"Ever Forward" Extreme Makeover – DPR Construction Rebuilds their Continuous Improvement Process from the Foundation Up
“We believe in continual self-initiated change, improvement, learning and the advancement of standards for their own sake.” Ever Forward is one of DPR Construction’s four core values and a fundamental belief shared by a company of builders on a mission to lead innovation in the commercial construction industry.
With a dedicated team of in-house "Change Agents," DPR is using a mix of social media, face-to-face interactions and $1.2 million in idea-funding to empower employees to continually improve and, literally, change the world with their ideas.
What Does It Mean to be "Ever Forward"
To understand why DPR is "Ever Forward", it is important to first understand the construction industry in a broader context. Traditionally, general contractors are often viewed as being difficult to work with, rigid, conservative and risk-averse. The industry overall has a reputation for delays, legal disputes and inefficiency. In short, we get a bad rap for not being very progressive or trustworthy.
In 1990, the founders of DPR felt it was important to do something different and to push the boundaries of our industry: they believed in being surprising, personal, family-like BUT not, unlike their previous professional experience, family-owned. Doug, Peter and Ron witnessed first-hand the slow decline of their previous company when it chose to promote family over experienced leadership, and did not embrace change. In response, they wanted to do something bold and unique, they started DPR with the hopes of creating a company founded on valuing its people and unafraid of being different.
The Competitive Landscape
The commercial construction industry is filled with general contractors that have been in existence for generations (most of DPR’s national competitors have been around for more than 100 years). It is also an industry that has resisted change over the last century. While manufacturing has advanced by leaps and bounds because of its ability to iterate and automate, traditional construction methods have stayed relatively the same. Additionally, margins for general contractors have remained low (~2%) despite the fact that buildings continue to be unique in design and have grown increasingly more technically complex with sophisticated systems.
With the economic recession striking a strong blow to the commercial building market starting in 2009, it continues to be a buyer's market with contractors across the board submitting project bids at slimmer and slimmer margins. The construction industry is going through its worst economic downturn in 20 years and most companies are looking for ways to cut costs while maintaining profits.
Even in the current conditions of the economy and construction industry, DPR continues to stay true to its purpose, “we exist to build great things,” and four core values:
- INTEGRITY - We conduct business with the highest standards of honesty and fairness; we can be trusted.
- ENJOYMENT - We believe work should be fun and intrinsically satisfying; if we are not enjoying ourselves, we are doing something wrong.
- UNIQUENESS - We must be different from and more progressive than all other construction companies; we stand for something.
- EVER FORWARD - We believe in continual self-initiated change, improvement, learning and the advancement of standards for their own sake.
Rather than focusing only on slimming margins and cutting costs, DPR concentrates on increasing our ability to master our own fate despite the impact of external factors that we cannot control. With learning, continuous improvement, and the desire to be different and progressive woven into the fabric of our culture from the start, DPR constantly looks for opportunities to improve business processes to enhance productivity and provide better value to customers.
Who Are We?
To truly understand the culture of DPR, it is important to know its history and the people behind the name.
In July of 1990, armed with $750,000 of pooled resources, three construction industry veterans, Doug Woods, Peter Nosler and Ron Davidowski (the D, the P and the R), co-founded DPR and set out to do something different in an industry traditionally resistant to change.
By the end of the first year, DPR had a total of 13 employees (including the three co-founders), 10 of which are still with the company today. Growing at breakneck pace, the employee-owned company has now completed more than 7,600 projects with over 2,700 employees.
“The culture and the people make DPR what it is today…Even though the company is over 20 years old, it is still a ‘young’ company by many standards, and compared to other companies in the industry and across the country.”
Quote from 2011 Employee Satisfaction Survey
Today, DPR is a unique, technical builder with a passion for quantifiable results. A common DPR saying is, “If you’re not keeping score, it’s just practice.” Ranked in the top 50 general contractors in the country since 1997 (just seven years after founding), DPR is a forward-thinking general building contractor and construction manager specializing in advanced technology, healthcare, life sciences, corporate office and higher education markets. With 17 regional offices nationwide, we are focused on building long-term relationships with target customers, serving project needs across the country and internationally.
A $2.4 billion company, employing more than 1,300 professional staff, DPR also employs 1,400 craft workers, who self-perform trade work such as concrete, drywall, and doors/frames/hardware. A rarity within the general contracting community, self-performing trades means that we are builders with technical expertise – not just managers who oversee subcontractors who perform the work.
DPR has also ranked on FORTUNE’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list, four years in a row (2010: #57, 2011: #22, 2012: #13, 2013: #15), In addition, in 2012, Huff Post College-—The Internet Newspaper included DPR in its list of “The 10 Companies College Students Should Want to Work For,” alongside the likes of Google and Zappos.
Building a Truly Great Construction Company
A significant point in the history of DPR was a meeting in the spring of 1992 with Jim Collins, who was a Stanford professor at the time and best-selling author of “Built to Last,” “Good to Great” and “Great by Choice.” Collins helped to identify and articulate the purpose and core values that continue to drive the company today.
“We defined our purpose and established our first company mission during that meeting,” said Peter. Doug added that, “To say we wanted to become a truly great construction company by the year 2000 was like a three-year-old saying that I want to graduate from college by the time I’m 10. We do set high goals, but with the people we have in place, we know we can reach every one of them.”
From Doug comes the “audacious vision.” According to Peter and Ron, Doug is the one with the “believe it and it will happen” attitude, and Doug demands more from himself than anyone. Most recently, Doug was highlighed in Engineering News-Record (ENR) for DPR's committment to innovation (ENR Article).
Jim Washburn, employee Number 9 and current Innovation Team leader, recalls how their passion for being the best continues to inspire over 2700 full-time DPR employees today:
“In 1992, when we met with Jim Collins, the group (at the time the company had about 30 employees) decided that we wanted to be ever changing, ever improving and never satisfied with where we’re at. We always had to be ahead. That was the make-up of the company then…they [Doug, Peter, Ron and the team] were just winners.
