Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to highlight the key characteristics of the highest-performing construction projects, so that future procurement, briefing, design and construction management processes can be improved in the light of these experiences. Design/methodology/approach – Workshops were carried out inAustralia, Singapore and the USA involving 40 senior participants, representing a good cross-section of the stakeholder interests around construction. These individuals were each asked to identify the best construction project withwhich they had been involved at any point in their careers and to identify the major reasons for its success. Findings – A synthesis is provided of the characteristics that characterise the exemplary projects cited by the workshop participants. These are typified by the “4Cs”, namely constraints driving collaboration and creativity, ideally leading to community benefits. The 17 exemplars provided by the participants show project teams facing demands that act to break the dysfunctional paradigm of normal practice, so allowing refreshing and motivating actions to follow. This schema is reinforced by the three case study vignettes that illustrate in more detail the factors at work and their interactions. Linkage to prominent issues apparent in the literatures related to procurement, briefing, design and construction management are shown, together with pointers as to the connections between these issues as experienced in specific real world, project situations. In particular, the potentially pervasive impact of selective priority-setting is highlighted. Practical implications – This paper provides a glimpse of how construction operates at its best, the industry explicitly contributing to, and getting credit for, adding value to society economically, but also culturally, socially and environmentally. Originality/value – The work reported on here covers 17 mini-cases and three fuller cases, all drawn from three countries. Further work to build additional cases from a wider range of countries would test the broad outline of the 4Cs model and increase one’s understanding of the dynamic mechanisms at work.
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