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Implementation of construction innovations

E. Sarah Slaughter

To cite this article: E. Sarah Slaughter (2000) Implementation of construction innovations,

Building Research & Information, 28:1, 2-17, DOI: 10.1080/096132100369055

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Published online: 18 Oct 2010.

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B u i l d i n g Re se a r c h & I n f o r m a t i o n (2000) 28(1), 2–17

Implementation of construction innovations

E. Sarah Slaughter

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,

77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room 1-174, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA

Construction innovations can provide the critical component for a company’s long-term competitive strategy.
To capture these competitive and other expected beneŽts, however, a construction company needs to under-
stand the means through which innovations are implemented, and the strategies it can employ to increase
the effectiveness of these operations. Construction-related companies can follow different strategies, based
upon the nature of the innovation, their capabilities, resources and overall market strategy. The six stages of
implementation are generally described, followed by a description of the types of activity required for each
type of innovation, with detailed case studies.

L’innovation dans la construction peut eÃtre l’atout majeur de la strate gie concurentielle aÁ long terme d’une en-
treprise. Pour saisir ces avantages concurentiels et d’autres avantages attendus, une socie te du secteur de la con-
struction doit cependant comprendre les moyens qui permettent de mettre en oeuvre l’innovation ainsi que les
strateÂgies qu’elle peut adopter pour augmenter l’ef® cacite de ses ope rations. Les entreprises du secteur de la
construction peuvent appliquer des strateÂgies diffe rentes, reposant sur la nature de l’innovation, leurs capacite s,
leurs ressources et leur politique commerciale globale. Dans cette communication, l’auteur de crit d’abord de fa-
cËon ge neÂrale les six eÂtapes de la mise en oeuvre de l’innovation puis les types d’activite s propres aÁ chaque
forme d’innovation et propose en® n des eÂtudes de cas deÂtailleÂes.

Keywords: construction innovation, innovation cases, innovation implementation, innovation management

Introduction on the products (materials and components), pro-

cesses and systems, speci® cally associated with
Innovations can form the backbone of a compa- the design and construction of built facilities.
ny’s competitive strategy. A new design or tech- Therefore, the application context explicitly con-
nology may be the means through which a sidered is a construction project, with its attendant
company can achieve the client’s objectives for a issues of uniqueness and inter-® rm coordination
speci® c project, or its own objectives across a set (Slaughter, 1998).
of projects for different clients. Recent research on
construction innovations provides the basis to A signi® cant factor for construction innovations is
expand current understanding on innovation im- the degree of risk associated with their use. Con-
plementation and diffusion, and apply them to structed facilities consist of many complex and in-
the construction industry (Slaughter, 1993b; terdependent systems (Winch, 1998). Introducing
Slaughter, 1997; Ramirez, 1998; Rogers, 1998; change into this complex multi-system context can
Slaughter, 1998). create a ripple effect of secondary and tertiary im-
pacts, which can be dif® cult to anticipate using
An innovation in this research is de® ned as a non- current construction management theory and
trivial improvement in a product, process, or sys- techniques. Companies considering the initial use
tem that is actually used and which is novel to the of an innovation need a systematic approach to
company developing or using it (Schmookler, identify the activities that can reduce avoidable
1952; Marquis, 1988). For this article, the focus is uncertainty and risk, increase the effectiveness of
Building Research & Information
ISSN 0961-3218 print/ISSN 1466-4321 online # 2000 Taylor & Francis Ltd

innovation use and analyse the regions of impact Examples of construction innovations by cate-
on other interdependent systems and processes. gory can aid the distinction among classes of
This research primarily addresses the systematic innovations (see Fig. 2).
approach to use innovations. Related research has
developed a set of computer-based process mod- Speci® c innovations from the point of view of a
els that can be tailored to speci® c construction contractor will demonstrate the concepts, even
projects to assess the system and inter-system im- though the perception of the degree of change
pacts of innovations (Slaughter, 1997; Slaughter and links to other systems can differ signi® cantly
and Eraso, 1997; Slaughter, 1999). among different members of a value-added chain
(Afuah and Bahram, 1995). For example, a reinfor-
An innovation can be assessed with respect to its cing steel bar with a raised pro® le represents an
advancement of the state of knowledge as well as incremental innovation to a general contractor,
its links to other components or systems (Fig. 1). with a modest expected improvement in perform-
An incremental innovation is a small improve- ance from increased interaction surfaces with the
ment in current practice, and has minimal impacts concrete, but no signi® cant change in concept or
on other components or systems (Marquis, 1988). links to other systems. In contrast, ® bre reinforced
On the other hand, an architectural innovation is plastic reinforcing bars with a traditional pro® le
a small improvement within a speci® c area or core for cast-in-place concrete slabs (Civil Engineering,
concept, but requires signi® cant modi® cation in 1997) is a modular innovation, with a change in
other components or systems in order to function the core concept (from steel to FRP) but no
(Henderson and Clark, 1990). A modular innova- changes in links to other systems. Self-compacting
tion is a signi® cant improvement (or even a new concrete, which eliminates the vibration and con-
concept) within a speci® c region, but requires no solidation stage of placing concrete (Okamura et
changes in other components or systems (Hender-
son and Clark, 1990). A system innovation is a set
of complementary innovations which work to-
gether to provide new attributes or functions and
together can signi® cantly advance the state of
knowledge or practice (Cainarca et al., 1989;
Slaughter, 1998). Finally, a radical innovation is a
completely new concept or approach which often
renders previous solutions obsolete, including in-
terdependent components or systems (Nelson and
Winter, 1977). These categories of innovation can
be used to establish the degree to which the pro-
posed innovation will require special skills, exper-
tise and activities to be effectively implemented.