Everyone had their own internal “Ever Forward” engine and a vision of where they wanted to go. If they were playing a game, they figured out how to get their teams to win. It was the same thing at DPR, they figured out how to improve their professional game so that [when it came to] an “unknown” business or technical challenge, they just figured out how to win.
In business, winning is how to “out-do” the competition and better service the customer. There’s really no trade secrets…it's about always trying to better align your self with what the customer needs. And that's how we exuded DPR's core value of Ever Forward in the beginning. We wanted to provide a level of service that was better than the competition, with more heart and more drive.
From day one: if you had a better idea or a way to change the company - go do it. If you wanted to gain broader support - talk to a few people around you and then go do it.”
By the year 2000, DPR had hit $1.9 billion in revenue and grown from a company of 13 to nearly 700 full-time staff and employed another 700 craft people in the field. What was once a single open office in the San Francisco Bay Area grew to 15 offices nationwide. Business was booming, as DPR was working furiously to keep up with demands during the dot-com era.
However, to continuously improve, we knew we had to do something different. Ideas that were once easily shared across the aisle were challenged by the company's rapid growth: There was an influx of projects, people were busy, and we struggled with consistency as we quickly expanded across the country. New ideas weren’t being shared as rapidly or supported as widely as the early days.
As a result, DPR launched our first formal Innovation initiative in 2000. The company identified “Ever Forward Champions” in each regional office to help lead an effort to implement a sustainable, consistent process. The goal was to improve accountability and measure Critical Success Factor (CSF) performance at jobsites. The system represented a breakthrough in project accountability for the construction industry.
This movement also helped propel one of DPR’s first crowdsourcing experiments: the Opportunity-For-Improvement (OFI) cards. DPR polled construction jobsites and sought out ideas for change on everything from how we kept records to modifications on everyday tools. Hand-written suggestions were shared, implemented and then celebrated across the company. The movement was a huge success at the time and helped to once again put employee contributions at the forefront of innovation at DPR.
Planning the Extreme Makeover
Since 1990, DPR had gone from the “Storming” phase, to the “Formative” phase and, in the early 2000's, was approaching the “Normative” phase. We had effectively enacted the CSF's and began to lean heavily on them as rules for how to successfully run construction projects.
The CSF's helped separated us from our competitors and gave us historical metrics to measure if were being financially responsible, safe and productive on our projects. They were also an embodiment of DPR's Culture of Discipline: we believe that in order to be truly great, we must understand what we do best and stick vigorously to that single-minded pursuit. When everyone engages others in disciplined thought before deciding on the best possible solutions, decisions get supported when put into action.
However, sometimes being overly disciplined leads to an unintended effect: Peter Nosler looked at DPR’s current position and recognized that size and stability can be one of the most powerful innovation killers of them all. Norming and being comfortable in our market position was bringing us closer and closer to becoming a “procedures manual” company where no one questions the status quo or ever asks, “Can we do this smarter, better, faster?” In response to this realization, the DPR management committee called a meeting-of-the-minds in 2008 to focus on a new path forward: a plan to makeover DPR’s Ever Forward approach.
A small group of 20 plus young professionals were selected to research the most innovative companies across the world and tasked with the goals of:
- Developing idea-promoting infrastructure
- Developing criteria and process for choosing ideas
- Developing an idea roll-out process
- Generating organizational enthusiasm for innovation
- Engaging all levels of organization without over-shaping
The group teamed up with innovation consultant Colin Burns of Martach Associates, formally of IDEO, to formulate DPR’s new Innovation strategy. In addition to creating scenarios and solutions to the goals above, the group determined that Innovation at DPR would not survive unless it was championed by a full-time leader. This person needed to be someone who understood the culture of the company and who also had the support of a full time staff. Because of its size, DPR's original grassroots approach for having employees be innovative by themselves was quickly dying and focused full-time support was the key to reinventing the 'Ever Forward' culture inherent to DPR and heping innovation scale rapidly across the company.
Ever Forward: Extreme Make-Over
In 2009, while searching for the right Innovation leader, DPR started an Innovation beta-project to test the theory of a full-time Innovation support team. Greg Habel, a Project Engineer turned Superintendent, dedicated 6 months to revitalize innovation in DPR’s San Diego region. Greg shifted his focus from his current role at the jobsite to categorizing, evaluating, and policing new ideas that spawned from the region.
During this beta-test, DPR also launched an “Ideation Platform”, or hub of ideas, through the web-based Innovation crowdsourcing service called Spigit. Spigit was where employees could submit and share new “Opportunities for Improvement” online through a web-based portal.
CAPTION: Nick Fondano, one of the original 20 young professionals tasked with innovating DPR's innovation approach, talks about how Spigit drives grassroots efforts within the company, and even though construction may not be rapidly changing, the tools and approaches to surrounding construction are.
By the end of the 6 month beta-project, DPR knew that the success of making over DPR’s Ever Forward approach was going to depend on regional support, passionate individuals and people fully committed to innovation at DPR.
Habel recounts, "Initially, when reviewing the results internally, we felt we underperformed relative to our expectations. In the call with Collin [Burns], we found the San Diego prototype proved to be about an average showing for a company trying out a formal innovation process for the first time. Possibly, slightly better than average. In our discussion we found that our competitive, end game, win/lose mentality, (which serves us well on projects), is not a beneficial perspective when reviewing the results of a prototype. Instead, we should have been viewing all the problems encountered as successes in the prototyping process. To that end, we had a very successful prototype..."
"Empowered with Collin’s, 3rd party expert opinion, we went into the Management Committee meeting expecting to have to defend and convince the MC group that this prototype was a value in the lessons learned, even though we did not receive that “home run”, disruptive idea. To my surprise, the MC group was in agreement, that the prototype was a valuable test and they took a sincere interest in all that we learned. They were also interested in our capabilities in moving the ideas which passed through filters closer to a reality. A fact, we in the core group struggled with not fully understanding what our expectations or authority was in advancing ideas. I can honestly say, I left that meeting instilled with a sense of clarified purpose, supported by our companies leaders. This purpose is not what we initially had designed our prototype for; so we had work ahead of us to tailor a process to leverage this empowerment, as well as to negotiate the obstacles encountered in the prototype."
