The landscape of construction technology is constantly changing. Each new innovation promises great rewards--save money, save time, reduce rework, and accomplish your dreams.
That is, if the implementation doesn’t fail, which it often does.
Will Senner is a Preconstruction Manager in the Durham Office of Skanska USA Building. As part of Skanska’s Project Planning Group, Will has worked on higher education, and commercial market segments projects. Senner graduated with honors from Duke University in 2006 with a B.S.E in Structural Engineering and a Masters of Engineering Management.
According to a McKinsey report, large IT projects on average run 45 percent over budget, seven percent over time, and yield 56 percent less value than expected. But don’t let that scare you from your next construction technology implementation. Successful technology implementations do yield major benefits and ensure you remain competitive in your market.
The key to a successful implementation is quite simply good change management practice. Here are the five steps you need to follow:
- Name your pain! Clearly define the problem you are solving and the technology’s business value.
- Get executive buy-in and support.
- Start with a pilot project and set your team up for success.
- Execute with flexibility.
- Set the framework for future projects.
1. Name Your Pain
Don’t give in to the “shiny object!” Somebody’s always excited about a new technology, but coolness factor is not a good reason to invest.
Instead, you should start with the pain and only then look for solutions including technology, not the other way around. Make sure your solution solves a problem that everyone recognizes is a pain in the you-know-what and then clearly define the benefit of the technology solution.
For example, if the senior superintendents are constantly lugging around heavy rolls of drawings that are often out of date, here is how you might define the pain, solutions, and benefit:
Name the pain:
- Carrying heavy drawings and running back and forth to the job-office wastes valuable time.
- Working off out-of-date plans and drawings increases risk and potential re-work.
Determine a solution that addresses the pain:
- Introduce mobile devices that can carry all the latest plans, drawings, and specifications.
- Incorporate a centralized document management process that makes it easy for the team to keep documents up-to-date and sync with mobile devices.
Clearly define the benefit of the solution for the folks who will use the technology and for the company as a whole:
- Your superintendents can spend more time in the field, suffer from fewer backaches, and save time not having to run back and forth between the job site and the office.
- Your document manager in the office will spend less time managing versions.
- Your project team and company will experience less rework from potential errors due to out-of-date documentation.
2. Get Executive Buy-In
Armed with a solid business problem that you think you can solve and clearly defined business benefit, it’s time to find an executive sponsor. Depending on the project, this can be local or regional leadership of your organization. This is important even if you think you’re just “trying something out.”
Without executive buy-in, you may find yourself fighting an uphill battle throughout the implementation. You don’t want to have to go to your manager partway through and explain that you were implementing a new system without their knowledge and unfortunately something went wrong and now you need their help.
With executive sponsor at the outset, you can get help when you need it. Also, if your executives know of similar efforts in other parts of the company, they can connect you with valuable resources.
When you first approach your leadership, explain the pain, solution, and benefit. Start with the business pain you identified, and that you are confident you have a plan to fix the problem. Focus on what’s in it for the leadership as well as the project team and the client. Then, define the benefits and set key performance indicators (KPI) for each stage of the implementation.
Think about what resources and support you’ll need from your executive sponsor and end the conversation with an ask to ensure you have what you need to be successful.
When the project is complete, that executive buy-in pays off in other ways, too:
- By getting leadership involved early on, you are getting them invested in the project, so they will want to help see the implementation be successful as well.
- When your leadership knows about it from the start, they’re more likely to reward you for it. More opportunities and responsibilities could follow.
- When your executives watch the project roll out, they’ll likely want to see it on other projects and share it with other colleagues throughout the organization.
Digital Resource Station with Navisworks model at the NCSU Hunt Library Project, image courtesy of Skanska.
3. Start with a Pilot Implementation & Set Your Team Up for Success
To reduce disruption to the business, start small with a single project team to prove out the solution and benefit.
To choose your pilot, look at available staffing, the complexity of the job, the fit of the technology for that job’s needs, and the team’s readiness for change. Once you’ve identified a promising project, approach the team similarly to how you approached the executives:
- Start with the pain.
- Discuss what’s in it for them.
- Explain why it’s important to the larger business.
Make this team part of the decision and planning process. They have good information and ideas to contribute and including their input will increase their commitment to the project’s success. The more your team sees how the construction technology will make their lives easier and their work more efficient, and the more they are included in the decision and planning, the more likely they will be invested in seeing the implementation to success.
In addition to general buy-in, your pilot program also needs a champion. If you’re not working full time on the project where you are implementing the technology you need to find a champion who has these characteristics:
- Proactive and energetic in taking on the challenge of seeing the project through
- Possesses the appropriate technical expertise to support the effort
- Has the bandwidth to manage the roll-out (often aided by the executive buy-in)
Finally, set S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) goals with the team around the desired business benefits. Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely goals do two big things for you. One, it keeps folks focused on what’s important and two, it helps you know right away if something isn’t going as planned.
Pick the right team, get their buy-in, include them in the process, and set S.M.A.R.T. goals for the pilot and you’ll be off to a great start.
RFID Tracking Modules with BIM 360 Field for Unitized Curtainwall at the NCSU Hunt Library, courtesy of Skanska.
4. Execute with Flexibility
With your entire team on board from the project to your executive sponsor, it’s time to execute. There’s a great deal you simply aren’t going to know until you get into the project, so be prepared to be flexible and transparent.
Communication is key. Schedule regular check-ins, and track progress against your goals. If something’s not working, pivot and try something else. If you’re not seeing progress in your KPI’s, pivot and try something else.
You should always be transparent. By sharing the project’s accomplishments and failures, you build trust and improve your odds of success. The worst thing you can do is hide even the little problems.
Just as you respond to setbacks, also capture your successes, and build on them. Use small wins to build bigger victories.
NCSU Hunt Library image courtesy of Skanska Group.
5. Set the Framework for Future Projects
If you’ve followed the steps above, hopefully your pilot project has yielded some beneficial take-aways. As you work through the pilot implementation, it’s important to capture what you’ve learned about the new technology and the process for its implementation.
When the pilot is complete, you’ll need to make sure that valuable information doesn’t get filed away with the rest of your close-out documents so that you can share it as a framework to take the technology to future projects.
Then be prepared to guide future teams in customizing your approach to work for them. Some champions build groups with other champions to extend their reach and support each other’s efforts. These may be formal or informal, and work best when they engage in transparency and have air cover from the executive team. If your company conducts webinars, cross-departmental meetings, and executive site visits, get on the schedule to share your project.
Make sure that the systems you build include the opportunity for continual improvement, so that each team can feed their experience and insight back into the program. Ultimately, you hope to have a positive impact on teams across the organization and perhaps around the world with your new construction technology.
In short, taking as holistic and circumspect an approach to implementing new construction technology before you get started will pay off in a big way when you’re ready to implement. Once you’ve pinpointed the problem you need construction technology to solve, integrating the broader team from the decision-making process through to execution will help to ensure a successful first implementation, and help your ongoing success as well.
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