Change in

Incremental Architectural

None High
Change in
Fig. 2. Reinforcing steel bars: Raised proŽ le bars
Fig. 1. Categories of innovations by changes in con- would be an incremental innovation. FRP bars would
cept and links to other systems. be a modular innovation.


al., 1995), is an architectural innovation, since it Identification

uses available materials in a modi® ed mixture but Alternatives
causes signi® cant changes in related processes. A Evaluation Evaluation
new bridge design, which might use FRP sheets Measurement Project Criteria
Rewards Company Criteria
as tensile members and as the stay-in-place forms
for a high performance self-compacting concrete
slab and incorporate small active dampers to ab-
sorb dynamic load impacts, would be an example Use Commitment
of a system innovation, coordinating the set of Learning Internal allocation
complementary innovations to achieve new levels Modification Publicity
of performance. The use of advanced composite Preparation
materials to make a whole bridge is an example of Company team
a radical innovation, with changes in the core con- Project Team
cepts as well as the links to other systems and
with the potential to render current technologies
Fig. 3. Implementation stages for innovations.

Construction-related companies can follow differ-

ent strategies to effectively plan for and use de-
sign and technology innovations, based upon the The ® rst stage of the implementation cycle is the
nature of the innovation, their capabilities, re- clear speci® cation of the objectives associated with
sources and overall market strategy. The six the project and organization(s), and the identi® ca-
stages of implementation are generally described, tion of potential alternatives to achieve those
followed by the types of activity required for each objectives. Often alternatives are identi® ed within
category of innovation with detailed case studies. the ® rms involved from the set of known means
to achieve familiar objectives. For innovations,
however, the sources to identify and=or develop
Implementation stages the innovations are often more widely spread
throughout the value chain (Fig. 4), and the
The effective use of construction innovations can general industrial environment (Nelson and
be planned through a cycle of implementation Winter, 1977; Dosi, 1982).
stages and activities (Meyer and Goes, 1988;
Goodman and Grif® th, 1991; von Hippel and The impetus for this wider search is often that
Tyre, 1995). The six stages often identi® ed in the either the familiar means to achieve an objective
theoretical literature and empirical studies are: 1) do not perform to the required standards, or the
identi® cation; 2) evaluation; 3) commitment; 4) objectives themselves are new to the ® rm respon-
detailed preparation; 5) actual use; and 6) post- sible for identifying the alternatives (Roberts,
use evaluation (Fig. 3). 1982; Mans® eld, 1988). Recent research on con-
struction innovations indicates that an innovation
Although most implementation processes may is often developed at this identi® cation stage in
proceed through each of the stages, in certain
cases the evaluation stage may reveal new criteria
which need to be reconsidered in the identi® ca- Architect
tion stage and these two stages may cycle through Engineer
a few repetitions. In addition, previous experience SUPPLIER
with implementing other design and technology
innovations can feed directly into current CONTRACTOR OWNER
decisions and activities through organizational MANUFACTURER
learning about speci® c innovations and the imple- SUB
mentation process as a whole. While the CONTRACTORS
implementation stages are common among LABOUR
many engineering ® elds and industries, certain
aspects are particularly important for construction Fig. 4. Value-added chain in construction as sources
innovations. of innovation.


response to project objectives, which cannot be (Table 1). Given the cost-competitive nature of the
met with known means (Semlies, 1999). construction industry in most markets, the com-
mon expectation is that reducing design and
Traditionally, manufacturers and suppliers have construction-related costs is the main focus of
been viewed as the primary source for construc- most innovative activity (Duke, 1988; Seaden,
tion-related innovations (Quigley, 1982; Pries and 1996). However, recent research indicates that a
Janszen, 1995). However, recent research has large portion of the innovations suggested and
demonstrated that general and speciality contrac- accepted within the construction industry actually
tors can be a signi® cant source of construction- improve the performance of either the design=
related innovations (Slaughter, 1993a; Semlies, construction process or the performance of the
1999), particularly for innovations which involve completed facility itself (Johnson and Tatum,
the integration and interaction among systems, 1993; Semlies, 1999).
such as with architectural and system innovations.
Designers, including both architects and structural The key point is that evaluating innovative al-
engineers, can also be signi® cant sources of inno- ternatives only with respect to current known al-
vations, particularly during the early stages of a ternatives and especially without explicit
project conceptualization in response to strong consideration of potential improvements in other
client requirements (Semlies, 1999). aspects, such as performance, worker safety and
technical feasibility, may not reveal the full range
A critical factor for the identi® cation stage is the of bene® ts which could be expected from innova-
presence of a person within the company who is tions. Although many construction innovations
aware of potential solutions that might be applic- are considered with respect to a speci® c project,
able to the problem at hand. These `gatekeepers’ they can provide bene® ts to the company as a
can identify new alternatives and can often pro- whole as well (Goodman and Grif® th, 1991;
vide relevant information to aid the subsequent Laborde and Sanvido, 1994). Under certain condi-
evaluation stage as well (Allen, 1984). Another cri- tions, the act of innovating itself can provide
tical role during this stage can be an `idea genera- strategic bene® ts and the successful implementa-
tor’, who can respond to new challenges through tion of an innovation can enhance a company’s
the development of unique solutions (Roberts and reputation (Christensen and Rosenbloom, 1995;
Fusfeld, 1988). The `gatekeeper’ and `idea genera- Hampson and Tatum, 1997). Even if the expected
tor’ roles can often be performed within design= project-based bene® ts of an innovation do not
construction ® rms by the same person (Stewart appear to offset the expected costs, the company-
and Tatum, 1988; Nam and Tatum, 1997). wide bene® ts in the competitive and strategic
implications over a longer time, or more projects,
may reveal strong incentives to use an innovation.
The evaluation of the alternatives needs to be
Once the preliminary set of alternatives has been performed with respect to the overall objectives of
identi® ed, they are evaluated with respect to the the project and the ® rm and not only in compari-
project objectives, in particular to measure the son with the known attributes of common alter-
performance of the alternatives on key criteria natives taken individually (Winch, 1998).

