Social Network Analysis-Opportunities in PPPM

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Developed by Arnaldo Landivar Taborga



“Social Network Analysis” (SNA) appears recently as a technique that explore, maps and measure data & information flows and relationship between organizations, groups, people or other entities.

The aim of this article is to explore and investigate the existing use of “Social Network Analysis” in projects with collaborative environments, such as BIM and/or Lean Construction projects.

Stakeholders has a prominent influence in the development of any type of project, their perspective was also included in order to obtain a broad overview of the state of the art in the use of “Social Network Analysis” techniques.

The article provides an overview of the current interests and study areas, identifying research opportunities related with “Performance” and “Collaboration” aspects that have been insufficiently studied.


Construction productivity have been a classic concern in the Building Industry, Teicholz research present a negative growth in the period 1964-2012 [1], the most likely reasons behind this situation may be the highly fragmented project workflows, procurement systems based on competitive rather than collaborative teams, paper-based project delivery systems (PDS) with a low use of technology in their processes affecting the flow of data and information between the stakeholders creating conflicts and lowering the quality of the projects along all their life cycle.

With the introduction of CPM/PERT in 1958’, the use of technology has been gradually extended in the Project Management discipline [2], but is not until the past decade when their use is being more extensive, the evolution of the technology applied in projects is transforming the Building Industry moving from a paper-based towards a BIM-based type of projects shifting to a lean collaborative processes [3] [4].

Since 2000’s it has been observed a continuous growth of complexity in projects[5][6]caused by the increasingly use of technology, project size/scale, construction methods, stakeholders diversity and overlapping processes in the life cycle of a project, as a result Project Managers have been facing an increase of challenges at strategic, organizational and human resources level[7].

Projects are team-based developed, currently, as a result of the technological advancements projects are producing an immense amount of data, sorting useful data to transform in coordinate and productive information that flows through all the processes along the life cycle of a project is crucial in their success.

Social Network Analysis(SNA)

Introduction & Historical evolution

Figure 1: Evolution of SNA published articles (Rousseau and Otte, 2002)

Organizations are composed by individuals and, based in their ranks, assembled in different groups organized in a hierarchical structure. Work activities and tasks constitutes the main interaction type between these individuals establishing a formal network.

However, within the same organization, interaction between individuals could be based in their work-space proximity, nationality, sport preference, etc. in this case creating different groups and establishing an informal network.

Individuals and organizations are the main actors from either formal or informal structures and as a result of their interaction within a network (intra-organizational) or with other networks (inter-organizational), different behavior patterns and influential actors could be identified, the analysis of these network dynamics constitutes the object of study of Social Network Analysis (SNA).

According Freeman the historical evolution of SNA comprises the following periods [8][7]:

1. Everything before 1929, focused on the interaction and relationship between actors

2. From 1929 to 1939, focused in a systematic collection of data between this actors

3. From 1940 to 1969, with the introduction of graph theories

4. From 1970 until now, the modern era based on the use of mathematical/computational tools to analyse these interactions

In the past years with the birth of internet and the technological advancements, SNA gained relevance; research studies have been reformulated and reconsider their approach, being the use of network studies an important part, not only, of sociological studies but also incorporated as a strategy used by different disciplines [9][8] (Figure 1).

Organizations are open systems [10], and as individuals could be influenced by internal or external changes in the organizational environment and at the same time the interconnection between systems or individuals could be altered as a result of the above mentioned changes.

Through "Social Network Analysis" this changes and their impact in individuals and/or organizations could be studied, and depending on the network type, cohesive or bridging the effect and the propagation of the changes would be different.

The interconnection between all actors in a cohesive networks provides mutual support and trust and facilitates coordination and communication[11].

Therefore, in order to identify an asses research opportunities in the use of Social Network Analysis in collaborative environments, a review of papers and/or articles was conducted with special attention on network and organizational aspects.


An structured approach was adopted, in the articles review:

• Search process, different iterations and combination of key words were conducted, the final retrieved articles were consequence of a refine process.

• Distribution of articles per year

• List of journals and account of articles included in each journal

• Categorization of the articles by subject area of study

• Analysis of the abstracts of the retrieved articles, identification of key words an aspects

The following common keywords were considered in the initial search, “Social Network”, “Social Network Analysis” “Stakeholder”, “BIM”, “Lean Construction”, “Engineering Systems”, “Construction Project Management”.

