Last week, Rhumbix hosted a panel discussion with Kris Lengieza, David Burns, Hitesh Dewan, and our very own Michael Myers on the challenges and opportunities of creating a data-driven culture. Moderated by Guy Skillet, Head of Construction Analytics at Rhumbix, we had over 50 attendees, many of whom had just wrapped up two and half days attending ENR FutureTech.
Data was a key theme at the ENR event, and the panel provided a great opportunity to discuss more fully some of the ideas presented while still fresh in everyone's mind.
Every panelist had a unique point of view on how their company is creating a data-driven culture. While motivations and processes differed across organizations, some key similarities and themes emerged about:
- how to get started with data collection
- how to encourage the use of technology across the organization
- how to realize value from technology
Define Your Reason
All the panelists agreed that defining a clear reason for data collection is critical to success. Data collection has to be about more than how good or bad a crew is performing if you want your entire company to engage.
Kris Lengieza, Director of Virtual Design and Construction at Stiles Construction shared how financials was their reason for better data collection. They knew they needed to get better at collecting data when they couldn’t use the existing data they had to determine how they were doing from a budgetary perspective.
Michael Myers, our very own Director of Data Science, echoed this reality. He shared how surprised he was to discover that many companies cannot fully determine why they made or lost money on a particular job.
Others shared how risk management and safety measures were key motivators to improve data collection and usage. Hitesh Dewan, Operations Technology Manager at XL Construction shared how safety shifted their culture and became the primary reason to get good data. It unified the company at every level, driving a focus on analytics and instilling trust in every worker to create and collect data.
All the panelists agreed that data collection becomes increasingly important as a company grows and complexity increases. Without a system and process for knowing how you’re tracking to Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s), size becomes a limiting factor. According to Lengieza:
“Not having data can keep you from growing because you feel out of control; like you don’t have a handle on things.”
Using data to deliver value to all stakeholders goes hand-in-hand with defining a reason for data collection.
When the data collected is shared back with the people who are on the hook for entering it, the quality and accuracy of the data goes up. The panelists related this principle to the idea of instant gratification: When there is a reward for entering data, there is a higher motivation to actually do it.
The reward can be as simple as showing workers a dashboard of the analytics generated by their data entry. David Burns, Director of Field Systems at McCarthy shared how their team used a dashboard to present the benefits of a recent data collection initiative. Even without being fully populated, the dashboard gave the workers a clear picture of the how the data could lead to decisions that tangibly impact their workflow, and they got on board.
Embrace the Oh-Sh*t! Moment (or, Taking Your Lumps)
Another theme that emerged was the importance of using failure to motivate change. Every panelist had their story of taking their lumps, whether on a single project or a particular metric that was difficult to track. And yet, when they were able to channel a single failure into a wide-scale solution, the rewards far outweighed the cost of the single mistake.
One of Stiles Construction’s KPI’s was inspired by an oh-sh*t moment where they spent 3X more than they had budgeted for a line item on a particular project. The overage caused them to dig deeper into an existing process for reporting on end-of-month billing. They discovered that the process itself was broken, and they had just gotten lucky to have not yet encountered a problem.
For Stiles, the result of that single project failure resulted in a better corporate process that eliminated the potential risk of their old reporting method. Other panelists affirmed this sentiment, sharing that many of the policies and procedures they have in place today are from making a mistake and learning from it.
The Rewards of a Data-Driven Culture
When the panelists were asked about how their company has improved through data collection and analysis, there was a variety of changes they pointed out.
Stiles Construction uses data as a conversation starter, connecting people that didn’t communicate much before. The field is talking to the office and the office is talking to the field, and it’s all centered around the dashboard they created for financial tracking.
XL Construction’s best practices team was started as a result of data, and their focus on safety has helped them maintain a stellar safety rating for several years.
McCarthy has seen an increase in project quality that they attribute to better data collection and analysis.
Across the board, panelists affirmed data’s ability to collect and share the “tribal knowledge” of their most productive and experienced crew members.
The construction industry has historically been very poor at passing down processes and practices. Each person becomes their own individual Rolodex of knowledge. Data has changed all that by capturing the details of what made the difference on the best, most productive projects, and sharing those lessons broadly.
The Future of Data Collection
Near the end of the discussion, the focus shifted to what the future of construction data looks like.
Many predicted a push to establish industry-wide standards for data collection driven by software, while others we more skeptical at the possibility.
Also discussed was the concept of a digital superintendent as a way to improve the transfer of practical knowledge from the field into new technologies. XL Construction has experienced the benefits of this first-hand, with one of their best BIM users having been a superintendent in the field for many years prior.
Everyone agreed that data collection and analysis is here to stay, and will continue to be a major priority for the industry moving forward. We couldn’t have said it better.
We felt privileged to host such a thought-provoking event, and we’re looking forward to more in the near future. Thanks to the panelists and all who attended the event. You made it a great success.