Unlike in 2000,what we had learned was that the Ever Forward caretakers had to be full-time with full empowerment to unblock idea roadblocks for those that engaged in the innovation infrastructure. Questions left open to the Management Committee at the close of the beta-project were:
- How much money is available to prototype ideas/year/region/type
- What is the authorization process for funding and who is involved and at what interval?
Innovation Staff for the future
- Are they willing to take talent off projects to manage innovation?
Starting with the group leader, Jim Washburn was an easy choice. Serving as the regional manager of the Southern California region for over a decade, he was employee number 9 at the start of DPR and had a deep understanding of the company's culture and what being Ever Forward was all about. When choosing Jim, the Management Committee understood that the right "who" would have to be a well known person at DPR and someone that carried a lot of currency with both leadership and front line employees. When Jim met with Doug Woods and others in the Management Committee in the Fall of 2010, the goal of the meeting was to download everything that had happened with the original young professionals' efforts and the beta-project in San Diego. This was the hand off to Jim, Doug and Peter Salvati, the leadership of the company and the top down influence that would help push this renewed Innovation effort forward. Doug Woods was to be the voice of the Innovation roll out across the country as it was reintroduced with a new mix to the company.
In determining how the rest of the team would be staffed, Jim offered the idea that we should have each region volunteer a full time person to Innovation if they were doing over $100 million in volume. The regions would pay for the person but they would be directed by Jim. After that meeting, this original concept was revisited – we recognized that there was a flaw in this logic, as each “profit and loss manager”, or regional manager, would resist this and Jim would never have real control over the volunteered individual when crises come up. They would be pulled back into the region for the benefit of the region only. Doug made the decision and agreed that we should just bite the bullet and create a corporate cost for the full time people so we could push real change rather than willfully conflicting with the priorities of the regional managers.
Jim began assembling the team looking for candidates to support the East coast, Northern California, and Southern California, the majors areas of work for DPR. To weed out individual with the right fit, Jim compiled a checklist of Innovation Champion character traits to the regional managers. The checklist included traits such as:
- Embodies the core vale of ever forward. Demonstrates a desire to seek change and to explore new ways of doing most everything.
- Self Starter- ability to pushing forward and make headway on issues with sometimes little direction.
- Unquenchable desire to explore limits and boundaries and then is comfortable to go beyond.
- Is viewed as a creative and inspired thinker willing and wanting to challenge the status quo
- Aware of others who have similar skills and traits
- Has potential to be a future leader within DPR
- Strong compelling vision of what could be
- Comfort with Ambiguity
- Ability to take risks, fail and recover
- Knows where to go and who to go to
- Ability to Challenge existing formation, control and closely held assumptions
- Demonstrated initiative, fortitude, courage and drive to drive abstract or loose direction through to completion
- Excellent communication skills
The first iteration of the Innovation Team included Alicia Loh (Project Manager, Southern California Region), Joel Bass (Field Superintendent, East Coast Regions), and John Vardaman (Project Manager, California Bay Area Region) with the premise that this would be a rotating position lasting around 18 months to 2 years, then sending these Innovation disciples back to their typical roles and bringing new blood continually into the program. Moawia Abdelkarim (Information Technology Manager, Phoenix Region), who was originally involved pushing change at DPR pre-Innovation Team, serves as a part time member, not unlike the Godfather character Tom Hagen, consigliere to the Corleone family, advising the group based on vast knowledge of the inner workings and skunk works projects already occurring deep within DPR.
This new approach reflected a deliberate and focused way to implement innovation. In fact, this “formal” plan to innovate mirrored a different, more mature DPR: a company that valued a more systematic way for achieving great results. Just as we are committed to being consistent, safe, on-time and completing all projects with a high level of quality for our customers, we are also dedicated to improving our own business practices and the industry as a whole.
First order of business: Kick-start the Ever Forward engine. Led by Jim Washburn, the Innovation Team took to the DPR-streets (or the field). Joined by members of the Management Committee, Doug Woods and Peter Salvati, the team organized all-hands workshops in every region to have an "Innovation Workshop" to focus on DPR's core culture of Ever Forward. Using Doug and Peter as the initial leaders of the Innovation roll out was a crucial piece of the equation, showing that top down support was truly present. They laid out a vision and support structure for the innovation process, holding firm to the belief that to stay competitive and to lead the industry, DPR must rapidly innovate.Helping to drive home the message of cultivating the culture of Innovation throughout the company first, the team used videos and brainstorming games to create memorable experiences in the Innovation Workshop tours.
Included in our message was two unique perspectives on ideation: one from Steven Johnson, "Where Good Ideas Come From", and another from Hyundai's Superbowl Commercial in 2011.
Second order of business: Bridge geographical divides and “silos” by creating a global marketplace of ideas. DPR needed an “Idea Receptacle” and implemented Spigit, an online meeting place where ideas are shared, debated, grown and shared again. This system has been integral to the process, because as DPR grew and expanded, physical geography created “silos” of thought. To bridge communication divides, ideas had to be public to avoid languishing. Spigit serves as the backbone of ideation and the engine for sharing and voting for the best ideas and business improvements.
Third order of business: Fast-track ideation and change with funding. DPR has dedicated full-time resources and also set aside $1.2 million in available funds to invest in new tools, technology, projects and processes. It is up to the Innovation Team to evaluate the ideas, manage the budget and use the resources at hand to thrust the company forward. Taking individuals from the operations side of the business was a sign that DPR is serious about making big strides.
Through the use of Spigit, DPR implemented ideas ranging from simple efficiency tools or office additions to advanced construction technologies. For example:
- Office Life: Provide balance balls as alternative core-strengthening chair replacements
- Marketing: start an internal library of construction images for presentations to avoid using copyrighted material
- Technology: Use Digital Production Control (LINK) to accurately track productivity in the field
- Technology: iPads for field use and digital blueprinting
- Efficiency: coding your time on your mobile phone instead of through the company intra-net
- Efficiency: at SnagIt (http://www.techsmith.com/snagit.html) to the standard computer build
In 2012, the first major game-changer from DPR went public: Project Lion. In a joint-venture with Trimble (http://www.trimble.com/), a national GPS and wireless communications company, DPR announced the development of an autonomous robot designed to provide dimensional layout for construction. The technology promises to revolutionize the way the construction industry does business. Project Lion was recently featured at the Trimble Dimensions conference in Las Vegas in November, 2012 (see video below).