Table 1. Project and company criteria to evaluate innovation alternatives

Project criteria Company criteria

Cost Reputation impacts

Long-term facility performance Unique capability
Construction performance New market
Duration (design, planning and construction) Compatibility with and utilization of existing capabilities
Technical feasibility Improvement of existing capabilities
Worker safety Appropriability of beneŽ ts
Environmental impacts Effective use of innovation
Risk of failure Size of initial commitment
Implementation complexity


Commitment often emerge among the team members, particu-

larly with respect to the implementation of the
In the third implementation phase, the con- innovation. This team leader will often take a
struction company commits to the innovation(s) critical role in coordinating and negotiating
selected after evaluation. The company’s commit- among the parties as needed, and will make
ment is demonstrated through its internal alloca- critical decisions during the actual use of the
tion of resources to the implementation of the innovation (Table 2) (Nam and Tatum, 1997).
innovation (Tatum 1987) and often through public
announcement and acknowledgement of its deci- In some cases, a company may decide to `try out’
sion to use the innovation. The irrevocability of a small version of the innovation before full-scale
publicly announced commitments to innovations commitment. This approach can often provide im-
can often provide the internal impetus to over- portant experience, and reveal critical factors for
come problems as they occur, and to drive the full-scale use. However, these small scale trials
implementation to completion (Goodman and cannot be interpreted as full implementation of
Grif® th, 1991). the innovation, since they may not necessarily
provide accurate information on either the costs
The process through which a construction com- or bene® ts that could be obtained from a full-scale
pany actually decides to use an innovation often commitment (von Hippel and Tyre, 1995). The
relies upon the actions of a particular `champion’, `scale effects’ of most construction projects is so
who is willing to shepherd the innovation along signi® cant that tests done in less than full scale or
(Roberts and Fusfeld, 1988; Nam and Tatum, the complete facility may signi® cantly differ from
1997) (Table 2). The resources committed include reality. Despite potential drawbacks, small-scale
the initial ® nancial, personnel, equipment, and trials can be an important internal and external
material resources, but also the longer-term re- signal of the commitment to the innovation. In
sources required to maintain the condition or these early tests, modi® cations or adjustments can
operation of the innovation. be made as necessary before the project is in full
operational ¯ ow.
While the novel component, system and=or pro-
A critical, but often neglected stage in the imple- cess are given a `dry run’, and the resources are
mentation process is to actually prepare for the assembled and readied, the team itself can be pre-
implementation. The units that need to be pre- pared through the review and adjustment of the
pared include the people within the company incentives of the project team to actively engage
who will implement the innovation, the project in the innovation implementation. For example, if
team (e.g. owner, designer, general contractor, one party believes that it is doing all the work to
speciality contractors) in which the innovation make the implementation succeed but another
will be implemented and the construction com- party is obtaining all of the bene® ts, the successful
pany as a whole (Cross, 1983). During this pre- implementation may well be in jeopardy. The
paration stage, the construction team needs to be development of a sense of common (or at least not
able to accomplish two key activities: 1) to actu- con¯ icting) objectives and the distribution of tan-
ally obtain the resources; and, since most con- gible and intangible bene® ts throughout the teams
struction processes are labour-intensive, 2) to during the preparation stage, can increase the
develop and train the personnel who will be willingness of the parties to collaborate in addres-
involved. At this point, the project leader will sing problems in the implementation as they arise

Table 2. Roles in innovation (Nam and Tatum, 1997; Roberts and Fusfeld, 1988)
Role Project stage key involvement Activities

Idea generator IdentiŽ cation Create novel design, product, process, system
Gatekeeper IdentiŽ cation, evaluation Scan, assess, synthesize, apply external and internal information
Champion Commitment Encourage, protect, promote innovation to formal acceptance
Project leader Preparation Coordinate resources and activities to develop=implement innovation
Coach Preparation, use Guide, develop, train, support internal resources


(Teece, 1988). Recent research has demonstrated about the innovation and how to use it. Different
that several parties can simultaneously obtain types of innovation may require different levels of
these bene® ts (e.g. `win-win’ outcome) and can training to effectively use them, and the sources
continue to appropriate those bene® ts over several of the training can differ (Cross, 1983). This on-site
projects (Ramcharan, 1997). training and learning can be particularly impor-
tant when an innovation has the potential to make
existing skills and competencies obsolete, since
either the existing personnel can resist the imple-
Typically, construction innovations are changes mentation of the innovation, or the personnel im-
introduced into large, complex systems. As a plementing this innovation may not be drawn
result, the use stage itself is often a time in which from the traditional labour pool.
adjustments and changes are made on-site to
obtain the expected bene® ts, or to take advantage
of opportunities to increase the level of bene® ts
Post-use evaluation
obtained (Slaughter, 1993b; Hutcheson et al., 1996;
Kangari and Miyatake, 1997). These modi® cations Even though project teams usually disperse
can include changes to the processes or systems to quickly after the end of the project, certain in-
most effectively use and accommodate the innova- formation about the innovation implementation
tion, and also changes to the innovation itself to should be collected immediately (Table 3). These
better ® t the complex set of systems (Fleck, 1994; data can be used to evaluate the organization
von Hippel and Tyre, 1995; Voss 1988). The sig- processes as well as the speci® c innovation use
ni® cant roles during this stage are the `decision- (Rubenstein et al., 1976; Buijs and Silvester, 1996).
maker’, who has the control and authority over
the needed resources and among the necessary The ® rst element in the evaluation is to compare
parties (Nam and Tatum, 1997), and a `source of the original expectations of bene® ts and costs to
competence’, with respect to the innovation, who the actual outcomes. The project and company cri-
can guide the changes and modi® cations as teria involved in the early evaluation of the alter-
needed. natives should be reviewed and updated based
upon the experience with the innovation. Meas-
In addition, the on-site personnel must learn ures of performance should be examined, and fed

