Managing complexity – prototyping a digital process management tool for construction projects in international development cooperation

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Master's Programme in International Design Business Management
Our world is complex and so are many processes, activities and problems we face, especially in our professional life. This complexity contests our cognitive abilities, challenges our desire for predictability and questions our perceived sense of control. Even if we are aware of underlying patterns, relations and interdependencies within these complex phenomena, we often struggle to grasp their extent, intricacies and impact. Attempting to comprehend the complicated chains of cause and effect, we can feel overwhelmed and without knowing where to start, leaving us with the question on how to appropriately deal with and possibly overcome the challenges which complexity presents to us. This thesis discusses the topic of complexity in the context of the design and management of complex processes. To that end, it employs an empirical case study based on the Construction Section of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für International Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), a German federal enterprise working in the field of international development cooperation. In reference to the Research through Design tradition, the thesis set out to conceptualise, design and prototype a digital process management tool for GIZ’s complex construction-related processes. By means of this case study, the thesis discusses the benefits of applying human-centred methods when dealing with complexity in design. For this purpose, the research is structured into three phases in which human-centred design methods were applied. In the first phase, Participant Observation was used to discover the setting, circumstances and challenges of the Construction Section which enabled the definition of the most crucial pain points. In the second phase, after having designed the tool’s concept based on the identified issues, a Prototype of the tool was developed. In the third phase, User Interviews with Think-Aloud Protocols were conducted to test this prototype and evaluate its concept. The research findings indicate that a digital process management tool can alleviate the most crucial pain points in GIZ’s internal construction-related processes. Its contents, functions and requirements were defined through the research and applied in the prototype. More generally, the study also suggests that complex problems require complex thinking to design sufficiently simple solutions and demonstrates that prototyping helps to reduce the perceived complexity by creating a tangible means for shared understanding. Finally, it concludes that having arrived at an appropriate representation through creative means, complexity does not become less complex but more manageable.
McGrory, Peter
Thesis advisor
Vega, Luis
Lucas, Sabrina
complexity, process management, prototyping, human-centered design, construction processes, development cooperation
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