Lots of firms bandy the word "innovation" about but never actually introduce something new. One California-based general contractor, however, has hit the mark. What's more, DPR Construction, Redwood City, actually has an innovation program manager in charge of the effort.
The construction firm, which has 16 offices nationwide, has joined innovation and technology to create a defining movement: Its goal from inception is to rebuild the building industry.
Created in 1990 by three construction veterans—Doug Woods, Peter Nosler and Ron Davidowski, the DPRs of the firm's name—it has become a $2-billion business by utilizing its original core values of "integrity, enjoyment, uniqueness and ever forward." This fulfillment strategy was also honed at a meeting in 1992 with Jim Collins, a then up-and-coming management consultant and author of "Built to Last" and "Good to Great."
"Innovation has certainly been a part of DPR relative to how we set up our core values 20 years ago," says Eric Lamb, the company's executive vice president and one of its 11 original staff members. "Culturally, that is the kind of company we are."
Lamb adds that a lot of companies will have some "great ideas, but unless you have some people dedicated to the implementation part, there is no innovation."
Lamb says that seven years ago, the company started investing in a team built around building information modeling. He says that they set a goal to institutionalize BIM "in everything we do" by 2010. The technology team is led by Justin Schmidt, based in DPR's Washington, D.C., office with a staff that is now at 33, along with Atul Khanzode, director of construction technologies in Redwood City.
Lamb adds that in 2010, DPR set up the innovation group as part of its next mission. Headed by innovation program manager Jim Washburn, Newport Beach, Calif., the group of four people is tracking ideas across the company using a software tool called Spigit, which they use to vet ideas. Spigit, Pleasanton, Calif., is an idea management and social innovation software firm that serves mainly retail, health care, financial, technology, government, insurance, utilities and pharmaceutical companies.
Washburn says the goal of the group is to "speed up the rate of change" at DPR. He says they look at everything the firm does, especially best practices, and try to find new efficiencies. Washburn says the group recently found a way to speed up communication with California's notoriously complex Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, which contractors have to deal with in every step on health care projects. Other efforts are aimed at developing strategies to work more effectively with owners and subcontractors, to find common ground with joint venture projects and to work more effectively with DPR's craft workers (carpenters and laborers, which number 1,400).
"Our goal is to find one thing to change on every job," Washburn says.
Lamb says a lot of Fortune 500 companies concentrate on innovation, but "you don't find a lot of construction companies doing it."
"A lot of innovation in this business comes from the owner saying, 'You will do this project this way,'" says Woods, whose official title is co-founder and president, though no DPR staffer has a title printed on their business cards.