Last edited 09 Dec 2020

Contingency theory in construction

Contingency theory is an organisational theory based around the idea that the role of a project manager is to establish the best possible fit between the organisation, its environment and sub-systems.

It is founded on the belief that many management theories may be appropriate in a particular situation, but no single approach will work successfully in all circumstances. Instead, internal and external situations will determine the optimal course of action. This makes it particularly appropriate for construction, which, with its typically uncertain and non-routine site environment, will typically benefit from a management model that is more adaptive and flexible.

Contingency theory encompasses the idea of open systems, i.e. systems that have external interactions - such as construction. Open systems are capable of reaching the same objective from different initial conditions and by following different paths (organisational structures). This is known as the equifinality of open systems.

Project managers must ‘satisfice’ (a combination of the words 'satisfy' and 'suffice'), that is, they must find a solution which is sufficient to satisfy the specific project criteria – in order to identify a route which optimises the performance of the system and sub-systems.

However, the complex nature of construction projects necessitates a careful and considered approach, keeping in mind the possible implications of changing the management system.

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