Table 3. Data needed for effective re-use of innovations

Category of data Detailed information

Technical 1. Component=system speciŽ cations

2. Actual implementation activities
3. ModiŽ cations made
4. Actual training needed
5. Technical performance measures

Project 1. Actual impacts on project as a whole

2. Special project activities, problems
3. Actual commitment within project team
4. Integration with other components=systems

Organization 1. Applicability to current projects

2. Applicability to potential projects
3. Actual commitment of upper management
4. Company rewards

Strategy 1. Comparable technology by competitors

2. Project outcomes (duration, cost) compared to competitors
3. Strategy to increase competitive advantage

Society 1. Demonstrable social beneŽ ts

2. Reductions in meeting social objectives (regulations, codes)


back into the identi® cation and evaluation stages experience and generated within a company that
of the same and related innovations. then applies it (Myers and Marquis, 1969). A
company can identify a relevant process-related
Independent of the relative success of the inno- innovation at almost any stage because this inno-
vation with respect to the project and company vation would affect only its own activities. An
objectives, the personnel involved in the imple- incremental product innovation (i.e. material or
mentation stages should be rewarded (Meyer and component) is most often embodied in a physical
Goes, 1988; Laborde and Sanvido, 1994). Some of element which is speci® ed during the design or
the rewards are intrinsic to the innovation process planning stages, but it can also be obtained or
itself, in providing personal pride and challenges substituted later, even during construction. An
to the people involved, as well as developing their incremental improvement in a system, such as
professional competencies and reputation. In ad- through a con® guration change among known
dition, the construction company can provide components, can also be identi® ed at any stage,
explicit rewards to personnel involved in the but may be most likely to appear after the speci® c
innovation process. These rewards may range components and their baseline con® guration are
from formal recognition within the company (e.g. established, such as in late design=planning to
an internal award) to public recognition (e.g. actual installation on site during construction.
nomination for a national or international con-
struction innovation award). They can also focus The evaluation of incremental innovations is often
on the employee’s job itself, such as explicit not very complicated or lengthy, since the ex-
expansion of the job description to include inno- pected changes and bene® ts are minor, with little
vation or other related activities, increased project associated risk and uncertainty. In the same way,
or company responsibility and the opportunity to the commitment stage does not require many spe-
formally act as the company’s liaison with innova- cial or extensive resources, and a local champion
tion sources or collaborators. Finally, the rewards who can propose and defend the incremental in-
can include monetary amounts, either as a project novations compared to the previous best can be
bonus or through an upward adjustment of suf® cient to obtain commitment. The preparation
salary. for the innovation is often accomplished using
standard available materials, equipment, and la-
bour (Slaughter, 1993a). However, it must be
Implementation by innovation type noted at this point that while an innovation may
be perceived to be an incremental innovation to
The general implementation stages described the project members on the site, it may have re-
above can differ signi® cantly when applied to quired extensive off-site development and pre-
speci® c innovations. A construction-related com- paration and indeed may be perceived as a
pany can plan its strategy for innovation imple- signi® cant change to the state-of-knowledge and
mentation by considering explicitly the type of the links to other components and systems to
innovation which is being considered or may be other members of the value-added chain (Afuah
incorporated into the ® rm’s activities. The ® ve and Bahram, 1995).
types of innovation (incremental, architectural,
modular, system and radical) can be matched to a During the actual use of the incremental innova-
company’s existing and emerging resources and tion, the decision-making required to accomplish
competencies, and an overall near and long-term the implementation can be at the local level, and
strategy for the ® rm to effectively implement the implementation itself can build directly upon
innovations can be developed. existing competencies. Attention should be given
to the identi® cation of problems during this stage,
to ensure that the innovation does not require
Implementation of incremental innovations
changes in the linkages to other areas, that is, that
By de® nition, incremental innovations are modest it is not actually an architectural innovation. The
improvements in a product, process or system, post-use evaluation stage for incremental innova-
with no or only minor changes in the links to tions is particularly dif® cult because these minor
other components or systems. Incremental innova- improvements are often not remembered by the
tions can come from many different sources, but organization through any formal mechanism,
are most often, in construction, derived from and are often quickly forgotten as well by the


