How strategy shapes ideas

How strategy shapes ideas: The making of Prenguin

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Meet Paul Wintour, architect and founder of Parametric Monkey, and Matt Bishop, engineer and founder of BVT. While they come from different disciplines and live and work on different sides of the Tasman, they are both highly motivated to bring innovation to the construction industry. They discuss how their journey began with creating a framework for innovation, and led to the development of Prenguin, an innovative software solution for the construction sector.

Where it all started

Following a connection on LinkedIn, Matt and Paul quickly recognised they were both working towards the same goal – Technology-led change for the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry. A number of conversations later, it transpired that BVT were attempting something very new in the marketplace, and Parametric Monkey had the expertise to help them get there. BVT engaged Parametric Monkey to create an innovation strategy. What eventuated was a journey of mutual learning.

Automating engineering processes

Like any profession, most knowledge within the AEC resides in the heads of professionals, in the books and filing cabinets, and in their standards and systems of their institutions…Our view is that there is nothing so special or unique about professionals’ knowledge to suggest that some of it cannot be made easily accessible and understandable on an online basis.

Susskind and Susskind1

Matt saw the future of artificial intelligence (AI) changing the role of engineers in society. He wanted a way to capitalise on knowledge and avoid reinventing the wheel on every new project. He believed this could be done by capturing information in tools, systems and databases rather than individual brains and filing cabinets. This data could then be used to automate a large portion of the engineer’s role.

In 2019, BVT engaged seven engineering students from Canterbury University to help progress this vision. Their scope was to explore software development opportunities for the organisation. BVT’s core speciality was interior seismic engineering, and so they were asked to research the automation of engineering processes specifically for this area.

Workshops set the direction for innovation

Enter Parametric Monkey. Focused on helping businesses do better things, Parametric Monkey specialises in all things BIM, computational design, and digital fabrication. They ran a series of facilitated workshops to help identify if the team were heading in the right direction.

Initially, their role involved understanding the problem, reviewing existing workflows, and guiding the students in structuring their research. However, as Paul explains, it was an unusual engagement from the outset as they didn’t converge on what many consider an industry best practice – BIM.

Was BIM the answer?

When he first arrived on the scene (as someone with a strong BIM background), Paul describes cringing slightly as he saw staff marking up 2D pdfs. “I had to resist myself from coming in and saying just do BIM.” Yet when he considered the job to be done, Paul realised BIM would have been counter-productive. He explains, “BIM has digitised traditional methods of working. But it is still very much a manual process and doesn’t scale very well. BIM was not the right tool to deliver the radical change that BVT was envisioning.”

Instead, Paul stepped back and considered the processes at play. “We wanted to streamline BVT’s entire engineering workflow and take the next step to automate this process. If you thought about how this automated workflow would look, it wouldn’t look like BIM.”

Matt agreed that BIM was not the solution. While BIM has digitised aspects of the construction pathway, it has not delivered the cohesive communication platform required. Matt was looking for the fastest way to get the architect’s design intent into the hands of the builder at the end of the chain. He saw the engineer’s role as an enabler. “Rather than acting as a barrier, the engineer should help pave the way between the design and its implementation.”

The elements for successful change

The do-nothing scenario is not a continuation of the status quo. It is a non-linear decline in performance which is exacerbated over time.

Clayton Christensen et al2

BVT were prepared to make the changes needed to become a more innovative organisation.  To help support this, Parametric Monkey ran a series of workshops to map out a path to get there. Using the DICE Model3, the elements determining the success of change were discussed, and the scene was set. These include:

  • the overall duration (D) of a project or time between structured milestones
  • the performance integrity (I) of the team
  • the organisational commitment (C) to change
  • the additional effort (E) required of staff members

Going down a pathway of innovation would require significant changes in organisational culture, organisational structure, talent recruitment and investment. It required a top-down shift in thinking and for every person in the organisation to be on board.

The seed for Prenguin is planted

BVT held a significant level of engineering knowledge in a series of spreadsheets and databases, which they were already using to share knowledge and reduce repetitive work amongst team members. What if these processes could be automated further and be made available to the non-engineering community? The exciting part of this idea was that while the project could start by looking at a very particular area of engineering (namely, interior building elements), the potential for scalability was huge.

Through the workshops, Parametric Monkey assisted BVT to analyse potential technology solutions. A number of current solutions were eliminated, and possible solutions were identified. It was decided that tech capability needed to be brought in-house to support the long term strategy. A digital transformation strategy was developed, which coupled with the innovation framework, provided guidance for future decision-making

Performance management and the recognition of performance and success were also reimagined, with team performance prioritised over individual performance.

Furthermore, BVT reviewed their organisational structure and reconfigured the organisation to support better team performance. Recruitment strategies were revised and still continue to adapt as the organisation focuses on a diversity and inclusion strategy to meet their talent needs. Performance management and the recognition of performance and success were also reimagined, with team performance prioritised over individual performance.

Where did we end up?

There’s plenty of chat about the digitisation of the AEC sector, however, the industry is still one of the least digitised and is still struggling with productivity.4 There are multiple barriers to the success of technical solutions in construction, but with the strong strategic foundation that Parametric Monkey helped to seed, BVT has created a platform that answers many of the questions discussed so far. 

The platform is Prenguin. As Matt explains, “Prenguin gives you the answer to engineering problems that have been solved before. Every day, armies of engineers are repeating variations of the same calculations to solve the same problems. Prenguin has captured this learning into design algorithms for standardised building elements and makes that available to the construction industry at large.”

Prenguin can be used by architects at any point to check if their design is going to comply, allowing for early changes to the design. Subcontractors can use Prenguin to perform the engineering components of their projects without having to bring in external consultants (a huge time savings), and developers and project managers can answer engineering questions earlier in their projects, enabling more effective decision making.

Paul is delighted with the outcome. “Through our consultancy work, I see lots of innovative ideas floating around out there. But to see a vision become a reality takes a huge amount of work and bravery to do things differently. I can’t wait to see Prenguin in action.”

Conclusion

The journey from the concept of automating engineering processes to a marketable software solution was not simple. It required a fundamental shift in the way BVT structured their organisation and an evolution of their culture to support innovative practices. Parametric Monkey provided an outside perspective which helped avoid decision-making biases, align efforts, and provided the framework for BVT to grow their ideas in a structured way

To learn how Parametric Monkey can help your organisation on a path of digital transformation, drop us a line and discover how we can help your organisation do better things.

References

1 Susskind, R. & Susskind, D. (2017). The future of the professions: How technology will transform the work of human experts. Oxford University Press, Oxford, p.34.

2 Christensen, C. et al. (2013). Innovation killers: How financial tools destroy your capacity to do new things. In HBR’s 10 must reads on innovation. Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, p.159.

3 Sirkin, H. et al. (2011). The hard side of change management. In HBR’s 10 must reads on change management, Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, pp.155-176.

4 McKinsey. (2020). The next normal in construction: How disruption is reshaping the world’s largest ecosystem.

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