Ideation Labs: where Skanska’s business challenges get fresh solutions
“Empowering our colleagues to be part of the innovation and problem-solving process is critical to solving our most complex challenges,” says Brooke Gemmell, project manager. This is the mission of Ideation Labs, a cohort-structured program that takes a ground up approach to business solutions.
Coming to life during the pandemic, Ideation Labs empowers those across Skanska, no matter their role, to tackle common problems faced on our jobsites over the course of 12 weeks.
Ideation Labs starts with a call for individuals to submit a problem that they’ve encountered within the business. In a kickoff meeting, participants rank which problems they’re most interested in tackling.
“We want to ensure participants are working on the problems that resonate most with them,” explains Brooke.
Following kickoff, participants break into small groups to begin solving their problem in the program’s three-month window. Collaboration happens virtually.
Utilizing a design framework to enhance collaboration
Since launching in fall 2020, more than 25 teams have created some of Skanska’s most impressive tools and processes in Ideation Labs.
The program follows a design-thinking framework commonly used in product design and app development to effectively respond to articulated challenges.
These steps give participants the structure necessary to go from pain point to promising solution in just 12 weeks:
- Emphasize: Participants spend two weeks understanding the problem; they conduct interviews to better grasp the issue in its totality and build out the problem space.
- Define: Defining the design challenge comes next. Participants articulate what they need to focus on based on their initial research and pivot their direction as needed.
- Rapid ideation: Creativity takes center stage as teams focus their energy on brainstorming all possible solutions to their problem. Here, quantity of ideas matters more than quality.
- Prototyping: One or two ideas from rapid ideation are selected for prototyping. Teams then build out something visual or interactive for others to provide feedback on.
- Testing: After prototyping, participants return to the original group of interviewees and have them interact with the developed prototype. They pose questions like, does this solve the problem? What needs to be changed?
- Implementation: Following testing, teams work out the logistical details required to take their concept from working prototype to functioning solution. They build an implementation plan, carry out additional testing, nail down a launch timeline, figure out financials and more.
During the last two weeks, presentations on developed concepts are given to leaders across Skanska.
From here, some solutions are implemented locally or rolled out nationally. Implementation doesn’t happen for all team projects, though that doesn’t quell the impact of Ideation Labs.
True to the spirit of the program, the point of the final presentation stage isn’t to land on a perfectly scalable solution.
“A successful finish to Ideation Labs isn’t based on whether or not an idea gets attention or is implemented across teams,” says Brooke. “Success is committing to work together collaboratively for 12 weeks to solve Skanska’s challenges in an innovative way.”
In the lab: reducing jobsite waste, leveraging technology to transform construction and more
Initial cohorts have involved Skanska employees across the west coast, from Portland, Oregon, to Seattle, Washington, down to California and Arizona.
Striking projects have come out of the Labs, some of which are already being utilized across the business. Here are a couple:
In the fall 2020 cohort, accountants and project engineers came together to streamline a common but time-consuming step in construction: reviewing cost data and subcontractor billing.
Historically, two separate platforms, JDE and Prolog, have been used to ensure data is aligned and accurate.
This cohort team created a solution for integrating the data from the existing tools into one synthesized report using Power BI.
This data integration identified through Ideation Labs escalated to a priority for the Data Working Group and has been rolled into our broader Data Strategy across the business.
Jobsite Carbon Tracking
As a part of our Care for Life value, Skanska has ambitious sustainability goals. In the spring 2021 cohort, employees came up with a solution for tracking our carbon footprint on projects.
The project team concluded that comprehensive tracking of carbon emissions could be achieved through tracking trip miles and fuel usage from demo, rebar and concrete subcontractors; some of this tracking can take place in Procore.
For this component of the tracking process, each month, Skanska would start a submittal in Procore and subcontractors would be required to upload fuel data. To keep the process running smoothly over time, subcontractors would simply add a workflow item each month to the submittal.
Looking ahead, those involved hope to roll out the tracking process to more project teams and collect feedback from across Skanska to strengthen the process.
Blooming within Emerging Technology, Ideation Labs creates room everyone to be an innovator
As one arm within Skanska’s Emerging Technology function and broader Strategy department, Ideation Labs fits our commitment to continuous improvement.
In the coming months, Brooke and the rest of the Ideation Labs team, along with Skanska’s Emerging Technology team, plan to continue creating spaces for new ideas and critical thinking to flourish.
“Good ideas do not belong to an organization, job title or function. A good idea or innovation can come from anywhere,” shares Mike Zeppieri, vice president for Emerging Technology.
Ideation Labs has set this thinking into motion and is evidence of the strengthening culture within Skanska seeing new ideas bubble up from within, be recognized by leadership and be considered for enterprise adoption.
At its core, this culture is a product of the commitment of people like Brooke and those involved in Ideation Labs who have committed to relationship building across regions and departments to bring about greater change.
Going forward, Skanska employees can expect their ideas, and challenges, to continue to be met with an open mind by all due to the success of the inaugural cohorts.