This idea was started just a few years ago by two twenty-something project engineers in the Bay Area, Dan Casale and Jeremy Bartle. At first, the project was met with great verbal support but had difficulty getting off the ground due to high up-front investment costs. With help from DPR's Innovation Team, Dan and Jeremy were able to knock down financial barriers and push forward on implementing a potential game-changer in the construction industry. Here's Dan looking back on how he got Project Lion off the ground in the early days of his idea.
In an industry traditionally hesitant to change, DPR did exactly the opposite. We jumped feet first into the new initiative, and in less than two years, cultural adoption of the new “formal” Ever Forward process has grown rapidly, ideation and experimentation have been embraced with the help of Spigit, and the thirst for more knowledge and metrics are the new triggers for 2013.
Challenge: We had no idea what we were doing at first.
Solution: When the full-time Innovation Team assembled, this role had never existed in the company before and the task at hand seemed pretty daunting. How do 4 people get a company of 2,700 to innovate every day, and maybe even bring forth an industry changing idea every now and again?
The first step was coming to grips that this was a long-term project. We knew that year one would be planting a lot of seeds. And by year five perhaps we would have a blooming garden (with a lot of tending and weeding in-between).
The second step was breaking it down into bite-size pieces and holding ourselves accountable to milestones as we went. We traveled on mini tour-legs over a 6-month period until we reached 80% of our company’s professional staff with our Culture of Innovation message. We rolled out Spigit a few regions at a time to ensure enough resources to help with adoption and training.
The last, and the most crucial step, was understanding how our people learn new concepts and seek answers. Recently I asked a group of people, “Where do you go when you need to learn about a topic you know nothing about?” As we went around the room, the two answers we received were “Google” or “I ask someone I know and trust.” The last response was, “I ask someone I trust, or Google it if I’m too embarrassed to ask the question!” Understanding how our people accept new information was key in creating an infrastructure our employees were comfortable engaging in. Let’s admit it… not everyone at our company loves to Tweet for instance!
Challenge: “Information is not Knowledge” – Albert Einstein
Solution: For DPR, actually elevating our corporate IQ was the real end goal, not just increasing overall awareness of ideas. We found early on that it didn’t matter how many Gigabytes of good information we stored on our cloud servers. The honest truth is information alone will not allow an organization to improve, even if all the stored ‘data’ contains great idea after great idea. We’ve found the real challenge is translating our findings into knowledge able to be shared and applied by others.
At DPR, we find the ideas that are successfully adopted each have their own legacy, evolving through a dynamic path of personal networks and communication that ultimately leads to knowledge transfer. To find these ideas, we apply a filter to examine which ones are most appropriate for the company. And as an idea emerges, we carefully look at the PEOPLE, PROCESS and TOOLS required to successfully implement that idea, and to whom would truly benefit.
The idea must resonate with those that will be involved; the tools must be useful, training must be offered, discussions about trying something new need to excite those involved, or the knowledge will never develop beyond just an idea. This understanding has led to our innovation pipeline collecting many ideas but being filtered to only a few great ideas in order to strategically improve the way we do business.
Challenge: Silos are NOT just in the Midwest
Solution: Ideas are happening all the time, but people are busy and ideas suffer without the ability to be shared easily. Often the limits are just those within earshot, or perhaps whoever is cc’d on the most recent email chain. Internally we refer to this as information silos, where information has trouble permeating through the company and gets contained locally. Even with all the technology tools, software, and platforms designed to unite the masses online, recognizing how ideas become part of the company fabric is an exploration in how information travels among colleagues. More specifically for DPR, we’re interested in how information travels across the country to the variety of offices and jobsites currently active at any time.
To approach this challenge, DPR employs dedicated Innovation champs whose job it is to engage employees personally, in a time and fashion that is tailored for them. For example, a group of experienced executives may steer a conversation in a different direction from a group of twenty construction workers out on a jobsite. For DPR, both groups can have valuable insight to the business and the role of innovation is to help foster the dialogue and environment to let the information exchange happen. We found this personal connection is key to engaging with a diverse workforce, and ideally allows for future conversations to take place that are unscheduled, unstructured, and more organic.
Similarly, we also recognize the value and speed of social media. As an additional tool, DPR provides an online collaboration engine to facilitate conversations among peers, who have oftentimes never met in person but share a common interest in a particular idea or topic. The approach of using both personalize outreach, coupled with technology backed collaboration, work as complementary efforts to help focus both ideas and people toward connections beyond their immediate social circles, and allow ideas to break free from their silos.
Challenge: Energy, Engagement & Trust
Collecting and promoting ideas is great, BUT how does simply starting a full-time Innovation team lead to generating companywide energy, engagement and trust?
How did we harvest ENERGY:
Innovation energy and engagement varied per person depending on their initial mindset and their level of belief in the DPR Culture. Some people were super excited by the new movement within DPR; they echoed that the Innovation movement was what attracted them to DPR in the first place, a company that was determined to push the industry forward. This group was quick to jump in and help. Then there was the crowd that viewed the innovation with a “wait and see” attitude, they were going to hang back and watch from the sidelines. And, of course, there were the cultural veterans who were glad to see the energy boost created by the “Full Time” Innovation Team. Overall, the Innovation workshops helped to spread the word about the new focus and helped people gain “awareness” about the program. After that we needed make things happen to help the “wait and see” people become convinced to join in.
To harvest the energy from the workshops, the Innovation team began to act as internal venture capitalists (investors) and idea promoters. Spigit helped us share, refine and vote on ideas, however there were other great ones that came from conversations, emails and all kinds of forms of communication.
