A simpler way to innovate

Innovation is not just about bleeding edge technology and baffling science, it draws from people working and behaving differently, applying new methods and improving processes both incrementally and by stepping right back to first principles and rebuilding with new understanding.

Fiona McKie has led the development of Simpler Solutions, a delivery model which operates very differently to our standard contract setup. Some elements within the model are unique to us, some are older methods which have been reimagined, and others have required both our employees and our customers to think very differently about how they approach their work. As Fiona explains, it has been a real challenge but the benefits are considerable…

We needed to bring about a major step change to prove to our customers we were working differently. Brownfield modifications work is one of our core services and going up against accepted practice was going to be a challenge from the start, so there was only one way to set the tone.

Challenge everything

This became our motto during the development and remains in force with the delivery model. We’ve built our new model through rigorous and often painful challenge, removing accepted practice and questioning the need for everything. The result is a much more streamlined system which features a very open scalable approach driven by the requirements of the work.

That challenge continues in the workflow, at key stages we stop and check if the direction we’re taking is the right one – is it really necessary and is it the right way? It might not seem innovative but it has revolutionised our work, it’s easy to assume the project should just go ahead because we’re working on it, but sometimes it can be rejected or deferred. It’s refreshing to be able to do this and builds trust with the customer. Just because they have asked for it still doesn’t mean it really needs doing.

Captive collaboration

Decision making is always a bottleneck, we pull all the right people together to discuss the problem, we all go off to think about it some more before reconvening to catch up on the issue again. You can spend a lot of time going over old ground, recapping and bringing people up to speed and accounting for those that have missed a session. Our approach keeps the decision makers in the room until the decision is made, this makes us much more productive and allows us to move on at the point of a collective decision.

Real time visual management

There’s a bit of humour behind this. It seems like a thousand miles from innovation; essentially it’s a t-card system. An actual physical job board. You could create an application to do the same thing but that would miss the real value of the piece which lies in bringing people physically together, working on tasks that are clearly connected to a larger project. The board shows progress and encourages collaboration across execution. Everyone rolls their eyes when they see it; it’s such an old method, but once they get involved and experience the system in action they love it, so much so that we have extended the system to cover proposal development, detail design, construction, commissioning and closeout.

So where’s the innovation?

What is unique about these methods is the way we’ve adopted and engaged them to enforce change. Using this model requires major commitment from all parties to learn new processes, and behave differently, to give and accept challenge, to remain more flexible with time, responsibility and procedures and to have confidence in everyone’s ability to meet deliverables and stay on course.

There are many more elements across the delivery model that make this such a different approach, but they all have one thing in common, they are founded on people and behaviours, it doesn’t look any different, it’s still engineers behind desks, but it feels different.

Simple successes

The hard work has been maintaining this approach against the comfort of old habits, but the rewards are there. Customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, not just on our improved turnaround times but on the quality and consistency of our deliverables and we’ve secured well over £10m of new work.

Simpler Solutions boasts around 30% reductions in man hours and overall cost while estimating time has been cut by up to 80% - effectively from initial enquiry to estimate and proposal takes no more than 5 days, a major step forward in turnaround time and predictability.

Our flexibility is also impressive – on one project we increased support from 20 to 300 people in just six weeks to deliver over 300,000 hours of engineering and another project delivered a 16 week programme in 6 weeks.

To find out how to make your project Simpler, get in touch with the team: simpler@woodgroup.com

Read more about our latest developments and technologies in Inspired magazine.