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#EDUC90970 An Online Course Prototype: Collaborative Decision Making in Project Organisations

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This Post presents my course prototype design ‘Collaborative Decision Making in Project Organisations‘ based on my teaching of the ‘Project Safety Management‘ course at Curtin University in 2014 and 2015. The original course was about safety, but the learning activities in the process were found to be an effective platform for cultivating students’ capabilities of collaboration in complex situations. So, the current course prototype has grown out of safety to address a broader issue of collaboration in construction project delivery in the market and economic systems. The purpose is to transform the industry culture from an adversarial one to a collaborative one, starting from a change in the ‘cognitive institutions’ in our future practitioner’s mind. The transformed ‘values’, as their theory-in-use, are their capabilities, which will become part of industry practice through their future job roles.

  1. Reflection

Following up an inquiry from Thom on my last Post, “How have they helped your teaching?” – I must first of all clarify that Prof A and Prof B may not necessarily see their own teaching styles as I described. My descriptions of their teaching approaches are how I make sense of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) and Community of Practice (CoP) theories in my personal experience; and how I make sense of my learning experiences through a CoI lens and a CoP lens. On further application, I would summarise that CoI theory tells us that the first key element of a successful CoI is the teacher’s ‘personal mastery’ (Senge 1990) in the theme of the specific CoI; and the CoP theory suggests a T/L method by creating ‘jobs’ for students, and fitting the jobs with diverse characteristics of students, through which to involve them into peripheral participation of a CoP while accomodating their individuality. Both approaches are applied in my course prototype design as to be introduced in this Post.

2. Introduction to the course prototype design

I appreciate the engagement of #EDUC90970 that pushes me to work out something I’m really interested in and enjoy doing. This is an online Subject prototype that I proposed as a component for the Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) or Major Project Management programme for Master of Construction Management students at Melbourne School of Design. It is about developing individual capabilities of making sensible management decisions in complex situations of project delivery. It prepares students to become project managers or design managers or facility managers in collaborative procurement projects, which is envisioned to be the leading practice in the future industry.

Two weeks ago I presented a general design idea according to a higher education learning design framework (Holdsworth & Hagarty, 2016). The presentation can be found from this link. The design starts from identifying gaps of skills in the industry in reference with professional accreditation bodies such as RICS. The mapped out skills and knowledge gap are developed into learning outcomes, based on which to further develop the content and pedagogy of the course. Linking back to the CoI theory, the ‘root’ in Figure 1 is the teacher’s research base in this subject area, which is the personal mastery that drive the CoI of this course.

Figure 1. The higher education learning design framework (HELD)

This course targets the gap of personal capabilities of collaborative decision making without which the increasingly used IPD models such as alliancing in Australia cannot be materialised. To give a brief background, the construction industry is characterised by an adversarial culture because of fragmentation in the traditional project delivery systems. That is, organisational actors (especially between clients and contractors) along the supply chain are used to a business model of making profit by pushing risks to others, resulting in a defensive mindset of trying to hide information and seeking opportunities to claim benefit from others’ fault. This result in destructive practices, waste of resources and time, short-sighted project goals and ignorance of sustainability. The industry has gradually developed more collaborative project delivery models to cure such adversity. Collaboration is now in contracts and policies. However, as the people have been so embedded in the traditional practice, they are not really able to make the situated decisions to ‘collaborate’; in many situations they find an obligation to act adversely in the traditional way. Thus to cultivate individual capabilities of collaborative decision making among the future practitioners will help to change the industry culture, refresh the workforce and enable collaborative project delivery.

3. Organising structure of learning activities

The journey of this course prototype development evolves from an idea to a more mature detailed plan is recorded in my presentation for Assignment 2 and presentation for Assignment 3. To continue elaborating, I shall start by explaining the core learning activities of this Subject as illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Stakeholders’ roles along project lifecycle – to be picked by student organisations

The basic design is 100 students divided into five organisations of 20 to work on two projects during the course of this Subject. Each organisation is to assume a role of a stakeholder in the project lifecycle:

  • Project financier: banks that make investment in the projects and monitor project conditions to ensure a return for the investment.
  • Client: owner of the project who borrows money from the bank and hire the other actors to work for the project and influence their behaviour by contractual structure and involvement in the project process.
  • Design consultant: work for the client in traditional delivery model, and work for the contractor in most collaborative delivery models.
  • Contractor: build the project.
  • Operation/Maintenance/Facility management: Manage the built product.

Having assigned five large groups, the next step is to create ‘jobs’ for the students so that everyone, regardless their ability, background or personality, can find a comfortable role to contribute their talents, through which their own talents will be multiplied. The group of 20 cannot work in an ad hoc manner, students have to work out an organisational structure to divide roles and tasks, that is, to design jobs for themselves in order to form a coherent project organisation to effectively deliver the projects. Linking back to the CoP theory, the process of student struggling out an organisational structure by understanding each other, fitting appropriate roles for each other, and motivating each other to perform their jobs to achieve project excellence, is a process of enabling peripheral participation and growing individually together. The following organisational structure is suggested as a reference structure to students:

Figure 3. Reference organisational structure for students groups

The two projects are briefly described as follows:

  • Project 1: Develop a project business case for a collaborative procurement model for an infrastructure construction project based on the stakeholder’s interest of your organisation; develop a ‘request of collaboration’ on what you want the other organisational actors to do in terms of risk management, pain/gain sharing, conflict resolution and reward structure.
  • Project 2: Evaluate how the other organisational actors’ requests of collaboration would impact the interest and practice of your own organisation, what you can offer to the collaborative project delivery practice, negotiate with the other organisations, based on which re-evaluate and redevelop your project business case.

