Spotlight of the Week: Guest Blogger Dace Campbell
Dace Campbell, AIA, LEED AP is a Customer Success Manager at Autodesk and a nationally recognized expert and strategist in innovative tools and processes, including Building Information Modeling, Lean Construction, and Integrated Project Delivery. He is a licensed architect with almost 25 years of experience in design, construction, and computer visualization supporting collaborative, efficient design & construction.
It's no secret that the construction industry is a cave-man industry. We've all seen the graphs, pointing out our stagnation and relative decline in productivity compared to other industries like manufacturing or aerospace.
Yet, despite this stagnation, many firms have embraced innovative processes and tools such as Lean Construction and BIM as a way to improve their profitability, their firm culture, and the AEC industry as a whole. Contractors that successfully innovate do so through discipline and hard work, carefully applying new technology and methods to increase efficiency and productivity.
Often, too, contractors will look towards innovation as a way increase their revenue. Some seek to differentiate themselves from their competition, to win new work (or not lose work they've been awarded!) with new offerings or services.
Don't Be That Firm
Unfortunately, the notion that one can innovate simply to increase revenue is a risky one that, if done wrong, can put a firm, or even the industry at-large, in peril. Let me explain:
We've all seen that construction firm. The one that claims to be innovative. The one that attends a seminar, or reads an article, and hears about a trendy technology or methodology. [Insert your favorite trend here: 3D printing, Pull-planning, clash-detection in the cloud, drones flying around a project site, etc.] Unfortunately, to that firm, it almost doesn't matter what the trend is. Desperate for attention, they want in on it. They buy a shiny toy. They take it out for a test spin. They imitate others. They market it, or a small portion of what it does, to clients and to any peers willing listen. They claim expertise, ahead of the curve. They self-promote, rather than promote the benefits of the innovation. They are legends in their own mind.
But when pressed by a client to show how that shiny toy makes things better for them, the contractor is unable to back up their "innovation" with anything meaningful. There is no there there. The client loses faith not only in the firm, but possibly also in the innovative tool or process that could have been beneficial had it been validly and appropriately applied to their project! The firm suffers, the industry suffers, and we go about our caveman business with hammers and chisels until – squirrel! -- the next trend comes along.
Don't be that construction firm.
Measure the Value
Astute readers may recall that in an earlier blog post, I noted that the number one rule of innovation is to always look good, promoting ideas internally and externally – which is definitely in synch with the idea of driving new business, and ultimately revenue. However, note that such promotion comes with the responsibility of demonstrating measurable value, metrics for success, and a defensible return on investment.
That "measurable value" ultimately means value to your client. For innovation to have value to your client, it needs to make their end product (or project) higher quality, or quantitatively faster, cheaper, bigger, or better. Innovation that can bring about these results for less than the additional resources expended to bring about those improvements will inherently be judged a success.
So when considering an innovation, stop and ask yourself, simply: Why. Why are you trying this new thing? Why are you seeking a different tool or methodology? What pain is your organization facing today, and what are the underlying reasons for that pain? What "bad things" will happen if you don't innovate? What is the impact of that pain to your business units in your firm, or to external teammates and project partners? What potential benefits or capabilities do you envision, and how are they better? Why?
If you can identify the answers to these challenging questions, you are well on your way to establishing real business value for innovation. But you're not done there! You need to develop metrics: quantifiable means to measure the success of your innovation, or lack thereof. Is your innovation saving time or money? If so, how much? Is your innovation eliminating wasteful redundancies in a system? If so, how often? Is your innovation saving resources or material goods? If so, how many?
Once you've established a value for your innovation, as well as the ability to measure its success, then it's on to the hard work of carrying it out, followed by a relatively simple calculation to determine and defend a return on investment: how soon can resources spent on your innovation be recovered or surpassed by a new benefit brought about by that innovation?
Promote the Benefits
If you've successfully developed an innovation, no matter how small or large, and you can portray the tangible benefits of that innovation in concrete, quantifiable terms of value to your firm and your client, then – and only then – should you promote that innovation internally and externally.
But be careful. Don't be that firm, and promote yourself instead of the innovation that differentiates you. If you find value in your innovation, and don't promote its benefits first, you risk turning away your clients, who are easily discouraged at the slightest sniff of self-promotion. All the effort to innovate is easily lost in marketing noise, and you risk contributing to a hype bubble associated with a particular innovation. And bubbles burst, so ultimately, you'd be better off had you not wasted the "innovation" resources in the first place.
Instead, disseminate the idea and its benefits, ideally in public forums like trade conferences and publications, where you can stand out in contrast to your peers. If you applied that innovation successfully on a project, include your client and project partners into the publication as collaborators. Promoting with them is great way to keep in their minds for the next project without having to promote yourself to them. And, even if you don't get their next project, by publicizing the value of your innovation, you get to control the conversation among your peers, and new clients will see that you have their best interest at heart.