interpersonal skill, and transformational leadership on improving construction safety performance, Australasian Journal of Construction Economics and Building, 13 (3), 97-113

Wilkinson, A., Johnstone, S., Townsend, K., 2012. Editorial - Changing patterns of human resource management in construction. Construction Management and economics, 30, 507-512.

Winch G., 2002, Managing Construction Projects. An Information Processing Approach. Oxford, UK, Blackwell Science.