individuals involved. It may also be dif® cult to ent organizations’ competencies and proprietary
ascertain the actual costs and bene® ts from these technologies.
innovations, since they are by nature small. A
company can establish certain routines to quickly During implementation, the Cyrax’s advantages,
and easily collect post-use evaluation data, such in terms of cost, performance and speed, ® rst
as through a query just as the project ends about brought the innovation into consideration by sev-
the acceptability of a product not previously spe- eral users, including the US Navy and Chevron
ci® ed, or equipment not previously used, or Petroleum, as a simple replacement for current
through a project documentation system that ¯ ags surveying and documentation activities (Phair,
minor improvements for easy access. 1997; Thomson, 1998). These and other companies
contracted for facility surveys using Cyrax as an
An example of the implementation of an incre- incremental improvement in the process of data
mental innovation is the use of the CyraxTM collection and translation to CAD ® les. Its use re-
spatial measurement system (Fig. 5). The Cyrax quired no changes in other components, systems
uses a special unit to direct a laser beam at a ® xed or processes and was virtually indistinguishable
target. When the beam bounces off the target, the from CAD ® les generated through other means.
distance and surface characteristics of the target
can be measured and recorded using a receiver.
Implementation of architectural innovations
The Cyrax system converts these readings into a
relational matrix of the characteristics of the Architectural innovations involve minor improve-
target, which are then processed automatically ments to a core concept or area, but require
into a three dimensional CAD image within a signi® cant changes in other components or sys-
6 mm accuracy (Hwang, 1997; Thomson, 1998). tems. In some cases, architectural innovations are
For owners, architects, structural engineers, con- ® rst perceived as incremental innovations, with
struction planners and other users of 3D CAD the attendant assumptions of minimal impacts on
data and images, the innovation is an incremental other elements, which can then require extensive
improvement over existing techniques such as late modi® cation and adjustment during use, with
photogrammetry, providing high accuracy much associated higher costs and longer implementa-
more quickly and less expensively. (However, to tion time (Henderson and Clark, 1990). Apparent
the photogrammetry industry, this innovation is a minor improvements should therefore be evalu-
radical change from current state of knowledge ated explicitly with respect to their potential
and practice, and may well make existing technol- impacts on other components and systems.
ogies obsolete.) The innovation was developed in
a joint research programme between Lincoln Lab- Architectural innovations can come from many
oratory at MIT, Los Alamos National Laboratory, different sources, both within and outside an in-
and Cyra Technologies, building upon the differ- dustry and at any point along the value-added
chain, but they appear to have stronger potential
for successful implementation when they originate
Laser Scanner 3D CAD of from sources with knowledge of and control over
and Receiver Existing Facility the connections among the components and sys-
tems (Slaughter, 1993a). They also appear to be
more successfully implemented when they are re-
cognized and planned for early in the project,
such as between design and early construction, to
acknowledge the need for explicit and implicit co-
ordination (Semlies, 1999). The evaluation of these
innovations must be made with respect to the full
set of effected components and systems, since an
assessment that focuses only on individual ele-
ments will not reveal the full set of potential costs
and bene® ts because it will exclude the secondary
and tertiary impacts of the innovation use.

Fig. 5. Cyrax 3D laser scanning system. The interaction with other components and sys-


tems will require a different level of commitment struction for the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Japan
and preparation than was discussed for incremen- (Shimizu, 1997). Desegregate concrete is a new
tal innovations. For the implementation of archi- mixture of materials (mix proportion of 1:9:0 of ce-
tectural innovations, all of the effected parties will ment to slag to ¯ y ash) to create a type of concrete
need to commit to the innovation and often to ex- which could cure underwater with adequate
plicitly coordinate their products, resources or strength and other performance requirements.
processes. These requisite changes in other sys- The speci® c objectives for the innovation were to
tems may also require special resources or addi- decrease construction time for the pier founda-
tional time, which will have to be negotiated with tions of the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Japan and in
respect to the appropriation of the bene® ts from particular to reduce the chance that delays in the
the innovation. For example, a small change in a foundation construction could delay other large
component that requires another trade to rework scale systems. This innovation involved only min-
their standard work practices will not be wel- or changes within the core concepts, but major
comed unless the party required to bear the cost changes occur in the relationship of the innova-
also receives some of the bene® ts, such as through tion to other components and processes. In parti-
additional revenue or reduced costs. Indeed, the cular, the mixture itself uses available materials,
appropriation of any bene® ts from these innova- but signi® cantly changes the process through
tions may be dependent upon the degree of co- which the concrete is placed and protected during
operation among the parties. These negotiations curing.
among the affected members will need an innova-
tion champion who has authority and responsibil- During the ® rst phase of the implementation
ity across the set of affected members, who can process (i.e. the design of the Akashi-Kaikyo
direct the analysis of the type and location of the Bridge), the need for an underwater concrete was
changes needed and can commit resources where identi® ed and several alternatives were developed
necessary. The preparation for the implementation by Japanese construction companies, which were
of an architectural innovation may also involve assessed by the Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Authority
testing and trials of prototypes, `learning by try- (Shimizu, 1997). The Authority then made a major
ing’ (Fleck, 1994). commitment to the underwater concrete, conduct-
ing large-scale tests of its properties, and publiciz-
The actual use of the architectural innovation may ing the results. The contracts for pouring the
require further attention and active modi® cation foundations were awarded to two of the compa-
to coordinate and adjust the components, pro- nies who had developed competing versions of
cesses or systems to achieve the objectives. At this the concrete (Kajima Construction and Taisei Con-
stage, a decision-maker will need to have the on- struction) and these companies assessed the
site responsibility and control to expedite the changes required in other portions of the process,
implementation through adjudicating disputes, and invested in capital facilities, including two
committing resources and reaching ® nal agree- series of batch plants. During the early pouring of
ments. The post-use evaluation can document the the concrete, the production staff had to learn
degree of inter-® rm coordination and the agree- how to use the new equipment effectively, espe-
ments reached, but must also explicitly distin- cially the large-scale batch plants. In fact, during
guish between the technical outcomes and the the ® rst casting, ® ve out of six pumps went out of
impact on the project as a whole and the involved order, but the redundancy of the system allowed
organizations. It may be particularly important to the placement to continue without interruption
obtain an evaluation from each of the effected (Shimizu, 1997). The foundation pours were com-
parties, since their perception of the outcomes pleted successfully, and the performance of the
may differ signi® cantly. The future use of the desegregate concrete during the construction pro-
innovation may depend as much upon the team cess and its tested characteristics were evaluated
that is re-assembled as on the speci® c knowledge with respect to expectations, and found to be a
and experience obtained from the ® rst use of the signi® cant improvement over standard methods.
innovation because of the need for accommoda-
tion and adjustment.
Implementation of modular innovations
An example of an architectural innovation is the Implementing modular innovations, which have a
desegregate concrete, developed by Kajima Con- major improvement in a core concept or area, but


