"Innovation" is the latest buzzword to make its way across the engineering and construction industry. Organizations are devoting millions of dollars toward developing new ideas to improve project execution—and with good reason: By most measures, construction productivity has not improved for decades and may even be in decline.
With such a sense of urgency around innovation, how do companies prioritize ideas and funding to ensure solutions are sustainable and solve pressing needs?
Fluor has developed the crystal-clear "One 10 Times" metric, which serves as the foundation for its innovation efforts. For an innovation to receive company backing, the submitter must demonstrate that the idea is suitable for implementation on at least 10 different projects. Part of a submitter's responsibility is to obtain sponsorship from various stakeholders within the company, particularly project leaders, prior to presenting the innovation to Fluor's innovation review board.
The simplicity of the metric makes it easy to communicate internally and externally when talking about innovation. With this metric as a guiding principle, innovation efforts are prioritized on the basis of sustainability, client benefit and engagement.
Making Innovation Stick
Our favorite "I" word is not "innovation" but "implementation." Research from Fiatech, a nonprofit industry consortium, in conjunction with Arizona State University and Kansas University, highlights the difficulty of implementing project-execution changes. Only 19% of owners were successful in implementing a change on 10 or more projects. Consider how many resources are wasted as projects eventually revert to the status quo.
All ideas proposed for implementation at Fluor are examined through the "One 10 Times" lens to prioritize the company's resources. Demonstration of this level of potential indicates that a solution can drive true value.
Our teams must focus on turning innovative ideas into repeatable solutions. When employees come to Fluor's innovation team with an idea, the first questions are, "How does this solution improve project execution and the client's capital efficiency? Will it improve safety performance in the field, reduce quantities to be installed, eliminate potential rework or improve certainty in delivering the project?" And the next question is, "How many other projects would benefit from this innovation?"
Employees developing ideas are challenged and empowered to reach across the globe to find champions and supporters. Ideas under development are tracked on the company intranet, letting all employees know what ideas are in the pipeline. The dashboard also includes a list of projects that have implemented the solutions and what levels of success were achieved.
Ideas that address our clients' most pressing needs are given priority. But rather than inferring what our clients' most pressing needs are, client partners are given the opportunity to directly challenge Fluor employees at the company's annual "Innovation Unwrapped" event, which takes place every autumn. Three years in, this annual innovation incubator attracts nearly 400 employee applicants for its 40 available seats. Employees want to be engaged in moving the engineering and construction industry forward.
Participants are divided into teams, and each team is given a different challenge in a particular market, including the pharmaceutical, mining, chemicals and oil-and-gas sectors. The benefit of this approach is two-fold. First, employees—the idea generators—better understand which problems permeate across multiple industries and can directly target solutions to clients' top priorities. Second, solutions that address a client's challenges can be implemented across market sectors, eventually meet the "One-10-Times" threshold to receive funding for further development.
Teams diverse in thought and background develop the most effective ideas, which is why "Innovation Unwrapped" brings together a cross section of employees from across the globe and from all disciplines and experience levels. All facets of the company are engaged.
When a newly minted engineer from Asia, a 40-year vice president from Europe and a mid-career human-resources representative from North America come together, the future they imagine can brim with possibilities.
But while Fluor uses its "Innovation Unwrapped" program to engage its employee base, there are numerous other ways the company advances innovative ideas. To support an inclusive approach, which helps ideas to be embraced and implemented more quickly across the company, Fluor also has established an internal infrastructure that lets employees easily submit ideas for funding consideration. The only minimum requirement for consideration of an idea is that the idea's champion has a passion for innovation.
Idea generation and implementation are not successful if they are limited to one research-and-development center or isolated inside the technology division. For innovations to be implemented and sustained, they must have ownership and engagement across the organization. As part of the funding process, idea submitters must demonstrate that the approach has the backing from leadership and influencers across the organization, from business-line leadership to the ultimate end users. That way, when a solution is funded through the innovation program, there is global support behind that idea and people ready to champion and use it.
This kind of engagement has encouraged the successful development and rollout of a variety of solutions, from safety solutions and paperless project execution to remote visual inspections that virtually connect field inspectors and project teams.
With simple and easily understood metrics such as "One 10 Times," companies can successfully prioritize innovation efforts, ensure company-wide engagement and improve the development and implementation of truly game-changing solutions for the industry.
Jason Kraynek is vice president for business transformation and innovation at Fluor.