Search process

First iteration, through “DTU Findit” database an initial search of articles was conducted with “Social Network” and “Social Network Analysis” as keywords, the total amount of entries founded were 113.043 and 1.890 respectively.

In a first view of the searched articles it was noticed that “SNA” was used as keyword in “Social Network Analysis” articles and, in many cases, “Social Network” was referred in “Social Media” articles.

To refine the search “Social Network” was discarded.

A second iteration with the keyword “Social Network Analysis” and the operator “AND” in a successive combination with the keywords “Stakeholder”, “BIM”, “Lean Construction” was conducted, the total amount of entries founded were 2.297, 2 and 5 respectively.

It was observed that within the search “Social Network Analysis AND Stakeholder” there was still some entries referred to “Social Media”; with the search of “Social Network Analysis AND BIM” the entries corresponded with the intended search and with the search of “Social Network Analysis AND Lean Construction” there was 2 entries that corresponded with medicine subject areas.

A third iteration was conducted, the prefix “ab: abstract” and the operator “AND” were selected in the formula “ab: (SNA) AND Stakeholder”, a total 63 entries were obtained, 8 entries corresponded with repeated articles in different journals, 2 entries matched with the entries founded in the search “Social Network Analysis AND BIM” and 1 entry corresponded with one paper that reviewed the status of research SNA in construction project management context (CPM) that is coincident with the aim of this article.


Figure 2: Evolution of SNA published articles (Landivar, 2016) adapted from (Zheng, Le, Chan, Hu, Li, 2015)
Table 1: Papers distribution by subject area of study (Landivar, 2016)
Table 2: Papers distribution by network and organizational environment aspects (Landivar, 2016)

Based in the combination of keywords used in the search the following papers were retrieved:

• Search area “Social Network Analysis AND Stakeholder”, 52 papers, from now on will be referred in tables or figures as “SNA + Stakeholder” or “Stakeholder”

• Search area “Social Network Analysis AND BIM”: 2 papers, from now on will be referred in tables or figures as “SNA + BIM” or “BIM”

• Search area “Social Network Analysis AND Lean Construction”: 3 papers, from now on will be referred in tables or figures as “SNA + Lean” or “Lean Construction” or “Lean”

• One paper retrieved in the search area “SNA + Stakeholder” was assigned with its own search area “Social Network Analysis and Construction Project Management”, from now on will be referred in tables and figures “SNA +CPM” or “CPM”

This paper is a review of 63 studies in a CPM context published in the period 1997-2015[12]

The distribution of papers by year can be seen in figure 2.

The analysis of the retrieved papers shows different aspects of interests that have been grouped in following categories:

Group 1.Publication contribution, to determine the publication that contributed the most, the amount of papers produced by every journal was accounted, a categorization by the main subject areas of study and the index of research of impact was also included

It was observed that from the 58 retrieved journals, 10 papers were published in the context of different proceedings, the rest of papers were published in 43 journals.

Group 1.1, journals that published more than 1 paper with an h-index over 90:

• Journal of Cleaner Production with 2 from UK with “Business, Management and Accounting, Energy, Engineering, Environmental Science” as subject area with an h-index of 96

Group 1.2, journals that published more than 1 paper (+ paper from group 1.1):

• Ecology and Society with 3 papers from Canada with “Environmental Science” as subject area with an h-index of 87

• Journal of Environmental Planning and Management with 2 papers from UK with “Chemical Engineering, Environmental Science, Social Sciences” as subject area with an h-index of 46.

• International Journal of Information Technology and Decision Making with 2 papers from Singapore with “Computer Science” as subject area with an h-index of 28

Group 1.3, journals that published papers with an h-index of 90 or above (+ paper from group 1.1):

• Global Environmental Change with 1 paper from UK with “Environmental Science, Social Sciences” as subject area with an h-index of 103

• Waste Management with 1 paper from UK with “Environmental Science” as subject area with an h-index of 92

• Industrial Marketing Management with 1 paper from USA with “Business, Management and Accounting” as subject area with an h-index of 90

Group 2.Type of research, qualitative or quantitative, all the papers have a qualitative approach however in regards of the quantitative type, the papers that even though has not explicit mention of the quantitative aspect or intended to measure some of the results obtained in their studies were included.

