Digital Builder Ep 58: A Real-world Guide to Delivering Operational Excellence

Behind every successful project is a slew of operations processes and team members that ensure project stakeholders have everything they need to complete the job on time with consistency and high quality. Without robust operations practices in place, projects can be doomed before they even begin. 

With that in mind, we’ve invited Giana Morini, Operations Technology Leader at DPR Construction, to our Autodesk Technology Center in Boston to share how operations thrive at DPR Construction and how their operational success can be replicated at any organization. 

Watch the episode now 

You can also listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, YouTube, and anywhere else you get your podcasts.

On This Episode

We discuss: 

  • Why operations technology is the foundation for innovation and design in construction. 
  • The critical differences between office and project site environments
  • Why listening, understanding business goals, and building relationships with vendors are key in building a world-class technology stack. 
  • How to successfully capture and utilize data. 
  • How self-performed work can alleviate some labor shortage issues. 

How operations technology teams pave the way for operational excellence

Successfully leveraging construction tech starts with having a clear purpose for it. In Giana's case, she focuses on implementing solutions that help DPR achieve operational excellence.

"Operational excellence is about consistency and predictability in what you're delivering," she explains. 

Giana emphasizes the need to establish best practices, mainly when rolling out technology. Doing so increases the success of your initiatives. 

"Those best practices are the proven ways to do something. Without that expectation, we can't just roll out technology. We've seen tech initiatives fail because these best practices haven't been clear. And when that happens, what's the first thing to get blamed? The technology."

Having best practices and solid processes also fosters a better team environment. 

"I think it helps people stay. It makes a happier workplace and improves retention," adds Giana.  

Questions to ask when considering solutions or tech vendors

On the topic of selecting new solutions and tech vendors, Giana shares that some of the key things they look at are security and compliance.

"Before we even want to start talking to this vendor, we ask: do they meet our basic security minimum?"

This helps DPR minimize risk, particularly when it comes to data security. In her experience, most providers are open to feedback and willing to meet DPR's security standards. 

She says, "We're finding that some vendors might not meet our standards at that day and time, but they're open to feedback and understand what they have to do. And they come back in a couple of months or years once they work through that themselves."

Beyond the conversations around security, Giana and her team spend time drilling down on the issues they're trying to address with technology. 

"What is the core problem? I think that's become a big conversation lately; it's about understanding the problem you need to solve."

She recommends focusing on the gap you're looking to address instead of going right into the tech solutions. 

"There are a lot of shiny new things. I cringe sometimes because it creates a lot more work on our side to bring people back. We must first figure out the requirements and then find the tech to provide the solution."

Giana adds that having these conversations, getting feedback, and closing the loop are vital to tech adoption and implementation. 

That's why her team is "really deliberate about getting feedback from all the user groups." They interface with stakeholders, do pilots, and get proof of concept.

From there, Giana says they make it a point to circle back with stakeholders and ensure they feel heard. 

Navigating challenges with data

A conversation about technology wouldn't be complete without bringing up the topic of data. Just about every app or digital tool collects and stores information; and while having that data is important, there are challenges with managing data across multiple solutions.

Giana remarks that this is something that teams struggle with because the construction sector doesn't have a set of data standards. 

"As an industry, we still have difficulty connecting data across the different tools. We don't have a data standard. So, every time you're connecting a new tool or an owner wants to see something different, our project team calls it by a different name, but it's the same piece of information."

She continues, "We're reconfiguring those integrations and remapping the data; it's a challenge, but it's also why we have the team that we have."

Addressing the industry-wide data issue "starts with the government setting some type of standards," says Giana. This could mean a government entity setting specific measures and having the commercial and residential sides follow. 

But until then, companies must focus on proper project planning. Organizations must be clear on what they want to achieve—and the data they should gather to meet their objectives. 

"That gives you an understanding of the pieces of information you need to collect along the way," she explains. 

Beyond that, getting rid of silos also helps teams better connect the dots regarding construction data. 

Giana points out, "For a long time, construction has been very siloed. It's a pursuit; it's preconstruction, it's the schedule, it's estimating, it's operations. We need to get better at understanding the cycle of information through that flow."

Meeting the needs of office and field teams

Field and office folks have different tech requirements, so Giana and her team make it a point to understand and address these distinct needs.

As someone who primarily works on the office side, Giana says it's critical to personally go out to the field and have conversations about processes and technology. 

"Until you get out into the field, you don't understand what they're thinking and doing because they don't have anybody to tell it to. And so, we're out there. We're talking, and sometimes it's just a conversation. 'Tell me what your gaps are. What do you hate the most? And what do you love the most? And it doesn't have to be technology. It can be anything.'"

"Those have been really beneficial," Giana adds. 

"We are very intentional about going out, talking to our site, and understanding the differences between being at home and working, or being in an office, and being boots on the ground."

How to build a world-class construction tech stack

Ready to build your tech stack? Giana's number one piece of advice is to listen. 

"Our team spends a lot of time just listening and seeing if they can pull out threads. Understanding the business strategies and goals so we can start to understand the problems and map those to how they align with our business' long-term vision.

From there, make sure you have a proper training and onboarding plan. See to it that people have a great experience with the technology when they start using it. 

As Giana notes, "You only have one time for a first impression with a technology."

That's why training, change management, and implementation are all make-or-break factors. When people have a poor experience, the tendency is to blame the tool or platform. 

However, it could also be that teams weren't trained well enough or that the platform wasn't configured to their needs. 

Lastly, Giana stresses the importance of moving quickly.

"We have to do our due diligence, but we can't also do it very slowly because by the time we're ready to move forward with anything, the next bigger and better thing will come out."

New podcast episode every week 

Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week. If you're looking for more insights into how you can build a tech stack for your organization, this episode with Giana is something you don't want to miss!

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Eric Thomas

Eric is a Sr. Multimedia Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk and hosts the Digital Builder podcast. He has worked in the construction industry for over a decade at top ENR General Contractors and AEC technology companies. Eric has worked for Autodesk for nearly 5 years and joined the company via the PlanGrid acquisition. He has held numerous marketing roles at Autodesk including managing global industry research projects and other content marketing programs. Today Eric focuses on multimedia programs with an emphasis on video.