In order to effectively manage this flow, the team now focuses on filtering ideas through our Pipeline where “hot” or “potentially hot” ideas are captured, discussed and implemented. Just as venture capitalists must decide which companies to pursue, the innovation team must decide which ideas to invest time, money and energy in. There are many factors that decide how “hot” an idea is, our main filters are below:
- Frequency? How much are we hearing about this idea (Inside and Outside DPR)?
- Ease of Implementation? Is this an easy change to make, or is it extremely disruptive? Both are good.
- Does it add value to DPR? Is it going to make us smarter, better and faster?
- Does it add value to our clients?
- What is the cost? Does it require additional funding from innovation or projects?
- Does it align with our Culture (DPR’s Point of View)?
- Does it make sense (gut check)?
Many ideas live on through us promoting them in conversations, company meetings or even Spigit. The ones that bubble up through the pipeline get our most focused attention. Although there may just be a few great ideas, we know that implementing even just a small number will make DPR measurably better.
How we foster ENGAGEMENT:
"What’s in it for me?" Most internal DPR customers needed to see some effect(s) from the Innovation effort to become real for them before buying-in. Without giving them first-hand experience, we had trouble getting people to engage and build up trust that Innovation was worth their time. There were a variety of methods we used to convey the benefits of participating in Innovation to our internal customers: newsletters, emails, quarterly regional meetings, peer group discussions or project level workshops. Sometimes, it was unpredictable what exactly would make an impact.
For example, Gary Scholten (San Diego Innovation Team member) created a rolling video slideshow about all the craft ideas he's seen in his travels. This is being shown in the San Diego office kitchen’s wall monitor without volume. People can watch as they make their lunch, have a snack, sit down to eat or whatever attracts them to the kitchen / lounge area. Scott Strom said he watched this for +/- 20 minutes (as he was eating lunch) and he was really surprised on the impact that the Innovation process was making on “self-perform work” (you can hear his own words via the video).
I was surprised: really that is how we reached you? Here was one more internal customer taken from “unaware” to “convinced” that really good things are happening in our efforts in Innovation.
Another example of us trying to reach our employees, is having an “innovation” kick-off meeting at the beginning of a project. These discussions were about getting the project teams to think differently at the very beginning and challenge them to find a better way to approach their project. It was about taking the time to ask, “What are we going to do on this project that will be Best-in-Class?", "How can this project benefit from all the good things happening within DPR and use it to add value for the external customer?"
In order for the DPR Innovation process to generate energy, engagement and build trust we needed to increase the number of people being directly influenced in a positive way by Innovation each quarter and each year until we have reached everyone, including the craft (over 2,700 employees across 17 offices at DPR). One of the first ways we did this was through craft luncheons that were focused on encouraging ideas from the field staff as well as starting innovation "pods".
Caption: Craft Lunch @ Project Site in Sunnyvale, CA
As a part of our responsibilities on the innovation team, we're constantly working to identify and empower other innovators. We call these groups of people regional "Innovation Pods". With the help of the Innovation Team, the pods are focused on growing and pushing their own ideas and needs for the region. The pods typically range from 5 – 30+ individuals who are passionate about pushing "Ever Forward", faster in their regions. These pods are ways for employees to actively participate in innovation without having to take time away from their full-time jobs. The pods host their own monthly meetings, webinars, and even happy hours with rotating topics centered on regional needs. These include: transitioning to 100% digital-document controls, 3D modeling or best management practices like how to be a better leader or mentor.
Currently there are 11 operating Innovation Pods throughout the company and each one has a specific business plan that outlines their regional “Ever Forward” goals for 2013. The innovation team frequently interfaces with these groups to share information and ideas from across the company. We believe in being “servant-leaders” and work to advocate and empower the pods to make their own decisions as well as push forward on their ideas. Our greatest asset is our people and the Innovation team focuses on recognizing our Ever Forward leaders and promoting their ideas so that they can be heard widely.
How we maintain TRUST:
Groundswells and Rainmakers: A groundswell is when an idea becomes “hot” in the innovation pipeline and requires a focused effort to push it from ideation to implementation. Once the Innovation team decides that that idea is ready to be implemented, how is that shared throughout the company as a best practice?
With a focus on implementation, the Innovation Team realized that the grassroots efforts of the innovation pods would not be as effective without the joint effort of senior management, the “rainmakers”. Rainmakers are leaders with broader spheres of influence and those who are able to generate widespread energy and implementation of new ideas. They are trusted advisors and critical pieces to helping implement change within the company.
The Innovation team works to filter pod-generated ideas in an effort to present the most innovative and influential ones to regional managers. By doing so, we are connecting pod members with rainmakers and ensuring that ideas and innovation initiatives are tied to regional business plans. This is how we create trust: engage the pods, put energy behind their great ideas, promote the ideas to senior leaders and move quickly to implementation.
Challenge: Implement Quickly – remove bottlenecks.
As mentioned above, in order to effectively implement change at DPR, the Innovation Team pushes ideas through our internal filters. We then draw upon our own separate budget to fund, execute and try new or game changing ideas.
In some corporations, in order to go from ideation to execution you must pass through several levels of approval and processing first. In contrast, the DPR innovation team is unhampered by these constraints as we have purposefully set aside funds simply to try new or disruptive things and do-away with the red tape all-together. In 2012, our idea budget amounted to $1.2M and were able to invest over $350K in new ideas, technologies and tools. We're shooting to increase that number in 2013 and beyond (see below for recap from "DPR Innovation Newsletter - Year in Review", 2012).
It is critical to note, however, that this is not the only way ideas are pushed forward. In fact, it is just one way. By creating a new reliable and trustworthy structure for ideas to be heard within DPR, one that was adapted specifically to combat the problem of size, we saw that ideas began to take life on their own. In small instances, an idea jumped past the innovation team, the pod and Spigit completely and was implemented directly on projects without any help. A true sign of success for the Innovation Team is seeing more ideas follow this same path (see detailed story below, Benefits & Metric: Case Study #4 – DPR delivery system).