no or only minor changes in the links to other the site itself that is the responsibility of the site
areas or components, requires different expertise crew. (Adjustments to the modular innovation to
than the implementation of incremental or archi- reach expected performance levels can be expli-
tectural innovations. Modular innovations are citly arranged as the responsibility of the innova-
developed by organizations with the speci® c ex- tion source.) Post-use evaluation can directly
pertise, capability and control in the core concept consider the expected performance levels com-
area. These organizations could be at many points pared to the actual levels achieved and these
in the value-added chain or in external institu- measures of innovation success can be clearly
tions, such as laboratories and universities. Lack speci® ed and evaluated with respect to the inno-
of changes in other systems allows the expertise vation itself and the module it replaces. Docu-
to be localized in the core concept itself, but the mentation of the implementation, including
signi® cant change in the core concept usually innovation sources, can be suf® cient to encourage
requires that the innovation be identi® ed and the re-use of the innovation on other projects.
evaluated earlier in the project than occurs with
incremental innovations and relies upon the spe- An example of a modular innovation, from the
ci® c competence in the concept area to effectively point of view of a general contractor, is the use of
evaluate the innovation. The evaluation of the ¯ exible piping for horizontal plumbing runs (Fig.
modular innovation is, with respect to the mod- 6). Flexible piping uses cross-linked polyethylene
ule it replaces and the risks associated with the tubes that can convey water at standard tempera-
change concern the technical uncertainty within tures and pressures for low to mid-rise buildings
the conceptual development path (Dosi, 1982). (Murray, 1999). Flexible piping replaces small dia-
meter copper piping, and is a signi® cant change
Commitment for a modular innovation is needed in the core concept. Copper piping is rigid, and
from the parties responsible for achieving the delivered in 6 m (20 ft) ® xed length segments,
owner’s objectives, such as designers and owners’ which are then cut and welded together to bring
representatives, because of the degree of risk asso- water (hot or cold) from a source to the usage
ciated with the change in the core concept. This point of a ® xture. Bends in copper piping rough-
commitment may require an innovation champion in are accomplished through the use of `elbows’
at the module level, who can defend the innova- and other ® xed radius turn components. In con-
tion through his=her competence in the area. The trast, ¯ exible piping is delivered to the site on
commitment stage may also require the assign- 30.5 m (100 ft) spools, which can be unwound as
ment of special resources to obtain the innovation the ¯ exible piping is threaded through the spaces
and install it. Because of the signi® cant change in available, which can eliminate most of the connec-
a key concept area, the commitment stage may in- tions between piping segments, and the physical
volve several speci® c activities to raise the visibi- elbow or turn components.
lity of the implementation of the innovation, in
which a champion may receive formal public Use of ¯ exible piping on low-rise commercial and
commitment to the implementation. This publicity residential buildings has been adopted in some
can in turn provide signi® cant reputation bene® ts areas, primarily where a plumbing speciality con-
for the organization as a whole associated with
being considered a technology leader, while con-
® ning the risk to the module itself. In the same
way, the innovation bene® ts can often be obtained
by the organization speci® cally associated with
the module, without coordination or negotiation
with other parties.

Preparation for the implementation of the modu-

lar innovation includes the speci® c acquisition
and delivery of the special resources and any re-
quired training. The use itself of the innovation is
often straightforward, with no changes in other
components or systems, and, because of the pre-
paration activities, little change or modi® cation on Fig. 6. Flexible polyethylene piping.


