Embracing Change Collaboratively Can Improve the Construction Industry
Todd Stevens has over 25 years of experience in the electrical construction industry working in engineering, construction, operations and business management sectors. He entered the electrical skilled trade side of the electrical industry in his teen years and evolved over time to take up an executive management role. After spending most of his career in North and South Carolina, Stevens took up the leadership role opportunity to support the industrial portion of the company covering offices in South Georgia and North Florida.
What are the significant challenges that have been impacting the construction space lately?
One of the biggest challenges that the construction industry face today is supply chain disruption, as most of the material comes from overseas. The Russia- Ukraine war and COVID-19 have compounded these issues more than anticipated, as Ukraine is the argest exporter of nickel. So the impact is hitting the industry from many different directions. Also, whenever copper mines or any other raw material providers go on strike or face unexpected situations, it affects the supply. For instance, the entire industry is impacted when the supplier of medium voltage cables fails to deliver. However, we can convert this supply chain challenge into the opportunity of controlling our own needs. We have the chance to onshore supplies and become independent as opposed to offshore.
There is a need for change in the construction industry to improve. According to industry analysts and economists, the construction industry is lagging in terms of continuous improvement. Though everybody is trying to change something, nobody addresses the real problem, as rapid-fire change doesn’t fix age-old issues. In fact, it creates inconsistency and instability. What we need is strategic change with clear intentions and goals rather than change for the sake of changing.
Could you tell us about any latest project initiative that you have been working on and the technology that you leveraged to make it successful?
Technology helps us from an ease-of-use and consistency perspective. However, technology doesn’t think. Humans have to do the thinking. We have to implement new processes around quality controls (QC) and quality assurance (QA) to ensure a better change. Recently, we have developed QA/QC approach early in the process, even at the estimating stage for projects.
As a result of this change in the process, we can help the execution and operations team focus on the areas of importance that make big dividends at the end of the project. For instance, in a recent project for a chemical plant, we took this QA/QC process and thinking to such an extent that when the client mobilized with their commissioning team, within two weeks, they sent half of their team home as we were fully prepared.
If we want to see the industry improve, we have to do it through collaboration and innovation
This was the project in my entire career where I had a zero-punch list. It was the result of the project summit concept that I created in collaboration with a group of executives about how to approach a project in the construction industry and build an industrial facility. We deployed this collaborative innovation and continuous improvement process in the gas-air separation unit for the chemical plant and achieved a zero-punch list.
In essence, we have to establish the basis for change and ensure the process is convenient for people, especially in today’s world when there is a limited supply of material and labor.
Where do you see the construction industry heading in the next two to three years?
The future for construction looks more like an engineered solution. I believe the engineering and construction sector are working closely to create and share intellectual knowledge that needs to transfer from the owner’s vision to the engineer’s design to the actual execution of the project while considering an engineered solution such as prefabrication. The constant learning and improvement will allow our industry to get better. We need to go methodically through each component, ensuring that everybody is on the same page. Then we must obtain feedback and share it with all the people that participated along the way as if the feedback doesn’t ever come back, then there is a chance that we have missed the continuous improvement process completely.
What would be a piece of advice to your fellow peers in the industry?
Our business is based on relationships and people. So, we have to work collaboratively. Try to work together rather than working as a bunch of individuals. If we want to see the industry improve, we have to do it through collaboration and innovation. For example, we have improved in safety year over year as safety is not economy, we need to embrace the change by working collaboratively.