Case Study #1: Measuring Cultural Engagement in Innovation - DPR’s Annual Employee Satisfaction Survey
Starting in 2011, the Innovation Team’s primary challenge was changing the way people thought about innovation. In 2012, we started measuring our cultural impact directly. DPR Construction conducts an annual Employee Satisfaction Survey (ESS) which has always contained questions regarding innovation. For 2012, the Innovation Team proposed 2 more questions and we are tracking Innovation Performance as a separate category for the first time.
• I am familiar with the continuous improvement process at DPR.
• I am responsible for affecting change for improvement at DPR.
• DPR is dedicated to change for improvement.
• When I make a suggestion, I am confident that it will be considered.
EMPOWERMENT AND DECISION MAKING
• I am empowered to make changes in work processes without prior approval.
• Do you feel that DPR supports innovation and ideas for improvement?
NEW INNOVATION QUESTIONS FOR 2012
• Over the last year, the Innovation Effort has had a positive effect on the company as a whole.
• Over the last year, the Innovation Effort has had a positive effect on my primary role.
On a scale of 1-100, DPR Employees scored a 76 overall.
What this means: Typical scores range in the 80’s and 90’s, which means we have plenty of room for improvement! These scores serve as our established baseline to measure how deeply our Culture of Innovation has been engrained.
Garnering widespread acceptance means getting employees to believe that they can trust in the benefits of change. It also means that for the Innovation Team, being able to separate costs and other obstacles from trying something new. Oftentimes, the cost of adopting new ideas and technology in construction turns teams off. You typically hear, “Unless it’s proven, then clients won’t buy it”. DPR's Innovation Team works to help 'release the brake' and take chances when people can't or won't.
Case Study #2: iPad Technology
Benefit: Increased reliability and efficiency. Construction drawings (formerly known as blueprints) are the primary form of communicating information to the builders in the field. On our highly technical healthcare projects, changes occur constantly and require continual updating by DPR engineers. The challenge of keeping this information updated is time consuming and the inability to keep drawings updated is a major source of rework.
What this means: In search of a better way, some DPR engineers had the idea to use iPads to view drawings digitally rather than printing new drawings with every revision. With the support of seed funding, DPR Innovation invested resources into testing this new way of viewing drawings in the field. Starting in 2011, several pilot projects developed a workflow to utilize ‘cloud’ technology along with the iPad to keep the drawing information updated in the field with the touch of a finger.
This was a revolutionary idea. Project managers quickly realized the value that this new idea had provided to their project. Between the cost savings ($500 for an iPad versus over $2,000 for a full set of paper drawings) and the increased efficiency by the DPR engineers, there was no reason not to go digital. While Innovation seed money funded the testing of this idea, it has now evolved into a self-sustaining option that is now being adopted on projects without the need for corporate funding.
By the beginning of 2012, mobile technologies like the iPad, once considered a ‘toy’ by many ‘old-school’ installers and construction traditionalists, became a standard and necessity for many projects by year end.
Smarter: The information was up to date and easily accessible.
Faster: Updates to drawings loaded in seconds, versus waiting days for new prints to arrive.
Better: Smarter + Faster + Cheaper = Better
The field technology story is a microcosm of several benefits of innovation: cultural engagement, return on investment and time and money savings.
The process of building is an intensely personal and unique experience. Great builders take a lot of pride in and gain respect for the monuments that they build. In order to make this mind-shift, the Innovation Team had to prove that a new method could work. Once the pump was “primed” with seed funding and trust in innovation, adoption of new technology skyrocketed. In turn, more ideas spun off the original experiment (for example: pre-fabrication, virtual and augmented reality) and trust in change began to blossom again.
Case Study #3: Field Kiosk
The Field Kiosk was one of the first ideas funded by the Innovation Team. The Field Kiosk is a mobile workstation located on the construction site (not in the local office trailer) where electronic drawings can be accessed.
Benefit: The ability to have instant access to all of these tools in the field makes the construction process altogether more efficient. The latest project information and changes can instantly be transmitted to subcontractors in the field. The first quantifiable cost saving is the reduction in the amount of paper drawings sets that are being printed for the project team and subcontractors for field use. The second is the amount of time saved by the engineers, superintendents and subcontractors by not having to go back to their main offices to get the information they need to continue building.
The metrics below are from our first jobsite that beta-tested the Field Kiosk. We use this data to show our clients the benefit that can come of investing in this idea. Field kiosk are now in use across the country.
On average we saved about 5-6 hours per week of each project engineer’s time.
- 7mins x 2 = 14 minutes round trip to main jobsite office
- 5 trips x 14 minutes round trip = 70 minutes per day
- 5 days x 70 minutes per day = 5.8 hours a week saved per engineer
On average we save about 7-8 hours per week of superintendent’s time.
- 3 minute trip to job site trailer x 2 = 6 minutes round trip
- 6 minutes x 15 trips per day = 15 x 6 = 90 minutes per day
- 90 minutes per day x 5 days = 7.5 hours a week saved per superintendent
Most contractors have at least two sets of drawings, one for the field and one for the office. Having the kiosk in the field eliminated the need for a set of job site drawings.
- $500 per set of drawings x 8 Superintendents/PEs = $4000 per addendum
Within two addenda, most of the field kiosk options will have paid for themselves in reprographics costs.
Case Study #4: DPR Delivery Application
Benefit: In early 2012, Chris Rippingham, project engineer for a project in Sunnyvale, CA created his own project delivery application to manage high volumes of material deliveries with little to no assistance from the Innovation Team. Chris led the charge for improving the old method for tracking deliveries. Previously, deliveres were simply managed by using excel spreadsheets, pen, paper and phone calls which often led to incorrect or unauthorized delivery of materials. Chris developed an app that ensured deliveries were on-time and orderly by allowing transparency between the DPR supervisors and material delivery teams.
After a successful launch and a few months of implementation, the idea was shared widely on Spigit and quickly got adopted on other projects across the Bay Area.