The distribution of papers based on the type of research were:

• Qualitative, 58 papers (100%)

• Quantitative, 15 papers (26%)

Group 3.Organizational level aspects, such as strategic, tactical or operational in this category 8 papers (14%) had explicit mention of the strategic value of the paper, it is assumed that the rest of papers covers also the tactical and the operational levels.

Table 1 shows a summary of group 1, 2 , 3, 7.

Table 2 shows a summary of group 4, 5.

Group 4.Network aspects, the aspects that could have an influence and affect the equilibrium in this systems have been included in this category. The following list shows aspects that were grouped in one item:

• Information Flows= Data flows, Knowledge flows, communication

• Relationship= Connectivity, Inter-connectivity

• Collaboration= Sharing, shared information, shared data, shared knowledge, cross-functional collaboration, Big room

• Performance= Team performance, Individual performance, measurements, efficiency, productivity

Figure 3: Distribution of Network aspects (Landivar, 2016)
Figure 4: Distribution of Organizational Environment aspects (Landivar, 2016)
Table 3: Papers distribution by Project Management aspects (Landivar, 2016)

Group 5.Organizational environment aspects, in this category were grouped all the aspects that could have an impact on the equilibrium of an individual or in an organization network.

Impediment aspects were grouped with Barriers as one item.

Group 6.Project Management aspects, in this category were grouped all the concepts that were related with the discipline of Project Management (PM), based on PMBOK 5th edition () standard, initially it was intended to allocate the concepts to each knowledge domain, however as many aspects could be referred to more than one domain this intent was discarded.

Table 3 shows a summary of group 6.

Group 7.Technological aspects, within this aspect different concept were consider and grouped as follows:

• Technology= Technology, Internet, Web-based, Knowledge Management Systems (KMS)

Other aspects such as "Waste" and "Value generation" were found only on the "SNA + Lean" searched area.


Papers distribution over time. The yearly distribution of published papers in the period 1974-1999 from the area “SNA + Computer Sciences” displayed in Figure 1 shows a clear progression in the interest of this type of studies.

In Figure 2, two distinctive groups has been identified, the first comprise “SNA + Stakeholder” and “SNA + CPM” searched areas with an interest over 19 and 8 years respectively, it has been observed in both cases a discontinuous progression of publications with a pick of 13 published papers in 2011 in the “SNA + CPM” searched area and with only 1 published papers in 2013 in the “SNA + Stakeholder” searched area.

In the second identified group comprised by “SNA + BIM” and “SNA + Lean” searched areas it has been observed an initial interest in this type of studies since 2013 and 2015 respectively, it seems early to forecast any type of development.

Publication contribution.With a total of 43 journals and 9 conference proceedings distributed in 11 study areas supports the fact that there is an increasing interest of the this matter in different fields.

The journal that contributed the most was Ecology and Society with 3 papers from Canada within “Environmental Science” as subject area and with an h-index of 87.

“Business, Management and Accounting, Energy, Engineering, Environmental Science” was the subject area with most published papers, 10.

From an organizational level perspective only 8 (13%) over 58 published papers considered their strategic importance.

Based on the type of research, all the papers have had a qualitative approach, but only 15 (26%) had considered a quantitative approach or tried to measure some of the aspects in which the study was conceived, coincident most of the cases in some way to measure any type of performance.

In regards of technological aspects, 5 (9%) over 9 (16%) papers that considered this aspect have been using internet or web-based solutions to support their studies and from this 5 papers only 3 (5%) have had a quantitative approach to measure their results.

In regards of the network aspects, the figure 3 shows a clear distinction between the interests of “SNA + BIM” and “SNA + Lean” searched areas, however both shared an interest in the “Relationship” aspect.

“SNA + Lean” papers have been focus more in the “Coordination” and “Information flows” and “SNA + BIM” papers were more interested in “Integration” and “Influence & perception” aspects.

In the case of “SNA + Stakeholder” searched area the interest was focused with “Information flows“ and “Relationship” aspects.

In all the cases, it was observed that “Governance”, “Behaviour & Patterns”, “Performance”, “Collaboration”, “Competitiveness” aspects have received insufficient investigation.

In the case of organizational environment aspects the interest were different between each searched area.

“SNA + Lean” papers were interested in “Improvement”, “Flexibility & adaptability” and “Implementation”, this last aspect was also common for “SNA + BIM” papers that was also interested in “Barriers” and “Drivers” aspects.

