Exploration of the Synergies between Activity Theory and the DMAIC Method in Evaluating Construction Processes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Since Taylor advocated the analysis of workflows as a means to improving efficiency and labour productivity (Taylor 1914), construction operations and processes have been evaluated using systematic techniques such as methods study, value engineering and, more recently, the Six Sigma DMAIC method. Whilst DMAIC identifies process improvements it does not take into account the effect of decisions and influences caused by worker activities on the construction process. Such influences may be the determinant of the original ‘current state’ of the process or, more critically, may sustain and reinforce the ‘current state’ in spite of improvements. It is proposed this failure to identify and address underlying human influences in construction processes can potentially render improved efficiencies from established improvement methods, unsustainable. Activity Theory is a ‘framework aimed at transcending the dichotomies between the mental and material, observation and intervention in the analysis and redesign of work’ (Engestrom, 2000). Activity Theory investigates human behavioural phenomena to provide detailed insights in determining the holistic evaluation of a process. This paper explores the synergies that exist between Activity Theory philosophy and the DMAIC method and their application in the evaluation of a specific construction process, namely the Reviewable Design Data (RDD) process of a construction project. It was identified that whilst the DMAIC method generated improvements, Activity Theory identified the underlying influences that were being used as tools and rules to guide workers through the RDD process, namely professional knowledge, allegiance and previous experience. It was observed that these influences have the potential to impact, for better or worse, the DMAIC outcomes. This dual-methodological approach shed light on how technical factors and people activities interact in construction processes. It is proposed that this combined approach could provide a cross check for the robustness of findings in established process improvement methods and in so doing produce more sustainable project outcomes
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
PublisherEmerald Publishing
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)978-0-9955463-0-1
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Aug 2016
EventAssociation of Researchers in Construction Management (ARCOM) Annual Conference - University of Salford, Manchester, UK.
Duration: 1 Aug 2016 → …


ConferenceAssociation of Researchers in Construction Management (ARCOM) Annual Conference
Period1/08/16 → …


  • Activity Theory
  • worker activity
  • methodology
  • process
  • improvement


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