Honesty Pays

This article was written by Michael Boren, CTO of Beck Technology, and published April 2018 on Construction Today.

Time and time again, companies start their relationships with new clients by lying, or at least that is how it can feel. Once that first meeting is over and a company is selected for the job, the real work starts, and the wizard behind the curtain is revealed. Too often, project owners realize that all of that sexy tech talk and those amazing videos that won them over were a flashy diversion from reality.

Companies don’t do this to be malicious. They don’t intend to portray themselves as fake or attempt to deceive a potential client. They need to win that job and are doing everything they can to get it. As far as they are concerned, they are simply putting their best foot forward in an effort to meet the expectations set by the project owner.

You Can’t Be Someone Else Forever

The honeymoon phase of any relationship is ethereal. No one can do anything wrong, there are no weird quirks, and you are always excited to see each other. Then the honeymoon phase ends. The veil of a “perfect” relationship is lifted, and the realities of a partnership are looking back at you.

We all let our guard down after the relationship settles in because we cannot keep up the pretense that we are amazing, fault-free people. It’s too exhausting and too expensive, so at some point, your new partner gets to meet the “real you.” That’s when a couple really starts to figure out if the relationship is going to last. It’s like that when your team competes for a big project, too.

When opportunity knocks, you put together your best cast – even if they won’t be on the project – and spend the next week or two creating some wonderful videos and 3-D models to woo the client into thinking that your team is 10 times better than anyone else in tech and talent. This kind of performance used to work, and with some, it still does.

But the truth is, everyone is showing up with this kind of story, and project owners have seen it all before. They have seen the “real you” and know that this project pursuit sales pitch is smoke and mirrors. The quality of imagery of today’s project interviews and visuals to wow clients can out-do any science fiction television show, and some companies use this tactic to get the client to buy into the idea.

However, this is anything but reality. Project owners know that what you’re really doing is “Hollywood BIM”: creating a model, or a video of what looks like a model, and trying to make it look as pretty as possible, with no real requirement that it be data rich.

So, what to do? The owner won’t be impressed if you tell them that you really just use Excel and drive your prices and schedules from whatever your senior estimator thinks because he has worked there for 30 years. And you can’t tell them that they are going to get your B-squad project team because your good ones are booked for the next couple of years. What’s your best option? Become what you sell.

The Bad Ones Look Like the Good Ones

Using Excel and your gut to create estimates and schedules, then packaging them with a flashy video that is only loosely tied to reality, is what the not-so-great contractors do. To win a new relationship, the really good contractors compile a team of experts who have varied backgrounds in architecture, surveying, estimating, and field operations to create a product that some would still call Hollywood BIM – but with the important difference that it is founded upon rich sources of data.

These good contractors are combining experts with great technology to analyze project requirements and create a narrative focusing on challenges and opportunities within the project. And they’re letting this narrative drive the creation of project visuals, so that they are based on real data and a tailored, well-thought-out solution.

The problem is that what the not-so-good contractors present can look just like what the really good contractors present. It’s not until afterward, when the progress deliverables don’t look anything like the original, that the project owner realizes who they have created a relationship with.

Become What You Sell

Maintaining the level of deliverables shown in pursuit of the project is difficult for really good contractors, and impossible for the not-so-good ones. When you have to go way outside your normal process to create a deliverable, it is painful in both cost and time. The further outside your process, the greater the pain.

The answer is to build a process around an integrated solution that ties all of your technology together seamlessly and is operated by a diverse team, using processes that support seamless integration. The idea is to get to a point in your business where the amazing video flythroughs and data-rich BIM are simple snapshots of your current progress, almost like hitting the “print report” button. Even better is when that “Hollywood BIM” effect is simply a live, interactive presentation of your current progress.

Leveraging a fully integrated set of technology will allow your team members to share data with others on the project team, without having to do anything different from their day-to-day jobs. Imagine a time when you don’t have to pull your best team off to spend a couple of weeks chasing a big job, in the hope that your company gets it. Imagine what it looks like when that deliverable you need to chase a job is the same as the deliverable you give to all of your current customers as a progress report, and it takes only a few minutes to create.

Make Yourself Magnetic

When you have a work environment and toolset that don’t require your team to experience massive pain to win work, you get more than happy customers and happy team members. This environment draws the best in the industry to want to be a part of that team. Finding great team members is hard, so creating a stellar environment is a great way to attract the best and brightest to want to work for you. With great team members, a great environment, and great technology, you get great customers who will not think twice to give you repeat business.

I know that I may make it sound easy, and you might think I’m trivializing what it takes to do this. You’re right: It’s not easy to get to a point where Hollywood BIM is a byproduct of your everyday work, and it’s not like there is a wealth of technology and people just sitting out there waiting for someone to bring them on board. But what is easy and is available right now is painting the vision and working toward it one step at a time.

Find people who believe in this vision. Find technology that supports this vision, created by companies who are working toward this vision. Set the direction for your teams, and don’t give up the first time you stray off course. Every step you make toward not having to go way out of your way to attract and win the next job is a step toward having top talent and top clients that will stick with the relationship for the long haul.

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