Communication Simulation in Construction Management Education: Evaluating Learning Effectiveness

Article excerpt

1 INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

The general significance and strategic role of communication in engineering communities and the resulting requirement for change of university curricula has been shown by Lappalainen (2009). Human factors such as social skills need to be incorporated into curricula and ways to teach them need to be developed (Jaeger & Adair, 2010a; Emilsson & Lilje, 2008; Lehmann et al, 2008). The specific importance of communication in construction management and the consequences regarding learning and teaching communication in construction management are now described.

1.1 Communication in construction management

A study of career development in construction management (Young, 1988, quoted in Egbu, 1999) revealed that communication is considered to be the most important skill out of 23 skills and knowledge areas among senior managers of the construction industry. For managers at a middle management level it is the most important skill out of 18 skills and knowledge areas and for junior managers it is the second most important skill out of 20 skills and knowledge areas. Thomas et al (1998) showed that 41% of the variation in perceptions of project success was attributable to the variation in communication effectiveness.

The importance of communication and specifically the importance of written communication as a success factor for technical projects was shown by Shenhar et al (2002). Henerson (2004) analysed the two core communication processes encoding and decoding and found that the project manager's competence to encode information is significantly associated with the project team's performance. The general importance of communication skills for project success was further confirmed by Muller & Turner (2010). Yang et al (2011) showed the significant effect of teamwork on project success while emphasising that team communication is an important part of teamwork.

However, communication skills of construction managers usually have, not a direct, but a subtle indirect influence on project success. For example, they may influence positively project success through a positive impact on project culture which then increases project success by increased motivation of project team members. Ankrah et al (2009) interviewed nine experienced practitioners working in the UK construction industry who all raised the importance of communication for project culture. Looking at five factors of general influence of project culture on project success, communication was an identified dimension for three (out of five) success factors, namely: (i) commitment to client; (ii) teamwork; and (iii) power distribution/leadership.

However, the other two factors (delivering improved quality and welfare of workforce) also show dimensions which depend strongly on communication skills, such as learning and innovation, respect and support for workforce, training, commitment to people and recognising performance.

Another example of the impact on project success is the influence of communication on leadership effectiveness. An investigation among project managers, deputy project managers and other senior managers on a large construction project in Thailand (based on 78 questionnaires and 35 interviews) revealed that poor communication was the second most important of 13 negative personal attributes (Toor & Ogunlana, 2009). This confirms the findings of Odusami (2002), who found communication to be the second most important skill out of 13 skills for effective project leadership in construction.

Looking for reasons for poor communication in construction management and how this compares to other industries, the following has been found. Multiple and geographically separated organisations of different sizes as well as strongly decentralised team structures have been identified as one reason (Ahuja et al, 2009). An organisation of the construction industry could be involved in more than one project and could be part of more than one supply chain which increases the complexity of communication (Dainty et al, 2001). …