Abstract for: Dyadic Communication to Monitor Project Scope: Social Construction of Meaning in an Aerospace Program

This research uses a case study of a large system acquisition program to explore communication dynamics among a US government system program office, a general contractor, and a subcontractor, as they interact to negotiate scope (baseline) changes. Informed by a theory of symbolic interactionism, this research explores the dynamics of dyadic communications within which meaning is socially constructed. Constructing shared meaning in large aerospace programs is critical to delivering a complex product on time and on budget and to avoiding the now common “Nunn-McCurdy breach” (cost exceeding 25 percent of current baseline or exceeding 50 percent of original baseline). Based upon our case-study investigation, we constructed and analyzed a dynamic model of dyadic communication behaviors. Previously reported findings indicate that networks of dyadic communication paths demonstrate instability which can lead to failure, usually three to five years from project start, due to divergent understanding of objectives by the interacting organizations. Analyses suggest that leverage in reducing divergence lies in managing the boundary objects used by project participants and in monitoring relative intra- and inter-organizational attention and pacing. This research builds on previous studies examining the role of boundary objects and relative expertise in vehicle manufacturing and medical imaging.