Five tips for project engineers who want to become construction-tech champions.  

Managing construction projects is a demanding task. And it’s becoming even more challenging in the age of accelerated change and industry 4.0. 

Contrary to common observations, construction practices are far from staying unchanged. On the contrary, new building materials, equipment, processes, and requirements steadily push innovation forward in the construction industry, and the art of building is constantly improving. 

We’ve reached out to our friend Elefftarios Pittas, Senior Director of Design and Construction at Tishman Speyer, to find out why he thinks innovation championship is part of his job skills. 

“Innovation is playing an essential role in the industry now, and as a project manager, I encounter a lot of opportunities and needs for innovation.

My professional excellence requires me to anticipate challenges and look ahead for solutions.”

From the perspective of a project engineer, managing construction activities also include an element of championing continuous improvement. 

In addition to reviewing designs, constructing budgets, work plans, and timetables, and beyond the continuous construction, safety, and expectations fulfillment management during the design and build stages, Project engineers also need to advocate and introduce new tools, techniques, and technologies. Here are five tips for becoming a construction innovation champion from Eleftherios.

Become a construction innovation champion in less than one hour a week.

1. Find Technologies 

Finding technologies is not the tricky part. You just need to get out of the box. Make people know you are interested in innovations. 

Be specific if you are looking for a particular innovation niche: materials, building processes, management support tools, construction support tools. 

Prepare a specific outcome you want to reach: Improve quality, Improve safety, save time, save money… 

being explicit on the outcome allows others to send interesting stuff your way and helps you build a list of solutions for specific problems/improvements. 

Use new media. If you spend 10 minutes a week searching for construction innovations, you will easily find several exciting directions. Now, you just need to ping an email or reach out. Don’t worry – innovators of materials, processes, technologies, and other improvements would love the opportunity to share information about the stuff they develop. And you will quickly become well informed about things you can introduce in your day-to-day. 

Search for social groups, meetups, or forums. If they don’t exist – start one. It’s as easy as starting a WhatsApp group. Just add like-minded professionals and start a conversation. Innovators seek these groups and forums and will soon join the conversation. This way, you will be able to quickly shout out what you are looking for or share challenges with other professionals. 

Ask questions. Innovation is a collaborative process. It’s not a shopping activity. When you ask questions, you help innovators understand what professionals need. And you establish what’s available out there. Don’t expect instant miracles. Innovation is a long haul, but you’re making steady steps by making your interest noticed. 

Congrats, you’ve just invested 10 minutes, pouring intelligence into the foundations of your future skills. 

2. Assessing improvement opportunities. 

The following 10 minutes can be spread throughout the week. Make it a habit to ask your colleagues what they want to improve. You can do this occasionally, during daily small-talk or site walkthroughs; or by paying attention to issues managers acknowledge during meetings. 

By observing and noticing what improvements people wish for, introducing innovations becomes easier. Being able to suggest a solution to a real problem that people experience is an essential leverage that champions gain. 

When talking to colleagues about possible improvements, be open to objections. People’s objections are a good way of understanding their concerns. Which is something that wins you points when talking to innovators. 

Take your time, but don’t be shy. Tell your colleagues or managers that you’ve heard of something that can help them. This is important because it positions you as the go-to person for asking about improvements. 

Issues you encounter are great conversation items for your next 10 minutes of conversation with innovators, and telling your colleagues that there might be something out there to help them will act as a reminder.  

Make sure to inquire about two types of costs when assessing innovations. Cost of acquisition and cost of implementation. Don’t worry about the acquisition cost; it’s negotiable, especially if you want to test innovations. The real innovation killer is the cost of implementation. But before you get there, you’ll need to advocate promising innovations and technologies.  

3. Communicate improvements with project executives. 

Project executives are busy people. Building agreements and accountabilities for maintaining construction is a demanding task. Many times, executives are accused of being gatekeepers. But they are not! They are just swamped. 

Be brief and straightforward when pitching an innovation. Pitching innovations can be done in two ways: 1. Introducing a solution, or 2. Acknowledging a problem and intention to seek solutions. 

Be clear about what sort of pithing you’re attempting, and be concise. A pitch aims to create interest and a follow-up, not to close the deal. The wrong way of pitching often closes a window of opportunity instead of opening it. If you’ve pitched well and still not moving the needle, keep trying. Note to yourself what areas of improvements you’ve addressed, learn where the project executives’ attention leans towards – this way, you’ll be able to calibrate and align the improvements proposals better. Understanding what sort of improvement interest project executives help you focus your tech search and assessments. 

4. Organizing testing, pilots, and adoption. 

Great job! you’ve found ways to improve your project performance, and you’ve got your managers curious and excited about opportunities for utilizing new innovators or tech. Next, you’ll need to test promises in your daily work reality. 

Pay attention to two things. First, how mature is the solution offered to you, and second, how useful is it to your project? 

The maturity of innovation will play a significant factor in shaping the user agreement you will sign with the innovation developers. If the innovation is mature, it will be less risky. If the innovation is still in development, you will probably be able to arrange a sweetheart deal and pay with motivation and attention – that will help the innovators perfect their MVP (maximum value product). These issues will probably arise during steps 2 and 3. If the project you’re working on is not the best candidate for a trial site, recommend the innovation to other champions in your organization. Create a community of innovators and score points on the corporate scale as an MVP (the most valuable player). 

As with any project or tool, the objective is value creation. Three things can determine how valuable is the innovation attempt. (1) Clear performance improvements, (2) insights on how to ensure improvements or (3) a clear understanding of inadequacy. Calculate the chances of success based on both the innovative tech/tool capabilities to deliver value and the organization’s capabilities to produce value using the innovation. 

5. Become a leader in your organization 

Being knowledgeable about the innovation landscape, understanding how to introduce innovation to the organization, and being able to tailor experiments, procurements, and adoption of new technologies, materials, tools, or processes will make you highly instrumental in your organization. 

Depending on your organization’s innovation culture, you may need to climb the ropes on your own at first. But, if you remember that innovation is a marathon, not a sprint, you’ll pace yourself and preserve your enthusiasm for the long run. If you dedicate about an hour a week to search the web, talk to colleagues, listen to podcasts, or pitch improvements ideas, you will quickly find a transformative NorthStar – which will guide you to the future of construction and its next level of intelligence. 

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