Continuous improvement is the hallmark and core value of many organizations within the construction industry. Even if it isn’t a core value, organizations should constantly reflect on areas of the business that require change simply in order to deal with ever-changing market conditions.
However, everyone knows there are two ways to introduce change: the right way; and one that will have disastrous consequences.
For instance, if one was to consider introducing a healthier lifestyle, one devoid of rich foods and increased activity, there is no shortage of advice on how to do it. While every person has a different genetic makeup, most experts would agree that the right path is a sensible diet that is sustainable over time coupled with activities that are practical. Running ultra-marathons and moving to a high protein, 10,000-calorie diet like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson might not fit everyone, and more importantly, it might not even work long term.
Organizational change is very similar. The good news is that no one needs to gobble a million chicken breasts or run 25 miles a day, but change will require behavioral modification.
There Must Be a Champion
Someone must lead this charge. Too many organizations want change to happen organically. In fact, there is often a common refrain amongst the masses. “We need to have one common operational model.” This is a reasonable and compelling argument — until you read between the lines. Put another way, most people want one operational model as long as it is their operational model.
So, who will settle the proverbial tie? Someone has to be appointed the manager of change, otherwise the initiative runs the risk of languishing or simply spinning its wheels in the mud. It is important to consider the following:
- Who will ensure inter departmental cooperation is achieved?
- Who will follow up on action items to get things across the finish line?
- Who will make the difficult decisions and settle border disputes?
In order to demystify the title of “champion,” it is important that the organization view this role as the project manager of internal projects.
Just like a normal project manager, this person must maintain the mindset and keep a clear vision of what completion looks like, and must navigate the waters as if they were coordinating scopes of different trade partners.
Someone Who Isn’t Already a Leader
So, this should be a senior leader? Or maybe even the president of the firm? Not necessarily.
In fact, there may be a danger in having someone too high in rank involved in this process.
For instance, let’s assume there is a committee creating a preconstruction planning process led by the president. When the group is asked for their opinion or thoughts, they sit and wait.
There is a reticence to provide meaningful feedback and possibly a thought that the company’s president is simply going to answer it for them. Of course, this begs the question about team dynamics, leadership and even internal feedback loops.
However, continuous improvement needs candor and if there is a perceived barrier to good dialogue, the improvement will not occur. This does not mean the champion has carte blanche to do what they want without the oversight of senior leadership. In fact, part of the process is some form of presentation where the champion bolstered by the team presents the new concept, process, idea, business case, etc. to the leadership. At this time, the leadership is free to play the devil’s advocate and ensure it has been thoroughly vetted. An ancillary benefit of this approach is the concept of the providing ground. Maybe the champion is a future leader, someone that may have been earmarked for greater responsibility. This is a superb testing venue to see how well they lead, work with teammates, gain consensus and ultimately make positive, impactful change on the organization. If they can succeed in a relatively safe setting, there is a high correlation that they may have greater potential.
No one likes a half-cooked meal. Cold chicken is not only disgusting but also a dead giveaway for salmonella.
While releasing a new process on an organization is unlikely to give anyone vomiting fits, there is the potential of doing irreparable harm.
For instance, assume the continuous improvement team has crafted a new internal process with a new set of tools. It is more than likely 95% accurate, but it is important that a small group vet the process in a controlled beta test. Preferably, one or two of the taskforce that created the process should test drive the process since they have context and also know what they are looking for.
There are many reasons for doing this beta testing. First and foremost, there are subtle changes that may arise during the test phase.
Secondly, there is also the “What were we thinking?” reactions. When the process was created there was a thought process but sometimes, that thought process gets distorted or simply forgotten.
By conducting a beta-testing scenario, the group can put themselves in the shoes of the other practitioners within the firm and ask the question, “What would they think?” They can change wording, edit phrasing, make it practical, etc., to ensure the new concept is embraced.
There is a third benefit that comes from beta testing and that is the creation of evangelists. People need to hear that this will work. What better group of people to provide that evidence than similar people? Project managers showing other project managers that something works goes a long way in companywide adoption. We all remember being kids. Our parents would tell us things — normally the right things — and we would only believe it until we heard it on the playground from another kid, normally someone our age. Change for the betterment of the organization is important but most people need to see it done before they will buy in.
Continuous improvement is hardly complex or mystical. It is not simply making change for change sake but, rather, being a catalyst for long-term adoption of new concepts and ideas.