The assignments details are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Summary of Assessment Tasks

By the content of the tasks, the central theme of Project 1 is to work out an organisational identity, the five organisations different from each other. In Project 2, students learn the complexity of inter-organisational collaboration. By the process of doing the group work, Project 1 enables students to work out internal collaboration and develop their personal leadership and management skills. Project 2 requires the organisation to extend beyond their ‘in-group’ to be able to sacrifice some of their collective interest for a bigger collaboration – a mission of delivering an infrastructure project that requires collaboration from all the other actors.

To connect students to a real world complexity in which the current industry practice is embedded, each of the five organisations will be assigned a tutor and an Industry Advisor (IA). The IA’s job is to connect the students to their real world project settings. Specifically, they will be asked to arrange access for the students to one or two of their project meetings. Someone asked “where can we find so many IAs?” Ideally, if we (the teachers) are undertaking a research project (e.g., case study) with an infrastructure project, we can find all the five IAs from the relevant stakeholders involved in the project. If we are not engaged in a suitable research project, we can find the five IAs from their respective professional societies.

IAs do not lead the course. They are responsible for connecting students’ learning to their industry contexts. The Subject Coordinator (and Lecturer) will lead with a personal mastery through a research base and vision of industry future practice. Figure 4 shows the layers of community of practice (CoP) as designed in this course. On the right hand is the CoP layers by which the two projects are designed. Project 1 is about internal collaboration within one’s own organisation by figuring out roles and structures. This is more of a normal industry practice, which we mapped here as periphery of the CoP. At this point, the boundaries between organisations are closed, exclusive and somewhat adversarial. Having established the ‘normal practice’ of internal collaboration, students shall move to the core of the CoP, which is inter-organisational collaborative practice. This is the leading practice in the industry.

Figure 4. Levels of CoP by learning organisations and by learning tasks

On the left side of Figure 4 is the layers of CoP by the organising structure of the learning activities in this course. The course is designed by the Subject Coordinator, who developed it from a research base of leading practice. So here the SC is at the core of the CoP per se. The middle layer is the IAs and ATs. Students are at the periphery of the CoP. The progress from periphery to core of CoP is not a process that students progress to become a tutor and ultimately a lecturer. Not so. The progress is that the SC and IAs and ATs guide the students to move from Project 1 to Project 2, so that all of the community will more from periphery to core of the CoP.

Here I’d like to acknowledge a fellow student who commented that the CoP figure in my Assignment 2 presentation was confusing. This comment inspired me to think further. And Figure 4 is the result of my redevelopment of the link between the course design and the CoP theory. Thanks again.

4. Weekly schedule of activities

A detailed weekly schedule is given in Table 2. I find the tools available for this webpage are not convenient to make a table. So I have to insert the Table below as a figure. The disadvantage is that I cannot provide active links to the tools suggested in the EoR. But I believe whoever is interested will be able to find them out by a simple google search.

Table 2. Weekly Activities

5. Learning Outcomes

The learning outcomes of this Subject are as proposed as follows.

On completion of this Subject, students will:

  1. Understand the complexity of decision making in major projects;
  2. Understand a spectrum of collaborative project delivery models;
  3. Formulate a project business modelling perspective to approach fragmentation and collaboration issues in project delivery;
  4. Construct and analyse business case for major projects
  5. Understand project organisations and individual roles in the structure;
  6. Develop capabilities of making collaborative decisions in complex project situations

Generic skills out of this Subject:

  • Critical thinking
  • Systems thinking
  • Logical argument
  • Personal leadership skills
  • Self-management
  • Collaboration
  • People management skills

6. Ecology of Resources (EoR)

The updated EoR are shown in Figure 5 and further explained in the following paragraphs.

Figure 5. Updated EoR

In more details, the EoR is as follows:

6.1 People

First of all the best resource of this course is four layers of people:

  • The Subject Coordinator: If you have questions on “WHY” (Why as I doing this?) or trying to develop your capability during a conflict, or need help to work out an innovation, do not hesitate to book a consultation session with me.
  • Industry Advisors: They will connect your learning activities to the real world context, bring you to their work environment and hopefully connect you with their professional peers.
  • Academic Tutors: Tutors will give you hands-on help on setting up an organisational structure, dividing roles and tasks and solve practical problems during the process.
  • Groupmates: Peers in your own group will help and motivate each other to work collaboratively; peers in other groups will become a resource to you through their research and presentation of the stakeholder’s domain that they are assuming. You will also learn from them through the inter-organisational negotiation process.

