Building solutions: Learning from cross-industry experience

On March 11, 2020 by Oracle

Kirsten Mann, vice president for Product Experience at Oracle Construction and Engineering, examines the tools and approaches regularly used in software development that can also offer value to the construction industry.

With its constant craving for innovation and development, the software industry is more focused on self-improvement than most. The never-ending series of meet-ups and industry-level tech conferences all aim to introduce the latest and greatest approaches to building and managing software, whilst encouraging collaboration across the industry.

Construction has adopted a range of new practices over the years, with many borrowed from the software industry. But there’s still more opportunity, and the industry seems ready to benefit from some of the methods that software regularly puts into practice around self-improvement, introspection, and continuous improvement.

While software also stands to learn a great deal from the construction industry – with sharing and learning from one another critical to the journey we make together – below are five different tools and approaches regularly used in software development that could also offer significant value to construction projects.

Ethnographic research

For a product to be successful, it must serve a real need and solve a problem. To understand what these problems are, businesses need to spend time with customers and users in the field.

Known as ‘ethnographic research’, this watching and observing is often the key to designing great software, because it is based on what people actually do, not what they think they do.

In construction, getting a project team to think about the people a building is for creates a ‘design experience’ approach. This ultimately helps to produce a building that better serves the residents and workers who will spend hours of their lives within its walls. Furthermore, thinking through and integrating feedback given by builders on the ground will improve project efficiency in the long run.

Usage data

In the software industry, we collect and analyse data to help us understand how people are using our products, capturing all the various interactions and flows they take to accomplish their task.

We’re starting to see the construction industry becoming more data smart. For example, the Oracle Construction and Engineering Innovation Lab has teamed up with industry leaders including Bosch and Triax to introduce real-time reporting and predictive analytics. These solutions help the industry use data more effectively to improve decision making and minimise delays that stem from out-of-date project information.

Experience maps

The reality is, you cannot design great experiences without understanding emotions.

While data enables us to understand how people use products, it’s important to track the actual journey of utilisation and how it impacts them. An experience map can help do this. It not only shows the interactions they have during the end-to-end experience with a product, but also highlights the way they feel as they go through the process.

To create an accurate experience map, construction teams need to invest time and effort as well as a healthy dose of honesty. That means speaking to people in every part of the organisation and asking them to discuss how they actually do something, instead of how they are meant to. It replaces assumption with fact.

Hackathons

Hackathons are a great way to encourage ‘blue sky’ thinking and to avoid the constraints of group-think. A creative, collaborative event, hackathons are made up of groups of two to five people who come together to solve a problem in an unexpected way.

The construction industry is already embracing this approach. For example, the global Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) Hackathon runs events globally since 2013.

But hackathons need not be huge; they can also be run on a smaller scale in the office to help source innovations and push teams to explore creative alternatives in areas which otherwise might remain stagnant.

Retros

A retro (or retrospective) is a common practice in the software industry, where following the conclusion of an iteration or sprint (a set period of time during which specific work has to be completed and made ready for review), an agile software team takes an hour or so to assess how it went – similar to a “lessons-learned meeting”.

Its prime focus is not necessarily on the project, but rather how the team is working together – whether to recognise success, or surface issues that are having a negative impact on team productivity.

Retros enable incremental post-project improvements to be applied. The fact that these improvements are driven by the team, helps to improves the chance of change being adopted.

Conclusion

These are just some of the ways the construction industry can learn from other sectors’ experiences – drawing on successes, opportunities, and hurdles and adopting new ways of thinking to propel innovation.

Bringing people to the forefront of what is being created can be a major change and help improve project efficiency in the long-run. Experimenting with ‘different’ techniques, combined with an open environment where people are valued will go some way to creating better, faster and more cost-effective project development.

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