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The Expo 2 Team continues work on the light rail project that will connect Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica.  Photo by Dave Vornberger of Expo.

The Expo 2 Team continues work on the light rail project that will connect Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica. Photo by Dave Vornberger of Expo.

Almost another year in the books.  Oh man!  Over the course of the last 365 days, we have worked with hundreds of leaders throughout the construction industry, spoken at industry events and visited countless project teams.  As we get ready for 2014, we wanted to take a moment to share with you some of the key lessons that we learned from our project teams over the last year.  That is right, we didn’t come up with any of these, you did.  Your commitment to delivering exceptional value to your stakeholders and clients resulted in some breakthrough ideas that produced measurable results.  We don’t keep these secrets, we share them, with the hope that other teams can learn, build on top of and get just a little closer to delivering extraordinary value to their endusers.

  1. MBWA – (Manage By Walking Around) – This is vertical and horizontal construction.  Back in the old days, there were no computers, 4D modeling, webcams or ipads.  It was a sad world with out angry birds.  Management By Walking Around (MBWA) was a term coined by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman in their 1982 book “In Search of Excellence”. This practice remains as relevant now as it was then. In essence, MBWA means tearing yourself away from the e-mails, spreadsheets, reports, and management team meetings – and getting out into the real world. It sounds simple, but simple does not mean easy.  Similarly, “Genchi Genbutsu” the Japanese term meaning “go and see for yourself” is a concept endorsed by Toyota. Rather than simply hearing or reading about problems and making suggestions for improvement, you need to get out and experience the situation first hand.  Whether it is a potential change in the plans, an unforeseen condition that has come up or simply just “checking things out”, go out and take a look!  Talk to the people out in the field.  Talk to the guys that are getting their hands dirty.  Don’t do this in bigs groups either.  Do it alone.  Doing this solo provides people with a personal forum, where they are more likely to provide candid feedback.  Don’t try to solve everything.  Ask them if they have spoken with someone first.  Be a coach – not an inspector. Wait to speak to their supervisor about any corrective actions you deem necessary.  This is about gathering meaningful data and understanding what is really going on.  Get out there and try it.
  2. The No Email Rule – This one really has legs.  Technology, if you have not heard, can have a few cons.  People mis-interpret messages, lose information or sometimes even hide behind their computers.  We have had a ton of teams try this.  Now we do not condone breaking your computer or throwing it in the lake.  That is not what we are saying here.  If there has to be a decision made, if there is an issue, challenge or discussion, these are not to be done over emails.  They have to be done verbally and then followed up with an email confirmation.  We were working with one of the largest construction projects in the country and one of the leaders said, “If you email me, it better be to set up an appointment or meeting, because that is all I will use it for.”  Try this one out, challenge your team for one week to see if they can make it work.
  3. Create Compelling Goals – We used to say that people just needed to create some measurable, team goals.  BHAGs.  Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goals.  What we have found this year is that the teams ability to create goals that really “mean something” creates a greater sense of urgency, gives the project or goals more meaning, and invariably the probability of achievement goes up.  If you are building a school, you might say, “Students in seats by August 21st, 2015 or the first day of school.”  The genesis of this lesson  was from the Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton.  The team set a goal of serving the first patient by Veterans Day of 2013!  Talk about a compelling goal for a Naval Hospital that was already ahead of schedule.  Attach meaning to the goals and you will have everyone rallying around and pitching in to help.
  4. Engage in Challenging Conversations – “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”, Timothy Ferriss.  This isn’t anything that you haven’t heard before, it is just one of those things that we have to keep hammering home.  We all do it.  We avoid the difficult conversation.  It is human nature.  Combat is optional, though.  When you engage in a combative conversation, you have made a choice to communicate in that manner.  It is a choice.  Listening in these conversations is just as important and maybe even more important that what you say.  I don’t mean just shutting up so the other person can talk and you can think about what to fire back next.  No.  What you want to do is really listen.  Repeat what they have said to confirm.  Reframe what they have said to understand.  This isn’t new, but let’s face it, we are all guilty of not executing this well, all the time.
  5. Create a Culture, Not Just a Team – Mark it up.  Team is officially one of the most overused words in our society today.  Everyone and everything is part of some kind of a team.  We celebrate our teams and we reward everyone these days.  Even if you have a “team” do they really have what it takes to create positive, sustained results?  When you create a true culture on your project team, people don’t need to be reminded about what they goals are or why they are doing what they are doing.  They have a stake in the creation of the goals, they feel supported by leadership and their peers, they have the resources to execute and they are encouraged to challenge the status quo.  You see the difference?
  6. Keep it Simple – Do you understand what LEAN Construction means?  Do we have all of the elements in place for the perfect 4D model?  Vertical and horizontal has been going on for thousands of years.  It has.  I can assure you that if you let go of all of the latest gadgets that are out there, threw away your iphone and ipad, and bought some paper and a pencil, you could probably still get the job done.  But just as we have eluded to throughout all of these lessons, it is not application of technology or a great, “new” delivery method.  Rather it is your ability to engage, empathize and work with your fellow human being and maybe, just maybe, create something great.  Great companies have known this for years.  Strip away that which confuses, confines or creates barriers.  Keep it simple.
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    William Davis

    23 12 2013

    Thanks for the cc Jim & Neal; What is a better acronym than Team please? Synergists ? A little laborious for everyday.
    You guys need to come see us sometime–fabulous project.
    I have tried to get these guys into more partnering sessions, hasn’t happened yet. Probably getting too late, 11 months to go.
    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year. best regards, bd-pi

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