6.2 Knowledge

6.2.1 Lectures: Lectures will be held on a weekly basis. Recordings will be made by Echo 360 and available on Canvas.

6.2.2 Reference books

  • Derek Walker & Steve Rowlinson, 2020, Routledge Handbook of Integrated Project Delivery, London and NY: Routledge.
  • Adrian Bridge, 2020, Procurement Decision Tool: A Case Study of the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, Sydney, Austroads.
  • David Mosey, 2009, Early Contractor Involvement in Building Procurement: Contracts, Partnering and Project Management, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Graham Winch, 2002, Managing Construction Projects, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Peter Morris, 2013, Reconstructing Project Management, John Wiley & Sons.
  • Peter Morris, 1994, The Management of Projects, London: Thomas Telford.
  • Herbert Simon, 1997, Administrative Behaviour: A Study of Design-Making Processes in Administrative Organization (4th ed.), NY: Free Press.

6.2.3 Journals

  • International Journal of Project Management
  • Construction Management and Economics
  • Project Management Journal
  • International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

6.2.4 Group research: You can choose an option from the following, or invent your own, but stick to one platform throughout the process.

  • Register a ResearchGate account and set up a Project to curate your group research materials and references, or
  • Set up a Mendeley library for your group work
  • Set up Microsoft Teams for group collaboration and sharing of files

6.3 Tools

The course work can be done with online tools including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Virtual co-location platforms: Co-location is the vital element for successful collaborative delivery of projects. So the first thing of setting up your organisational routines is to set up a virtual project office. You can use Facebook, Twitter or other platforms that you like. However, keep in mind it is not only about a virtual space, but you need to create a time-based routine so that you actually meet each other in the virtual space, have a coffee chat and casual small talks. This article shares some experiences on virtual colocation for team building. I hope you will share your experiences at the end of this course.
  • Asynchronized colocation platforms: A class-wide Piazza discussion forum for posting your questions and answers; Slack for group-level discussion; Perusals for collaborative annotation of articles during your group report writing; Padlet for sharing your observations and insights before report writing; Poll Everywhere for Project Managers to collect insights from your team members.
  • Group file storage: You can use Google Drive or Microsoft Teams or Bitrix24 or any other platforms you find effective. But be mindful to establish a routine of file naming and management system so that the files can make sense to other people when they are transferred around the group.
  • Presentation: You can collaborate on presentation using Google Slides, Pecha Kucha, Adobe Spark, or other media that you prefer.
  • Analytical tools: Austroad procurement decision tool – for analysing the degree of collaboration in a project procurement decision to craft your project business model; Personality and leadership test questionnaires for understanding group mates’ strength and preferences before assigning roles and tasks; Organisational design survey – for assessing your organisational structure and effectiveness of job design in your project organisation.
  • Library Resources: Have a read of the ABP Research Guide, which you can find from the ABP library website. Please also be proactive in contacting the librarian for any other references or research guidance, or referencing styles. Suggest to use Endnote and Harvard style in your research report. Endnote is available from the University library website.

Importantly, as a general principle for efficient teamwork, I suggest you make an organisational decision of tools and limit the number of platforms to 3-4 in your first team meeting and stick to those tools throughout the process. This will reduce your cognitive load and improve communication in the organisation.

6.4 Environment: Be aware that all the environments – physical, virtual and interpersonal – are part of your learning experience and are shaping your capabilities during the course to this Subject.

7. Rubrics

Part I. Presentation (10%)

Strong Introduction and Conclusion (interesting and make a clear point on the topic) 2% 
Coherence of the arguments 3% 
Smart responses in Q&A (demonstrate clear understanding of the points you made)2%
Speaking and body language performance, overall1%

Part II. Group Report (10%)

Understanding stakeholders’ responsibility and interest2% 
Concise summary of theory1% 
Case description1%
Critical analysis of case (apply theory)2%
Address the need of organisational learning/change/resilience2%
Referencing (connection with existing body of knowledge, convincing evidences, format)2%

Part III. Individual Reflective Journal (15%)

Intellectual contribution to the Debate (yourself and other members of your organisation)  5%
Demonstrating leadership/teamwork in an organisational environment 
Understand organisational structure and its change2%
Clear understanding of one’s own role / in-role performance2%
Caring of teammates (know names, roles and work, engage others, being inclusive, show patience, respect diversity)2%
Conflict (handle and learn from it) / Crisis handling / boundary management (define roles and responsibilities and keep it)2%
Reflective thinking on self and organisation (what did you learn from the process, how have you changed through the process)2%

8. References (learning theories underpinning the course design)

Clark & Underwood, 2013, The Ecology of Resources: a theoretically grounded framework for designing next generation technology-rich learning, Handbook of Design in Educational Technology, London, Routledge.

Holdsworth & Hegarty, 2016, From praxis to delivery: a Higher Education Learning Design Framework (HELD), Journal of Cleaner Production, 122, 176-185.

Lave, J, & Wenger, E. 1991. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge University Press. 

Senge, P. 1990. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation, MIT Press.

Please scroll up for the list of reference books and journals for the course content.


Published by Andrea O'Learning

student #EDUC90970 Facilitating Online Learning. This blog is part of my assignment and personally an experiment to try out if I would like to run a public blog.

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