The definition of alliancing in construction as a Wittgenstein family-resemblance concept

John F.Y. Yeung, Ping Chuen Chan, Wai Ming Chan

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

91 Citations (Scopus)


There has been increasing interest in the concept of alliancing in construction stemming from the late 1990s. In spite of the fact that project partnering is a widely understood concept, the same is not true for alliancing. By using Nyström's similar approach to define construction partnering, this paper focuses on alliancing and family-resemblance and makes two contributions to the concept of alliancing in construction. The first one is to clearly distinguish amongst general prerequisites, hard (contractual) and soft (relationship-based) elements, and goals when discussing the concept. For the sake of thoroughly understanding what is specific about alliancing, the focus ought to be on the hard (contractual) and soft (relationship-based) elements, which are identified through a literature review. The second one is to make use of the German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's idea of family-resemblance when defining the alliancing concept. His idea is that a complicated concept can be understood as a network of overlapping similarities. It is concluded, based on the literature review, that there are two necessary hard (contractual) elements - formal contract and real gain-share/pain-share arrangement, and three essential soft (relationship-based) elements, trust, long-term commitment, and cooperation and communication in construction alliancing, and that a number of different elements can be added to constitute a specific variant of alliancing. This provides an innovative and useful method to define the vague and versatile concept of alliancing in construction in a flexible and structured way. By doing so, industrial practitioners may find the alliancing sunflower model useful in the procurement phase of a building and construction project, particularly if needed, as a description of the concept and as a common starting point for discussions between a client and a contractor on how to procure a specific alliancing projects, thus avoiding any misinterpretations of what an alliancing project is.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-231
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Project Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2007


  • Alliancing
  • Construction
  • Family-resemblance
  • Hard (contractual) and soft (relationship-based) elements
  • Wittgenstein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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