Innovation Isn’t Just About Individual Genius and ‘Big Ideas’

Innovation might easily be misconstrued as being about one person coming up with a big game changing idea, such as a product by Apple or Dyson for example.
In reality, these moments are rare. Most improvements come from routinely thinking differently and seeking solutions to everyday challenges, the marginal gains. These are as important to progress as solving the big complex problems.  These improvements are also more likely to come from people working collaboratively and pooling experience than from the lone inspired individual. It is therefore crucial to foster the right environment for innovation to have a meaningful output and ultimate benefit to our customers.

At University my professor paraphrased design and construction as, ‘a goal orientated problem solving activity,’ how true. Solving problems is what we regularly do. The challenge is how can we do this better, day in, day out?

How Innovation Flourishes
Team culture and a trusting environment are crucial. When we facilitate the interactive contribution of all team members, whether through good communication, open inclusive meetings or taking time to consider all contributions, we bring a broader and more diverse ability to solve problems.

Generating ideas is one thing. Without added effort to drive home and implement more innovative solutions they remain just ‘ideas’.

City centre developments on tight sites, in environmentally and historically sensitive locations, throw up plenty of challenges, and plenty of opportunities to innovate.

At our Hobhouse Court project, a £32m mixed use development on Whitcomb Street, next to the National Gallery, 50% of the site will be demolished and rebuilt over listed vaults to provide 20 high end apartments for rental, office, retail use, and the conservation of the listed John Nash building for the Royal Watercolour Society.

Here are a few examples of innovative working the team came up with, all contributing marginal gains that ensured our second stage tender offer met customer expectation.

Early in the second stage, our 104 week programme was put under pressure by more extensive underpinning works, resulting in a 110 week programme. Re-sequencing our programme highlighted that there was less benefit than originally planned from a two tower crane methodology.

The team worked with an open mind to produce a single tower crane strategy by phasing the demolition works with groundworks. This allowed a saving from the overall reduction in crane costs. In tandem the re-sequencing achieved an earlier start to fit-out and we were able to build in more time for quality residential fit-out and de-risk completion.

Positioning our single crane meant working in more detail with the temporary works engineers to resolve tight accessibility for piling and to design our crane base. There was also the re-positioning of a district heating boiler to make way for the crane base. All of these complexities highlight the drive and attention to detail required to implement innovative problem solving ideas. Using a single crane was ‘an idea’; the team working through the detail made it a practical and valuable one.

Simple ideas to work more effectively as a team
The lead-in period for Hobhouse Court is complex and presents several critical path challenges. A simple but effective actions tracker, updated at our team meetings, helps drive effective decision making. This is more effective at targeting multiple actions than meeting minutes. It is a simple but effective management tool that better engages our team in closing out actions and activities.

Another effective tool used by the team is over-marking drawings on the projector with our temporary works solutions whilst in a meeting. There’s a quick buy-in from the team and subcontractors to adopt solutions and it’s easier for everyone to contribute suggestions and expertise.

These examples are all about one project, Hobhouse Court. But they demonstrate the value of creating an environment and processes through which more people can contribute. They also show how having the tools and determination to see things through is critical to continuous improvement and consistently delivering innovative solutions.

Ultimately, the best example of an innovative culture is sharing project improvements and problem solving ideas across our business and witnessing these ideas being adopted on more projects.

Ron Moir.

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