This paper describes the results of a case study that investigated the use of accounting information by operations managers in a road building company. There was considerable preplanning before the execution of project activities, but task uncertainty during execution created the need to take corrective action. Information on prices and expected costs was crucial for preplanning purposes. During project execution higher-level managers depended upon accounting information about actual project costs to be able to focus on low performing projects. Lower-level managers observed work on-site and they used information about the prices of various resources. Learning over time happened on the basis of experimenting with practical ideas and building a repertoire of solutions that worked (or did not work). The study suggests that under high task uncertainty in projects, accounting information may not take on the role of a ‘learning machine’ to help managers decide on action, because managers may supply action-centred skills to manage cost. Action-centred cost management strategies for negotiation and improvisation are not informed by accounting information that supports analytical cost management strategies. The study also suggests that direct observation of processes is more informative compared to the representation of these processes through accounting information, if the complexity of these processes is limited (few different input and output resources).
- Project management
- field research
- Operations management
- building industry
- Accounting information systems