tractor has taken the lead in promoting the system to be directly involved in the implementation may
to owners and designers (Murray, 1999). The need to be willing to be ¯ exible in their resource
change in the core concept, from copper to poly- and timing assignments. In addition, the system
ethylene has often required special documentation innovation itself may require special resources
for acceptance in local code jurisdictions in the across several trades or areas of expertise, particu-
USA to verify the technical performance of the larly in aspects of the system performance. The in-
new system. It can be directly compared to cur- novation champion will need to be able to
rent standard materials and methods and exhibits promote the innovation across the project team
signi® cant savings in time and material, and eli- and direct the evaluation through the implemen-
minates dangerous tasks such as welding. On site, tation of the innovation with respect to the overall
¯ exible piping has been successfully employed performance objectives. The commitment to a sys-
with little disruption of normal activities; indeed, tem innovation, because of its involvement of the
it is currently being incorporated into the plumb- whole project team, often entails a high degree of
ing union training programmes in California. visibility and this visibility can provide signi® cant
bene® ts to all involved parties when the imple-
mentation goes well, but can also expose the par-
Implementation of system innovations
ties to unfavourable reviews if it does not.
A system innovation is a combination of innova-
tions, which are integrated to provide new func- The preparation for the implementation will re-
tions or attributes and thus can entail a high quire access to the special resources and will most
degree of technological uncertainty and interface probably entail a high degree of testing and trials
complexity. While the individual innovations may to reduce the system uncertainty and complexity,
come from a variety of sources, the integrated and to develop the technical and system compe-
system innovation appears to be most successful tency with respect to the innovation, to `learn by
when it is conceived and implemented by a trying’ (Voss, 1988; Fleck, 1994). The bene® ts from
source which has system expertise and control the system innovation will depend heavily upon
and when it is identi® ed and evaluated during the active collaboration of the team members and
the early conceptual design phases (Hutcheson et the distribution of bene® ts among the involved
al., 1996; Semlies, 1999). parties should be explicitly considered with re-
spect to costs incurred during implementation.
Since the objectives of a system innovation are
often to provide a new performance attribute or The actual use of the innovation will require ac-
function for a whole system or facility, the evalua- tive attention and modi® cation to coordinate and
tion of the innovation must be assessed across the adjust the complementary innovations to achieve
combination of innovations and not by individual the overall objectives. In some cases, new inter-
innovation at the system level. The complementar- faces can be created to further improve the per-
ity of the innovations can be the critical factor to formance and to decrease complexity (von Hippel
deliver the expected bene® ts and independently and Tyre, 1995). The decision-maker at this stage
analysing and evaluating the innovations can neg- has to exercise system and project-wide control to
lect this level of impact. To complicate matters expedite the implementation and maintain the
further, a system innovation cannot be directly focus on the overall objectives of the implementa-
compared to existing alternatives, since it often tion, including the company’s strategic bene® ts.
provides new attributes, but may instead be com- The post-use evaluation will need to explicitly
pared to the current existing system with respect consider the full range of bene® ts, and can often
to the achievement of the owner’s objectives. be most effective when it includes the company,
Comparison between the expected performance of industry and social bene® ts regardless of the
the innovation and the existing system may re- technical and project success of the implementa-
quire advanced modelling and analysis compe- tion itself. Documentation of these implementa-
tence (Winch, 1998). tion outcomes, from the project assessment and
other sources, such as through industry and
Commitment to the implementation of a system professional publications as well as general med-
innovation will be required from all project mem- ia, can provide the basis on which the full system
bers to explicitly and implicitly collaborate to inte- innovation, or a modi® ed combination can be
grate the innovations. Even parties not expected implemented effectively on future projects.


A prominent example of a system innovation in is actually being designed and indeed, the evalua-
construction is the `Smart Building’ system devel- tion of the innovation may proceed independent
oped by Shimizu Corporation and Mitsubishi of a speci® c project and commitment can be made
Heavy Industries to automate the erection of when an appropriate project is identi® ed, during
high-rise buildings (Engineering News Record, 1993; its feasibility analysis and conceptual design
Kangari and Miyatake, 1997). The system innova- phases.
tion consists of ® ve speci® c innovations: an auto-
mated material transport system; a self-jacking The evaluation of the radical innovation can be
erection frame; a new structural steel connection; complicated by the emergence of a new way of
an intra-system information and control system; thinking about how to achieve an objective, that
and an automated welder. The complementarity is, a new `technological paradigm’ (Dosi, 1982),
of the innovations provides new functionality, in- where the attributes of performance are not yet
cluding the complete enclosure of the working en- agreed upon and the direction of improvement
vironment and signi® cant reduction of labour has yet to emerge. In these cases, because the po-
requirements, strenuous tasks, and exposure to tential bene® ts are unknown, the evaluation may
dangerous conditions. The innovations had to be be primarily concerned with strategic and=or so-
explicitly integrated to obtain the expected levels cial goals and may be with respect to a whole
of performance; for example, the erection se- class of facilities (e.g. power generation). An addi-
quence of the structural steel members had to be tional expected bene® t from the implementation is
modi® ed to accommodate the timing of the move- the opportunity to learn more about the nature of
ment of the self-jacking platform. the new technology for future applications. Com-
mitting to implement a radical innovation may in-
The actual use of the system innovation garnered volve the highest authorities within the involved
a lot of publicity, not only in the construction in- organizations and will often be highly visible,
dustry but also in the general media. The con- within the scienti® c and engineering communities
struction site became a destination for project and and the industry and to the general public. The
industry-related tours, as well as a public specta- champion for this innovation must have credibil-
cle. The whole project team, as well as researchers ity across multiple organizations and have high
from universities and research organizations, were technical competence to effectively present the
involved in signi® cant preparation activities, in- arguments for the implementation activities. Be-
cluding the testing and trials of the combination cause of the high technical uncertainty and the
of the innovations (Kangari and Miyatake, 1997). objective to learn over time, the commitment will
The post-use assessment of this system innovation also have to extend over a reasonable time period,
has most often been with respect to the demon- with the assignment of relevant resources at
stration of feasibility of automated equipment for appropriate levels to further the development and
construction tasks (as an industry and social bene- implementation of the radical innovation for other
® t) and as a signi® cant reputation enhancement applications. Organizations that are willing and
for the primary companies who were involved. able to commit high competency resources to the
implementation activities are the most likely to
obtain the bene® ts from the radical innovation,
Implementation of radical innovations
both within the realm of technical and project
Because a radical innovation involves a signi® cant performance, as well as the company-wide bene-
new concept or approach, the sources of these ® ts (such as reputation) and the long-term strate-
innovations tend to be institutions involved in gic bene® ts.
scienti® c or engineering research. In addition, the
potential for a radical innovation to make current During the preparation stage, extensive testing
products, processes and=or systems obsolete often and prototype trials will often be performed, with
means that a radical innovation is introduced by a direct participation and coordination among the
new entrant to an industry, who does not have a involved organizations. This organizational invol-
vested interest in preserving current competencies vement must explicitly include the technical com-
(Nelson and Winter, 1977; Foster, 1988). The high petence, with access to special resources (e.g.
technical uncertainty associated with the imple- large-scale testing facilities), to examine the tech-
mentation of a radical innovation may require that nical feasibility of the radical innovation before it
the innovation itself is identi® ed before a project is used in the speci® c project. This competency


