What we learned about innovating in construction from Rogers O’Brien | Johnathon Grammer

What we learned about innovating in construction from Rogers O’Brien | Johnathon Grammer

The team at Bridgit recently had the pleasure of attending the 4th annual Advancing Construction Planning and Scheduling conference in Dallas, Texas. This conference gathers dozens of operations leaders, forward-thinking planners, and schedulers to network, share lessons learned, and help uncover new approaches to managing risk, time, and resources effectively.

One of those forward-thinkers is Rogers O’Brien Construction. 

Founded in 1969, Rogers O’Brien Construction (RO) has established itself as a leading general contractor in Texas. For more than five decades, RO has provided a wide range of preconstruction and construction management services while cultivating a team-centered environment built on honesty and trust. They currently rank no. 169 on the Engineering News Record (ENR) list of top 400 national contractors, where they’ve consistently ranked for over 20 years. 

We had the opportunity to sit and talk about innovation with the Director of Quality at RO, Johnathon Grammer. Grammar has been with RO for 13 years and while he wears a lot of different hats, his primary goal is continuous improvement and looking for different areas where their team can find a better way.

Here are the key takeaways from our conversation with Grammer about how Rogers O’Brien drives innovation and fosters a culture of continuous improvement.

1. Make ‘continuous improvement’ a core value

One of the main takeaways from our conversation was that innovation needs to be baked right into a company’s core values. For Rogers O’Brien, that means looking for a better way and making continuous improvements. “It’s about finding new ways to do what we do better,” explained Grammer. “We’re constantly trying to build better, because that’s what we get paid to do. That’s what we’re passionate about. So we’re not trying to innovate in just a vacuum.”

Grammar (and RO) suggests creating an environment of continuous learning. “To create a culture of innovation, you first need to start with a culture of learning,” says Grammer. “If your people aren’t looking for a better way, or solving a specific problem, at that point you’re innovating just to innovate.” 

Creating and encouraging a culture of learning first gives your team the confidence to look at, and question, the processes you currently have in place. That’s healthy. It’s better for your team to think critically, because that critical thinking will be crucial when evaluating potential solutions. Innovation doesn’t just happen, it starts with a culture that wants to find better ways to accomplish their goals, and that starts with a willingness to learn.

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2. Empower your people to make improvements

It’s important to remember that if someone brings an idea forward, it’s likely something they’re passionate about. The team at Rogers O’Brien works to add fuel to that flame. “When someone brings an opportunity or solution to us, we don’t just take that from them, write it down, and put it in a list and tell them to go away,” Grammar explained. “We know that people are our most valuable resource. If someone brings you an idea, a concept, a thought, a theory, that person’s going to be the most passionate person about that concept that you have in your company. So we try to empower those champions.”

When someone brings an idea forward, Grammar and the team at RO will have an open discussion around the opportunity, and more importantly, the problem it’s going to solve. Depending on the idea, the cost, and the required resources, there may need to be a formal business plan. The important thing is offering your people the support they need to see it through. Whether it’s creating a business plan or implementing a software solution on a trial-basis, supporting your team members through the process helps to enforce the culture of continuous learning and improvement.

3. Start small

Another key takeaway from our conversation with Rogers O’Brien was starting small and leveraging those internal ‘champions of change’. “When we talk about that champion,” explained Grammer, “if that person is on a project team, then we have an opportunity to do an alpha-beta test pilot on that project.”

Projects can often act as a ‘small company within a company’. This gives contractors the opportunity to test a new innovative process or software on a smaller scale to see the impact while the rest of the company can continue working undisturbed. Contractors can then learn from the successes on a single project, and openly discuss failures, before potentially rolling them out across the organization.

“The ability to run improvements on those little isolated pieces without affecting the rest of the business is hugely valuable for us,” said Grammer. “We’ll do that as much as we can. We’ll run small pilots and trials. The things that work, we’ll work to expand to other projects”

4. Simplify your problem and work backwards

This can actually be one of the trickiest takeaways to implement within an organization. It requires that your team be clear and specific about the problem they’re trying to solve and not get distracted by all the bells and whistles a new software or technology provides. There are always additional benefits that new software can provide, but if it’s not solving the initial problem you set out to solve, you may want to reconsider your options.

“We always like to look at things as simple as possible.” said Grammer of their innovation process at RO. “What’s the problem we’re trying to solve? If everything remained the same, what’s the one thing you could change and make the biggest impact?”

Let’s look at workforce planning as an example. Rogers O’Brien is a third generation, family-owned company with very little turnover. With retention as a top priority, the team at RO wanted to ensure they were keeping their people happy and moving from project to project. Part of the difficulty there is making sure the right people are being put on the right projects when their workforce data is scattered across systems. While Bridgit Bench can provide insight into recruitment forecasting, scenario planning, and team utilization rates, if it didn’t help solve RO’s core problem those features are just nice-to-have.

Rogers O’Brien was able to simplify the problem they were solving for, and because they remained focused on the problem they’ve been able to make continuous improvements to their workforce planning process.

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5. Failure is an option, but constantly measure success

As important as it is to focus on the problem you are trying to solve, it’s equally important to take a step back and measure the success of process improvements. Continuous improvement comes from constantly evaluating and re-evaluating if your problems are being solved, or if new issues are being created.

“You can always start over. It’s not a failure if you learn from it. If you take a step forward and there’s five paths to go down, pick one and keep moving,” explained Grammer. “Pick that path, take 10 more steps and re-evaluate. I would never recommend walking backwards. Don’t go back to a previous step, but re-evaluate where you are today. Do we need to take a hard left turn or can we simply veer a little bit to the left and resolve the issues that we’re seeing with this?”

By using failure as a learning opportunity, the team at Rogers O’Brien only reinforces their culture of continuous learning and improvement.

We learned a lot about continuous improvement from our conversation with Grammer and the team at RO. Whether it’s creating a culture of innovation, empowering champions of change, or understanding that failure is just another path to success, we hope this article has shed some light on the steps that leading contractors take to stay ahead of the innovation curve.

Michel Richer - Content Marketing Manager

Michel Richer

Michel Richer is the Content Marketing Manager at Bridgit. He got his start in the construction industry at an early age with a local restoration company. Michel is driven to propel the construction industry forward by helping to eliminate outdated, ineffective processes.

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