This was one example of where the Innovation Team and our ideation process took a backseat to DPR's original Ever Forward spirit. The delivery app idea was pushed and executed by the Sunnyvale project team and celebrated by the Innovation Team. The true success of the Innovation Team's Ever Forward mission is to help more stories and ideas like this get shared and adopted!
The Sunnyvale jobsite had detailed delivery routes and very stringent construction noise and hour restrictions. To ensure all truck drivers received the proper maps and requirements before arriving on site, they required that all deliveries arrive on site with scannable delivery tickets that have all the information regarding their delivery (delivery time, material listing and proper DPR approval). The delivery ticket was designed to be printable and available on the driver's smart phone.
Anyone on-site with a smarthpone can scan the delivery ticket and the load can be verified and offloaded to the correct spot on site. When the scan is done the foreman on-site is automatically notified his delivery is here.
The system also tracks successful and failed deliveries. Foremen get raffle tickets for sucessful deliveries and can win prizes in a monthly drawing. Deliveries at the wrong time have to wait for scheduled deliveries, and do not get a raffle ticket.
Case Study #5: Spigit Ideation
Metric: How do you know if the ideamill really works? Sometimes numbers help to reinforce that gut-feel and we were able to confirm this by pulling the data from Spigit.
In the past two-plus years, the Innovation Team and the revitalized Ever Forward process at DPR has formally gathered over 500 ideas through Spigit, 83 of which have been closed and 37 implemented successfully. Some range from simple efficiencies such as how we enter in our weekly time, to creating new field technologies such as "Digital Plan Tables" that change the way we communicate and operate in construction today. Arguably, this tool wouldn't be successful without the active management and leadership of a dedicated and passionate Innovation staff.
Culture, Culture, Culture
I am convinced that you could give another construction company the DPR playbook with all out procedural guidelines and all our “Culture of Discipline” and they would not be able to pull it off. Without the DPR Culture the playbook becomes of little value. We have learned in the past that if we start an office without people that understand the DPR Culture that the offices never really catches on or it take a very long time for the office to work like a DPR office / region. You need to have a person in a regional leader position or a group of people that live the DPR Culture in order to exude the DPR Culture and make part of the daily business. It seems to take new employees a long time to fully grasp the DPR Culture. I would guess that on the short time duration it would take a year to embrace the culture and on the longer side it would take 3 years or longer.
The DPR Culture is comprised of the everything above plus “tribal stories”, including all the “people” side of the equation, how we acted, how we treated each other and the customers when things become stressful. The stories include the first Christmas party, the first project(s), how we convinced owners to select us to be their contractor when we were very young and we had very little evidence of past success. Stories of how we grew, retracted, developed and managed several down turns of the economy. Story after story on how individuals raised themselves up, reacted to a situations / problems and how they were creative on solving the issue. Stories of how the DPR people felt empowered to take charge and act as if DPR was their company and knowing they could do the “right” thing with all things being considered. If they were honest and acted with the mission, purpose and core values in mind as they moved forward then that was the rule sheet. It you were helping to build great things and working towards being one of the most admired companies and treating people fairly, then you were on the correct track.
- Jim Washburn, Regional Manager
Grass-roots innovation, Top-down Enabling.
'Innovation has been entwined within DPR’s DNA and is a core value of “ever forward” that all employees share. The majority of innovations within the company come from the folks that are “in the weeds”, fighting day-to-day on construction projects, and looking for ways to make their lives and the company better. As the company has gotten larger, the sharing of these “best-in-class” ideas has become a greater challenge. Ensuring the success of these ideas not only takes the personal will of all employees to innovate within all roles, but also the top-down enabling of all employees to make a difference'
- Shane Goodman, Project Engineer
Listen to your employees at all levels
'At DPR, some really great ideas have come from our interns, temps, apprentices, & journeymen. I have heard many suggestions and ideas at our craft lunches from our journeymen and apprentices. There are about 7 Spigit ideas posted by field guys that are not foremen.'
- Gary Scholten, Asst. Superintendent
'As a new engineer at DPR, one of my first assignments was to learn a fairly new, untested process called formwork modeling for our Self-Perform Concrete Division using a new software called Tekla Structures. With little knowledge of the modeling software, and limited training material, I spent almost 2 months attempting to apply a construction process I knew little about, to a new software I had no expertise in at all.
Needless to say, I struggled. After finally completing the formwork model in Tekla, I came to realize that it had little or no benefit to the field because they had already finished their planning the conventional way. Two months of work had essentially gone down the drain, and I was worried that I might even get fired! But I wasn't. In fact, they instead paid to have me flown to Tekla's headquarters in Atlanta for a week of customized training. I came to understand then that failing is just one step in the Ever Forward process.
Many times when companies invest in a new process or technology and struggle to implement, they become frustrated. They blame the product, the people, or the process, and they go back to the conventional way because it's easier than trying to learn something new. The culture at DPR pushes us to try new ideas, new workflows, new technology without the fear of failure. We embrace failure as part of the growing process. As an Innovation Group, we are challenged to find not only the success stories but also the failures, and communicate them across the company so that the successes get implemented and the failures aren't repeated.'
- Nathan Wood, Project Engineer
It's apparent that over the last few years, the rise of the C-level Innovation Officer is a growing and sustained trend in corporate America (see "You Call That Innovation?" by WSJ). However, in contrast to the what seems like a forced reaction to innovate by other companies, DPR is actively implementing change with a focused team effort, but with one clear distinction: Innovation was never meant to be a full-time career path.
The DPR Innovation Team is compiled of great builders with strong passions and wide spheres of influence. Instead of holding on to this team, it was important to senior leadership that the members eventually be released back into the wild. This designed transition was the means by which momentum for change in the team and the company continued to build. As new members were brought on, they added their own unique passions and social currency to the group. Additionally, former members would roll back into operations and reinvest their innovation experience in the company. Some would fear that the cumulative effect of this transition would inherently disrupt the progress of the group…we welcome it, it is the essence of who we are: Ever-Forward.
Leadership by Example
'The company I work for has made a special effort to open the doors for the company to change. The leadership has made the request to not accept the status quo, and made efforts to remove the traditional obstacles to trying something new. Specifically, I now have a peer that I can connect with, who can supply outside resources and information to help me and my project team. And to boot, it’s free to the project and the owner, we just have to ask.'
