complexity of lean constrution teams, Image Clint Adair via unsplash

Is the Construction Industry a Complex Adaptive System?

The construction industry is a vital component of our society, providing the infrastructure and buildings necessary for daily life. In healthcare, for example, we build to help people improve their health and well-being, and we save lives. Because our modern world is constantly changing and evolving, our industry needs to adapt and find answers to new challenges.

Is the construction industry a complex adaptive system? In this blog, I will explore the concept of a complex adaptive system, which is a system made up of many interacting components (agents) that have the ability to adapt their behavior based on their environment and other agents within the system. These systems exhibit complex actions, such as emergence and self-organization, as a result of these interactions and adaptations. Complex adaptive systems are capable of responding and adapting to shifting circumstances, technological advancements, and market demands.

Examples of complex adaptive systems include ecosystems, economies, and social networks.

If the construction industry is a complex adaptive system (which I believe it is - at least for the larger more complex projects), what do we need to do to be successful?


8 factors to consider when navigating a complex adaptive system

When navigating and planning for success in a complex adaptive system, here are eight  factors to consider:

1. Understanding the system's structure

Analyze the components, relationships, and interdependencies within the system to get a clear picture of its structure.

2. Anticipating change 

Complex adaptive systems are inherently dynamic, so be prepared for change and have contingency plans in place.

3. Embracing uncertainty

Due to the complexity of the system, there may be multiple possible outcomes and a high degree of uncertainty. Be comfortable with making decisions without having complete information. Perfection is the enemy of progress.

4. Building relationships

Foster positive relationships with other agents in the system. Collaboration and information sharing can help you better understand the system and achieve your goals.

5. Emphasizing flexibility

Be open to new ideas and be flexible in your approach. Adapt your plans as you learn more about the system as it evolves.

6. Monitoring feedback

Pay attention to feedback from the system to gauge the effectiveness of your plans and make necessary adjustments.

7. Encouraging diversity

Encourage diversity in perspectives, opinions, and approaches to problem-solving within the system. This can lead to more creative solutions and better outcomes.

8. Aligning incentives 

Aligning incentives means setting up a holistic financial structure, which pulls the team together when things don’t go as planned. Traditional structures put teams against each other instead of uniting them.


Do our default practices serve us in this environment?

Now if you are still with me - do our standard practices, selection processes, contract models, tracking systems, planning systems, and communication protocols serve us well in this environment?

If not - what can we change to improve?

Please let me know your thoughts on Linkedin.


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Why Lean and Diversity are Going to Get You the Best Results


James Pease, Executive Director - Design and Construction Executive Director - Design and Construction UCSF Medical Center, lean consultant, founder of leanIPD blog

James is an expert in the set-up and structure of large, complex capital projects using Lean and Integrated Project Delivery to drive highly reliable results.

He has negotiated IPD contracts and delivered over $650M in complex healthcare projects as an Owner's Representative with multiparty contracts, aligned team incentives and collaborative delivery models.

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