Female construction supervisor shaking hands with an unrecognizable man
Process Improvement

Mastering Built Environment Processes with Anthony Offredi

Written By: Elise Freedman
December 30, 2023
9 min read

As builders continue to find their way in the wake of the pandemic, the importance of effective planning and execution cannot be overstated. Misalignment in the planning and execution stages can lead to instances of Gray Work - or the slow, manual processes people employ “just to get by” - cropping up and dragging down projects.

Anthony Offredi, Director of customer advisory at Quickbase, is a low-code mentor for manufacturing and a leading voice in the field of mastering the built environment. In a recent podcast interview, Offredi discussed how to build a culture of discipline and standards, identify and mitigate risk, and how he helped improve building launch process at Amazon. His insights are invaluable for any business leader seeking to optimize their processes and achieve success.

Here are six questions from Offredi's interview that offer a taste of his expert advice.

Why are discipline and standardization necessary components for businesses to scale and succeed?

Let’s begin with an important process to follow in order to be successful. Make sure you follow the four P's:

  • People

  • Plans

  • Parts

  • