Aparna Seeks to Understand Construction Project Culture

Dr. Aparna SAmaraweera

Peter Drucker, the well-known management guru famously quipped that culture eats strategy for breakfast, implying the importance of playing the culture card right, whether it is an organization or a project within one. Today, most organizations execute their strategy via projects that span across geographical boundaries and time zones. Hence, these projects may be to a few different cultures and sub-cultures.

Dr. S. Senaratne

Managing differences arising from various cultural issues essential for ensuring the success of projects. It is believed that culture stands on certain basic assumptions. Understanding these assumptions can shed light on a particular culture, that is essential in successful negotiations, conflict and change management. Sri Lanka today hosts a large number of construction projects, with the involvement of people of different nationalities. Therefore, our researcher Aparna Samaraweera found this problem a timely topic to investigate as her PhD research. She chose to focus her study of culture on public sector building construction projects in Sri Lanka.

Dr. Y. Sandanayake

Aparna first developed a technique to extract basic assumptions the culture in the public sector construction projects. For this, she put her trust on the Value Orientation TheoryVOT), a tool that helps understand cultural differences. Three public sector building construction projects were selected for her study. Within these projects, she selected three categories of participants; public sector clients, public sector consultants and private sector contractors for her data collection. The patterns that emerged after data analysis showed clear links to sub-cultures that were rooted with contractor, client and consultant groups. Research findings also highlighted the possible conflicting and compatible basic cultural assumptions among client, contractor and consultant, which could bring in negative and positive implications to project. 

For example, the contractor assumes that the best way to handle the project through collectivism- individuals working as a group. On the other hand, the consultant believes that for best results, an individualistic approach is needed. This results in lack of a coordinated effort between the consultant and the contractor, and creates frustration and among the people involved in the project.

The key outcome of Aparna's research has been the development of a guide for project decision making during change initiatives, conflicting situations and negotiation processes.  

Aparna's supervisors are Dr. Sandanayake from the Department of Building Economics in the Faculty of Architecture, University of Moratuwa, and Dr. Senaratne, a Senior Lecturer from the Western Sydney UniversityWSU), Australia. The joint supervision strengthened the already-existing research partnership between them, despite the distance separating them. Dr. Aparna Samaraweera recalls fondly the time spent under the guidance of her supervisors. "The three of us spent long hours online, discussing our work and this improved the quality of work immensely", she said.

Aparna is currently a lecturer in the Department of Building Economics, University of Moratuwa. Dr. Senaratne obtained her PhD from the University of Salford, UK, and worked at the University of Moratuwa prior to moving to WSU. She is an active participant in the WSU’s Centre for Smart Modern Construction. Her research interests span the areas of quantity surveying, construction and project management disciplines.

Dr. is currently serving as the Head of the Department of Building Economics. She earned her PhD from the University of Wolverhampton, UK, and is an accomplished researcher. She continues her research in the areas of Performance and Quality. Speaking of supervising Aparna she said, "this was my first experience as a PhD supervisor. It was a great learning experience for me on subject matter as well as supervising, and I enjoyed it immensely".


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