- Joel Bass, Superintendent
Looking back, in February of 2009, Jim Collins was asked by Fortune Magazine: “What did [successful companies] do to get through the tough times”. He remarked, “What we have found is that what really matters is that you actually have core values – not what they are. The more challenged you are, the more you have to have your values. You need to preserve them over time…[and to] really understand that it was the caliber of [your] people that would get [you] through”. Three years later, after once again following the guidance of Collins, DPR has done exactly that. We stood by being Ever Forward in times of great stress and embraced the notion of investing in ourselves when the industry, our own Culture of Discipline, internal skeptics and external economic forces argued against such logic.
'DPR Construction' - http://www.dpr.com
'Where Good Ideas Come From', Steven Johnson, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NugRZGDbPFU
Hyundai Superbowl Commericial, 2011 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6eDPAdwru4
Doug Woods Pushes Innovation at DPR Construction, ENR, http://enr.construction.com/people/awards/2013/0128-Doug-Woods-Pushes-In...
The stories my sister would tell me about her work, and now seeing it in depth, really inspire me to finish my Civil Engineering Degree strong! It is exciting to know I will be entering a field of work where companies like DPR exist, a field of work where innovation never stops! Proud of you sis!
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I am pleased and excited that my daughter works for such a great company. It is always nice to hear she is in a great working environment. Beings that she is so many miles from home, it is comforting to know that her co-workers have taken her under their wings and made her feel at home there. They reach beyond an employer role and expanded into a company where each employee is "a part of the family". I look forward to DRP's continued success and am always excited to hear how green this company is as that is also so important to our children's future - living in a clean environment.
Cheers to many more years for DPR and their employees
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Being born to parents who are both Civil engineers, growing up I took a liking to the construction industry, however I felt there was something amiss about it, but couldnt figure out what exactly back then. I graduated with my Bachelors in Civil Engineering in India knowing then, that, I couldn’t be a part of the construction industry that hadn’t changed since it was invented. I was fortunate to become a part of DPR which is a revolution that has advanced every aspect of construction right from Preconstruction to building practices on the field and closeout by pioneering efforts in IPD, Lean Construction and BIM. Being a part of the teams in DPR has helped me further my life's aim of making construction more fun, easy to manage and safer by marrying construction and technology. I am extremely passionate about being able to help build projects that are architecturally sophisticated, engineered to be smart and environment friendly!! And the only way to get there is by CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT BY INNOVATING EVERYTHING WE DO, FOREVER...
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I often tell the story about the decision to join DPR. A coworker at my former employer made teh cliche statement of it's not always greener on the other side. If I could respond to that co-worker almost 10 years later I would say it's not only greener, but about 10' tall. Their are so many reasons for this sentiment, but a huge piece of it is the ability to challenge each other, to have flexibility, creativity, and the drive to always be pushing forward. Find better solutions, generate efficiency, and constantly remind yoruself of the Core Values.
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I have several friends that are a part of the DPR company and love working there. I have been lucky enough to attend a few events and have been able to experience the culture my self. I think it is a great company and love all the habitat work done in Mexico too. Everyone I talked with was telling me how they had been with DPR for 3, 4 and some people 10+ years. It was very apparent how wonderful of a place to work DPR is.
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After graduating from Stanford in 2011 I knew it would be hard to find an environment in the construction industry (or anywhere for that matter) that resembled the creative, fun, challenging, and ever forward spirit of my university experience. I heard stories about DPR and with the right amount of work and good luck I got the job I hoped would meet my expectations. Truth is, it exceeded them. I'm truly grateful to our founders and everyone in the company who have built the culture that makes DPR a truly great place to work for.
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I have been at DPR for 3 years now. I came to DPR from another general contractor specifically because I was getting tired of the same responses to new ideas... "that sounds like a good idea (end of conversation)", "I don't think we have the resources to do that", etc. Coming to DPR, I knew it would be different, but I needed to see how it really worked. The beauty of innovation at DPR is that ideas aren't forgotten, however, they are still challanged. When I proposed going paperless on my first construction project I was told, "that is a good idea, but how much will it cost and how much is it going to save us." That simple challange was enough to let me know that my idea was worth something, but it also taught me the value of reserach, development and preperation.
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DPR - Truly has been a blessing for me on so many levels.. My first year in college, I was sitting in my marketing class learning about all of the "great companies" - I distinctively remember thinking to myself that I wanted to either work for a company or start my own company that does more than measures their greatness on profitability & numbers. I wanted that company to truly care about its employees as if they were family, have a fun positive vibe, be full of integrity, and of course have a strong honest work ethic that mirrors the foundation of the owners as well as every individual within the organization. Looking back on when I was 18 - I thought this vision was just a mere day dream until I was sitting in on my first day of orientation at DPR learning that I had found that company who had already made my day dream a reality. I admire and love the fact that DPR doesn’t stop turning dreams into reality.. DPR is constantly reaching for the unthinkable, pushing towards those big beautiful stars, and consistently delivering on promises while staying honest and true to the core.
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I have been a part of DPR for 3-1/2 years now, but I don't think I will ever forget how incredibly eye-opening my first two weeks were at DPR. After a decade at a 'procedures manual' company, I was initially awed by the openness at DPR, the real-ness of its people, and the depth of belief in the core values. It isn't just the technology, but a combination of the technology, the opportunities [for improvement], the incredibly smart and intelligent people, and the passion people have to do everything smarter, faster, and better - all of which set DPR apart from the typical corporate culture of other construction companies.
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It's true. DPR is a great place to work. It's innovative in every way possible. I like that the CEO and founder does not have an office far removed from everyone, he sits right across from me and I just started 9 months ago! It creates an open dialogue and removes the caste system that modern day corporate offices can have.
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Having worked at DPR for about 6 years, I've seen much of this change first hand! None of what we've been able to do would be possible without first cuilding a culture where an innovation effort would be accepted and embraced. Looking forward to 2030 and beyond!
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