“SNA + Stakeholder” papers had a more disperse interest being “Change” and “Improvement” aspects the most important considered in this group of aspects.


One of the objectives when establishing the searched areas was to identify the different study areas in which the use of SNA techniques has an interest and which journal contributed the most in the available literature.

With a total of 43 journals and 9 conference proceedings distributed in 11 study areas supports the fact that there is an increasing interest of the this matter in different fields.

It has been proved the interest in the field of "Construction Project Management", however in the case of collaborative environments (BIM and Lean Construction) the lack of studies in the use of "SNA" techniques is evident with only 4 papers in the past 4 years, and in all cases their focus more in the aspects related with "Information flows" and "Relationship" that has a qualitative component.

The building industry is experiencing an technological transformation that is affecting different fields, with different speeds in the adoption of this technological advancements depending on the organizations, currently internet and web-based solutions could considered one of the more extended technological advancements, however the article reveals a poor use of this technology with only 3% of their use in SNA techniques.

The insufficient studies in the "Performance" and "Collaboration" aspects are presented as potential opportunities for future research in PPPM domain.

One of the more interesting lines of research would be the use of SNA techniques to identify within project-team networks "Behavior & patterns" and measure "Collaborative" and "Coordination" aspects to find if there is any correlation with the project-team "Performance" and productivity.

Annotated Bibliography

Linton C. Freeman, The Development of Social Network Analysis: A Study in the Sociology of Science-Review, provides a short and concise overview of the development of "Social Network Analysis", (B. H.Rusell, 2005)

Review of the application of social network analysis (SNA) in construction project management research, provides a review of 63 papers in the aplication of SNA techniques in Construction Project Managemanet, (Zheng, Y. Le, A. P. C. Chan, Y. Hu, and Y. Li, 2016).


  1. P. Teicholz, “Labor productivity declines in the construction industry: causes and remedies (another look),” AECbytes Viewp., 2013.
  2. M. Kozak-Holland, “The History of Project Management,” Lessons from Hist., vol. 18, no. 4, p. 640, 2011.
  3. R. Soares, “Reengineering Management of Construction Projects,” Int. J. Bus. Soc. Sci., vol. 4, 2013.
  4. P. Teicholz, “Labor productivity declines in the construction industry: causes and remedies (another look),” AECbytes Viewp., 2013.
  5. V. R. Santos, António Lucas Soares, and J. Á. Carvalho, “Knowledge Sharing Barriers in Complex Research and Development Projects: an Exploratory Study on the Perceptions of Project Managers,” Knowl. Process Manag., vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 27–38, 2012.
  6. B. Xia and A. P. C. Chan, “Measuring complexity for building projects: a Delphi study,” Eng. Constr. Archit. Manag., vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 7–24, 2012.
  7. G. R. Jones and J. M. George, “Essentials of Contemporary Management,” Essentials of Contemporary Management, Fifth Edition, 2012.
  8. B. H.Rusell, “Linton C. Freeman, The Development of Social Network Analysis: A Study in the Sociology of Science-Review,” vol. 27, pp. 377–384, 2005.
  9. R. Rousseau and E. Otte, “Social network analysis: a powerful strategy, also for the information sciences,” J. Inf. Sci., vol. 28, no. 6, pp. 441–453, 2002.
  10. J. Hayes, The Theory and Practice of Change Management. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
  11. J. Battilana and T. Casciaro, “The network secrets of great change agents,” Harvard Business Review, pp. 62–68, 2013.
  12. X. Zheng, Y. Le, A. P. C. Chan, Y. Hu, and Y. Li, “Review of the application of social network analysis (SNA) in construction project management research,” Int. J. Proj. Manag., vol. 34, no. 7, pp. 1214–1225, Oct. 2016.

Appendix 1

In this section are listed all the documents used in the tables and figures.

On September the 17th “DTU Findit” database has been used for search documents that lately are used in the conformation of tables and figures.

A first search with the phrase “Social Network” was used with a total of 113043 entries.

A second search with the phrase “Social Network Analysis (SNA)” was used with a total of 1890 entries.

The prefix “ab: abstract” and the operator “AND” were selected for a third search on the formula “ab: (SNA) AND Stakeholder” with a total 63 entries, 3 entries corresponded to repeated papers, finally a total of 60 documents were retrieved.

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