In her Catalyst 2019 keynote, author and educator Dr. Barbara White Bryson insists that our industry poised for something bigger than they've ever experienced. For her, only one thing stands between us, predictability.
“What would you do if you could predict the future? Would you go to Vegas? Would you buy a lottery ticket? Would you start a tech company?"
These were the opening questions from Dr. Bryson leading Catalyst 2019 attendees through an analysis of obstacles to predictability. According to her, if the design and construction industry could operate as efficiently and predictably as the manufacturing sector, nothing would stand between us and the $1.6T we’d add to the world economy. What’s the barrier to success? Predictability.
In the Absence of Predictability
According to Bryson, in the absence of predictability, “bad stuff happens.” In her book “The Owner’s Dilemma: Driving Success and Innovation” co-authored with Canan Yetmen, she articulates some of the things gone awry, writing,
“Owners have lost control over their projects, driven by the fact that they didn't have the ability to assess and analyze their projects in order to figure out a better way. Literally, every single project was starting over again for the very first time, and nothing was being learned and transferred from one project to the next.”
Across the commercial real estate industry, we deliver completed projects behind schedule 20% of the time at 80% over the original budget, on average. Lack of predictability is glaring evidence of our inefficiency, the lowest among all major industry types. For Bryson, this is a conspicuous lack of interoperability.
Interoperability, broadly applied, is the capacity for teams, processes, and systems to connect and communicate with one another readily. The goal is transparency and greater effective collaboration.
“Interoperability is our future, rather than our current state.”
Achieving interoperability means all stakeholders have access to the information and resources they need to make sound decisions. Owners, bearing the greatest financial risk in the construction process, deserve to have all accessible information in the beginning, so there are no (or at least not many) surprises. They rarely get what they deserve.
The Magic Bullet
Gaining control starts with the search for the magic bullet, that one tweak or adjustment that makes everything come together. According to Bryson, process is the “magic bullet” necessary to attain interoperability. Members of high-functioning teams in healthy enterprises achieve it by optimizing their processes to achieve predictable outcomes. If process is the magic bullet, it never succeeds without a team to execute, along with three key factors, Leadership, Collaboration, and Decision-Making. We know how to achieve our desired outcome, according to her, but how to get there? The team is paramount.
About teams, Bryson says:
- Bad teams will screw up good process.
- Great teams can almost always overcome a lack of transparency, contract irregularities, emergencies and contingencies, and mediocre process.
- A terrific team, one built on solid process, will be transformational.
Success, in this case, does begin at the top. A key indicator of successful leadership is alignment on a single, focused approach. Leadership in contemporary, complex organizations involves listening to people so you can learn, and adapt quickly. This can only happen when leaders build teams in safe spaces; safe does not mean complacent.
Successfully led environments are characterized by leaders who encourage innovation and supported risk-taking. These organizations maintain strong standards and encourage challenges, asking hard questions. Team members expect to perform at their best because this is the way their team has been established.
“Great leaders alternate between directing action and enabling innovation. At times they need to be decisive, give instructions and direction, periodically closing down discussions so that the team can get things done. At other times they need to create space for new ideas, encourage dissent, ask questions, and promote experimentation. Leaders failing to achieve the balance between the two do so at their peril.”
-- from Leadership Lessons from the Chilean Miners Rescue, by Faaiza Rashid, Amy C. Edmondson, and Herman B. Leonard published in the Harvard Business Review
In this well-led environment, collaboration comes easily. Dr. Bryson is a baseball fan. She utilized the teamwork of the Houston Astros to illustrate a data-driven, human-aligned approach to building teams tuned to achieve consistently exceptional performance. One of the required elements is comprised of a number of factors she outlined in habits she calls “Collaboration Made Easy.”
Each of the elements can be practiced both by leaders and every team member. The message is collective, requiring communication and trust. Collaboration is a process (the magic bullet), and practice requires daily discipline.
Teams achieving this level of collaboration do so by bravely readjusting, staying focused on goals and values, and doing the hard work, consistently.
The future of work is about data AND humans. Data continues to grow in value, but human understanding of data, how to translate and interpret it will always be necessary. In the Owner's Dilemma, “decision-making” is the most important aspect of our industry, and yet the most undervalued. While we may be able to measure the costs of decisions, we often fail to recognize the opportunity cost associated with NOT making them. She recommends this model:While owners have traditionally relied upon contractors or other outside actors for data, Bryson argues that we should not cede that ground. Statistically, 80% of the information owners need to make real-time decisions is within their wheelhouse.
Bringing it All Together
For Bryson, terrific teams, identified by the elements of predictable outcomes, leadership, collaboration, and decision-making, change everything. Process is the magic bullet, but predictable outcomes cannot be achieved without all of these factors.
Predictable outcomes are the result of dynamic, working cultures where caring, sophisticated, professionals develop routines by the convergence of leadership, collaboration, and decision-making.
“Collaborative teams that are well led, and capable of making timely, great decisions will create fantastic processes that we cannot even imagine today creating a culture of predictable outcomes, that will give you the winning outcomes that you want and that we all need.”