With its constant craving for innovation and development, the software industry is almost certainly more focused on self-improvement than most. The never-ending series of meet-ups (where professional groups talk about issues relating to their specific field), the industry-level tech conferences – they all aim to introduce the latest and greatest approaches to building and managing software, while encouraging collaboration across the industry.
Having worked with the construction industry for the last nine years, I’ve seen it adopt new practices, some indeed from the software industry. There’s still more opportunity though, and the industry seems ready to benefit from some of the methods we’ve put into practice around self-improvement, introspection, and continuous improvement.
We in the software industry stand to learn a great deal from the construction industry, too; sharing and learning from one another is critical to the journey we make together. However, for this piece, here are five different approaches we use regularly in software development. These tools and approaches help us focus on inspiring new streams of thought among our teams, and I think they can also offer value to the construction industry.
For a product to be successful, it must serve a real need and solve a real problem for someone. And to understand what these problems are, you 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.
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.
And we’re starting to see the construction industry becoming more data smart. For example, at the Oracle Construction and Engineering Innovation Lab we’ve 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.
The reality is that you cannot design great experiences without understanding emotions.
Although data enable 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, not to mention a healthy dose of honesty. That means speaking to people in pretty much 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 are a great way to encourage ‘blue sky’ thinking and to avoid the constraints of group-think. A creative, collaborative event, a hackathon is made up of groups of two to five people who come together to solve a problem in an unexpected (for the business) way.
The construction industry is already embracing this approach. For example, the global Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) Hackathon has run events globally since 2013.
But hackathons need not be huge; they can also be run at a smaller scale such as in the office to help source innovations and push teams to explore creative alternatives in areas which otherwise might remain stagnant.
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 – like a “lessons-learned meeting”.
Its prime focus is not necessarily on the project specifically, but rather how the team is working together on the project – whether it’s to recognise success, or surface issues that are having a negative impact on team productivity.
Retros enable incremental post-project improvements to be applied. And the fact that these improvements are driven by the team improves the chance of the changes being adopted.
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 can 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.
Kirsten Mann is VP Product Experience at Oracle Construction and Engineering.