Foundational agility gives project team competitive advantage to thrive during COVID-19
Closed schools. Chaotic grocery stores. Cancelled plans. 2020 has required individuals, families, businesses and communities to tap into the skill of resilience like never before. Although resilience has risen to buzzword status in a pandemic world, it is not a new concept. We’ve been using it all along to adapt to adversity.
But resilience isn’t something that comes naturally to most; it must be continually honed through our trials, personal development and problem-solving. For businesses, COVID-19 brought to light their resilience reserves—how much they had strategically invested in people and processes to operate flexibly and act decisively through unchartered territory.
Building a Knowledge Nest Egg
Financial advisors stress the importance of a creating robust emergency and retirement funds to prepare for the unknown. One Balfour Beatty project team in Bellevue, Washington proved that a disciplined approach to continuous improvement can equip a team with the resilience to respond, recover and emerge stronger from a crisis.
Each fall, Balfour Beatty sends teammates to the annual Lean Construction Institute (LCI) Congress to be inspired, learn from lean success stories and cascade lessons learned within the company.
Superintendent Paul Studley arrived at the 2019 Congress a believer in lean practices and left with a clear vision of how the Last Planner® System (an integrated planning, monitoring and production control system) could create additional value for his teammates and trade partners. Paul didn’t merely introduce this new system - he invested in his teammates by providing books that enhanced their personal lean growth and development.
In the months that followed, Paul’s intentional leadership brought the team on a lean transformation journey. Unbeknownst to the team, this operational and cultural shift created the agility they would need to thrive during COVID-19.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” This project team would agree.
Prior to COVID-19, the team’s investment in the Last Planner System® involved in-person daily huddles and weekly pull planning sessions with trade partners which quickly yielded greater productivity and collaboration. Even the most seasoned field leaders who initially preferred more traditional planning practices observed the benefits of a more visual and inclusive method.
“Our teams are already great collaborators, but the LCI Congress opened up my eyes and made me realize we have an opportunity to break down siloes even further,” explains Paul. “The Last Planner® System gave us the tools to remove those barriers and create a project culture in which everyone has a stake and a voice.”
Planning was especially critical in delivering this fast-track, 289,000-square-foot interiors upfit for a leading high-tech client. In addition to complex city code requirements, the project required daily collaboration with the core and shell contractor performing work simultaneously in the building.
“The most successful lean leaders empower others to continuously improve,” says Bevan Mace, national vice president of operations and lean. “Paul created a learning culture within this team, encouraging everyone to ask, ‘How can we improve?’, and then actively participate in that improvement process.”
Prospering in a Bear Market
Every investor will inevitably weather bear markets, but it can be difficult to anticipate the timing, duration and severity of these cycles and the black swan events that often trigger them.
Seemingly overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic ground the global economy to a halt, leaving essential businesses like construction at the forefront of creating a new operational paradigm. Agile organizations and teams more seamlessly transitioned to remote work and restructured workflows without sacrificing productivity.
When the Bellevue team experienced a temporary shutdown of the project in March, they immediately recognized that jobsite operations would not return to normal even once they were able to resume work. Sustaining their pre-COVID progress on an expedited schedule would require the rapid implementation of new technologies to supplement their improved practices.
Because the team created foundational agility in the months leading up to the crisis, they had a competitive advantage over those that had not similarly invested. Even more impressively, they were able to grow their gains while others were cushioning against losses.
Taking decisive action, the team rapidly identified and implemented technologies such as Touchplan and Bluebeam Studios to build on their pre-COVID planning successes. Although there was an initial learning curve, the added value of virtual collaboration was undeniable. Where in-person planning required ongoing data capture and input, these technologies not only eliminated waste but also provided every team member with location-independent and real-time access to the big-picture plan.
A Sustainable Investment Strategy
As the team navigates the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, they plan to continue building on these improvements, continually exploring new tools, measuring their value and creating sustainable embedment plans.
Even when the days of COVID-19 are long behind us, you won’t find Balfour Beatty teammates returning to the status quo. As the Bellevue team proved, the road to resilience is paved with time, intention, investment and a deep desire to shape the future rather than simply adapting to it.