Image: Katie Ledecky, gold medalist swimmer (image sourced from TYR)
Digital transformation within design and construction businesses has long been a hot topic among leaders and strategists. The conversation has taken on many forms since the introduction of the first digital CAD systems into mainstream practice. With the accelerating pace of technological innovation in the past two decades, developing strategies for adoption and implementation of digital technology continues to be near the top of the list of company initiatives as we enter into 2023.
As a digital consulting agency, the Proving Ground team has observed many common tactics among strategies taking hold among architectural design firms, construction companies, and building owners. These often include positioning of digital experts, investments in training resources, the development of standards, and research into new capabilities such as AI, automation, and virtual reality.
As I have described in past articles, however, the transformation of design and construction businesses with new digital concepts is often rife with roadblocks and setbacks. Even in some of the most digitally progressive organizations, it is not uncommon to see capabilities exist with limited capacity, uneven adoption of standards, and R&D initiatives positioned more as a marketing tactic rather than an instrument for business insight and change.
While the barriers above have dramatic impacts on a businesses digital transformation, the root cause is often not digital in nature. In a 2019 article ‘Get the Lead Out’, I discussed some ideas for overcoming the barriers to digital transformation which focused on developing ‘healthy’ business practices that can be broadly applied to an organization. The fundamental premise being that a healthy business – one that prioritizes tactics for leadership development, equitable team building, strong communication and change management – is more likely to see success with their digital transformation in the long term.
…a healthy business – one that prioritizes tactics for leadership development, equitable team building, strong communication and change management – is more likely to see success with their digital transformation in the long term.
There is another important concept that I believe exists alongside healthy business practices and the availability of technology: ‘digital fitness’.
Health describes an overall condition of well-being whereas fitness is specific to the ability to perform a specific capability.
The term digital fitness may conjure up images of smart watches and sensor-infused workout equipment. Many may also conflate the term ‘health’ with ‘fitness’. While health and fitness are often used synonymously, health describes an overall condition of well-being whereas fitness is specific to the ability to perform a specific capability. A healthy person may have a balanced diet, is low in stress, gets good sleep, and is free of medical ailments. Meanwhile, a fit person may be quite proficient at performing a certain exercise or may regularly participate in a specific sport.
Together, however, attending to both the health and fitness of your business can be a powerful means to set the context for excelling in digital capabilities. Let’s explore the concept of digital fitness for a business:
Why Digital Fitness?
The digital fitness of your business refers to your company’s ability to perform certain technology-dependent tasks and – in doing so – improve your ability to conduct business. It is important to understand that this definition contains elements of both performance and outcomes. When a person commits to ‘becoming fit’ they are likely making a selection of the kind of exercise they will be performing (ie. weight lifting, yoga, etc.) which will drive a certain outcome (ie strength, flexibility, etc)
The digital fitness of your business refers to your company’s ability to perform certain technology-dependent tasks and – in doing so – improve your ability to conduct business.
When it comes to your business’ digital fitness, the same performative outcomes must be defined. Perhaps your fitness goal is to develop capabilities in parametric tools in order to support faster iterative design. Or perhaps your business wants to utilize data analysis to support better decisions about construction cost trends. Each of these scenarios specifieds A. the specific thing to get better at and B. what you want to achieve.
The aforementioned concept of your business health plays a role here as well. If you are committing to growing your capability in computational design, success will depend on your company’s ability to grow leaders and adopt new workflows.
In the world of digital tools, training is a common activity for learning new skills. Likely all of us have attended a workshop, watched a tutorial, or taken a complete course related to a digital capability. Professionally, I have taught numerous seminars and workshops on the topic of computational design with tools such as Grasshopper. As both a student and an instructor, training can be difficult to strike the right balance between introducing general concepts, navigating technical features, and aligning the curriculum with specific goals.
Training and learning is an essential component to cultivating digital fitness. However, it is often the case that many digital strategies treat training opportunities as ‘one off’ or infrequent events within the company. For a digitally fit company, training and learning need to be a routine.
An athlete does not start setting records through infrequent practice – they are doing their routine daily. A gold medalist swimmer like Katie Ledecky swims 10 times per week on top of regular gym time.
Without digital skills being regularly reinforced, exercised, and utilized you can expect that training outcomes from a workshop to be negligible.
The routine with which your team utilizes, practices, and learns digital capabilities is essential for it to be successful. When I give a workshop, a common piece of feedback in the aftermath is usually something akin to “the concepts here are amazing but I’ll likely forget it all when I get back to doing my work.” In other words: without digital skills being regularly reinforced, exercised, and utilized you can expect that training outcomes from a workshop to be negligible. Businesses should ensure that these new skills do not fall by the wayside like a poorly conceived New Years resolution.
To circumvent this, think of training needs to be a routine:
- Training happens regularly.
- Training objectives are specific.
- Skills are reinforced in daily work, projects, and habits.
In athletics, there is a concept called the specificity principle. Essentially, it posits that in order to excel in a specific activity, your training must include that specific activity in your routine. A swimmer trains by swimming. A runner trains by running.
In order to excel in a specific activity, your training must include that specific activity in your routine. A swimmer trains by swimming. A runner trains by running
In business, the specificity principle is useful when considering your digital capabilities. How often does your team get training in a specific capability that has been determined to be critical to your business? How often does your team use specific tools and concepts in their everyday workflow?
I’ve been fortunate enough to know and learn beside many talented computational designers and I have been able to observe the specificity principle at work. Some computational designers can assemble project-specific algorithms in Grasshopper as if it were breathing – they have the fluency to work through a problem, find the required components, and iterate on a design.
Other computational designers have been more equipped manipulating data structures to support integration and workflows with effortless agility. Both are computational designers with specific training and experience to hone their skills… and it’s important to note that the skills might not be interchangeable.
The specificity principle should be a guide for a business:
- Where do you need your team to excel with digital tools?
- What are the capabilities that deliver value to your organization?
- How will you develop routines to cultivate that specific capability?
What is important is that the level of fitness is measurable and improvement can be determined using this measurement.
The fitness of a person can be measured in a variety of ways: strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility are common ones. Some people may be more fit in one area while others may strive to be more well-rounded. What is important is that the level of fitness is measurable and improvement can be determined using this measurement.
In your design or construction business, there may be a number of measurable concepts you use to determine how fit your team is with the digital technology at their disposal. Perhaps your digital capabilities are enabling you to offer better quality services at a lower cost compared to your competitors? Maybe skills in data and analysis are enabling you to demonstrate measurable reduction in carbon emissions in your facilities over time? Or what if you’ve developed such a degree of excellence in a digital capability that you are the only team that can offer a differentiating service?
Whatever the case, your ability to measure your level of fitness in a particular area will be critical in assessing your capability and – ultimately – if your digital transformation is a success.
Creating your digital fitness plan
As part of your digital transformation strategy, support your goals and tactics by defining routines and regimens that will yield digital fitness for your business. These components should be specific to your goals: what are the training routines and daily work habits required to become more agile with data management? How often should my team exercise their computational design skills to continually improve the speed of iteration?
In future articles, I will explore specific tactics that work in developing a business’ digital fitness so your company can become stronger, more agile, and faster in deploying new capabilities.
Meanwhile, please reach out to us at Proving Ground – we’d love to help you on you with your digital transformation journey!