may also need to extend to multiple systems with- may in the future make current power generation
in a facility, to understand the full rami® cations of technologies obsolete. In addition, the fuel cell can
the radical innovation on the project as a whole. be used for local power generation, close to the
For the initial application, the risks associated point of usage, thereby changing the links among
with the implementation can be somewhat re- power-using and power-generating nodes in the
duced by selecting a project that provides non- power grid. The innovation was initially devel-
vital services, such as a redundant or secondary oped for the US space programme, after 22 years
facility. of further development and technical changes, it is
being installed into buildings through a joint ven-
The actual use of the innovation will require ac- ture between United Technologies Corporation
tive multi-organizational participation to collect and Toshiba Corporation (Semlies, 1998). A recent
critical data, analyse it and adjust the innovation high visibility project that uses fuel cells is Four
or the context to achieve the expected perform- Times Square (the Durst Tower) in New York City,
ance. This strong inter-® rm coordination, coupled which is advertised as an `environmentally
with the publicly identi® ed social and industry friendly’ of® ce tower (Holusha, 1997). The two fuel
bene® ts can make it dif® cult for the radical inno- cells will provide approximately 15% of the base
vation to be effectively analysed with respect to electrical load of the building (Semlies, 1998). The
the speci® c project because the bene® ts are by de- reputation of the companies involved, with the ex-
® nition long term and may threaten the existence plicit support of the USA federal government and
of the ® rms involved or their competitors. The the signi® cant previous testing and demonstration
post-use evaluation phase may include the identi- of performance, were necessary to consider includ-
® cation of the critical characteristics, especially on ing the fuel cells in the building. In addition, the
the expected bene® ts and levels of performance, overall objectives of the building, to be a leading
which may only be possible after the radical inno- example of a new breed of `green’ of® ce buildings,
vation has actually been used, and appears to be a were congruent with the performance character-
key stage in the further development and re-use istics of the innovation. However, to reduce the
of the innovation (Abernathy and Utterback, overall risks associated with using this radical in-
1978). novation, the building did not install the fuel cells
as the only or even major source of electricity for
An emerging example of a radical innovation is the building, but instead used it as a supplemen-
the fuel cell, which uses a chemical reaction to pro- tary power source, primarily used for operating
duce electrical energy (Fig. 7). Fuel cells use natur- the electronic billboards on the building facade.
al gas or propane, which is reformed by steam to The project team has received signi® cant publicity
produce hydrogen gas, used in the chemical reac- from their association with the speci® c technolo-
tion, producing electricity, with heat and water as gies, including the fuel cells incorporated into the
the waste by-products. The fuel cell constitutes a building.
signi® cantly new concept for electrical power gen-
eration, competing with conventional technologies
using fossil fuels in a combustion reaction, which Summary and conclusions

Anode Cathode The effective implementation of construction in-

novations requires an appropriate commitment of
Input: resources and an understanding of the nature of
the activities required. This research presents a
detailed framework in which the six stages of
Natural implementation activity: identi® cation; evaluation;
Gas Fuel OUTPUT: commitment; preparation; use; and post-use eva-
ELECTRICITY luation are mapped to the ® ve different types of
WATER innovation: incremental; architectural; modular;
system; and radical. The objective of this paper is
Electrolyte to increase the capacity of construction-related
organizations to develop and implement product,
Fig. 7. Proton exchange membrane fuel cell (Interna- process and system innovations in the built envir-
tional Fuel Cells). onment.


Speci® cally, the activities of different organ- the performance of innovations within their oper-
izations within the construction industry can ating context, particularly in the secondary and
in¯ uence the supply and utilization of construc- tertiary system impacts of these innovations. For
tion innovations. Manufacturers and suppliers instance, the dynamic system performance of
who are unaware of the changes required to structural frames under extreme loads (e.g. seis-
implement their innovations, either in the links to mic and high wind) needs to be better understood
other components, processes, or systems or in the to effectively utilize new load damping and other
product itself are likely to meet resistance in the innovative systems (Sandia National Laboratory,
spread of their products. While these companies 1997; Slaughter and Settlemyre, 1998). Additional
may prefer to consider their products indepen- research is also needed on the means through
dently of the use environment, explicit considera- which construction-related organizations can
tion of the implementation activities can more effectively re-use innovations in future pro-
signi® cantly improve both their products and the jects. Several publicly funded programmes to
degree to which they can be used effectively demonstrate new construction designs and tech-
within the industry (Slaughter, 1993a). nologies have been disappointed with the lack of
widespread use and acceptance of the innova-
Owners can consider the potential bene® ts in the tions. Extending the analysis of the implementa-
improvement of both the construction process and tion stages by type of innovation into the re-use of
the completed facility through the clearer speci® - these innovations may prove to be a rich area to
cation of desired objectives, rather than a simple pursue.
acceptance of the standard available designs or
technologies. These strong owner objectives can
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