Adopting social network theory to understand how information flows during the different phases of the design process in inter-organizational projects

A case study

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Projects are becoming larger and more complex, resulting in work being done more in a team environment. Among other industries, the construction industry is project-based as well. For the successful completion of construction projects, inter-organizational teams consisting of representatives from the owner, designer, contractors and other stakeholders need to cooperate. Due to the numerous relationships between the various organizations, construction management faces great challenges. One of these challenges is the encouragement of information sharing. Thus, information sharing in inter-organizational projects has already concerned academia for a long time. However, knowledge of how information flows during the design life-cycle is still limited, and no study has been found to examine that by using social network analysis.

Therefore, this research adopted social network theory to study information flows as its main research activity. By gathering data through a survey and analysing them by performing social network analysis, it was possible to map the communication network of the inter-organizational venture by creating sociograms and extracting some key metrics that would give meaning to these. In parallel with the social network analysis, some participant observations added a qualitative character to how information flowed between the teams. However, these two research activities were insufficient due to some limitations this study was subjected. Thus, the results from the already mentioned research activities were enriched by hosting an expert panel where the experts invited could provide further insights into the networks’ formation.

This research concluded that in the predesign phase, there should have been more involvement from teams that were generating valuable information to balance the control that the most influential team, according to the SNA, had over the flow of information. The different design teams should have had the same degree centrality and probably the same betweenness centrality. However, it may also be the case that one area is more complex and more information-dependent, thus ranking higher in terms of influence in the network. In the definitive design phase, team Management Design & Integration should control the flow of information. However, other teams should also support it since being the only one to have control may become a bottleneck or even a single point of failure. Such teams could be teams of the same subculture regarding their roles and responsibilities in the organization. In the execution-ready design phase, many central figures concerning the construction-related teams exist in the network since many activities take place. There are multiple sources of information; thus, team Management Design & Integration should be able to absorb all of it. Attention must be paid to the various barriers that have been found to impact how information flows. Especially in how the information is being communicated and how to motivate employees to use the various technological developments available since they found to enhance information sharing.