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Construction project productivity evaluation framework with expanded system boundaries

Wenting Zhan (Department of Civil Engineering, University of Hong Kong, Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong)
Wei Pan (Department of Civil Engineering, University of Hong Kong, Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong)
Le Chen (Department of Civil Engineering, University of Hong Kong, Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong)

Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management

ISSN: 0969-9988

Article publication date: 13 July 2020

Issue publication date: 28 April 2021




While the investment in construction projects has increased over the past few decades, low construction project productivity (CPP) appeared to be persistent, thereby reflecting an “investment-in-failure” paradox between the investment and CPP. Hence, this paper aims to develop a systematic and holistic CPP evaluation framework to explain the apparent paradox in the construction industry.


The paper first reviews the literature about the theories of system, production, principal–agent and project success evaluation to re-conceptualise the CPP and proposes a two-stage CPP evaluation framework. The framework is subsequently explored through a sequential qualitative mixed-methods design within the context of the Hong Kong construction industry by combining 32 semi-structured interviews with senior industry experts and exploratory case studies, with three real-life construction projects.


The paper identifies three system boundaries for CPP evaluation, that is, parameter, timeframe and stakeholder, and develops a two-stage CPP evaluation framework to indicate site efficiency and utilisation effectiveness, thereby accessing the productivity of both the construction and post-construction stages. The “investment-in-failure” paradox associated with current CPP evaluation approaches is primarily attributed to the narrowly defined CPP boundaries.

Research limitations/implications

The qualitative exploration of the evaluation framework only focusses on the Hong Kong construction industry. Further case studies within other urban contexts could be used to improve the generalisability of the findings. Quantitative research is also necessary to advance theoretical development of the two-stage CPP evaluation.

Practical implications

The systemic CPP conceptualisation and the two-stage CPP evaluation framework support the systems thinking of industry stakeholders and enable them to formulate holistic strategies for long-term CPP enhancement.


The research demonstrates the needs to expand the system boundaries of CPP to reflect its systemic value and to shift the paradigm of CPP evaluation from being output-orientated and quantity-focussed to being outcome-orientated and value-focussed.



This work was made possible by the research funding from Construction Industry Council (CIC) [Project No: 200007741]. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CIC. Also acknowledged are the participants in the study, as well as the Editor, Deputy Editor and anonymous reviewers, for their valuable comments and suggestions.


Zhan, W., Pan, W. and Chen, L. (2021), "Construction project productivity evaluation framework with expanded system boundaries", Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 863-885.



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Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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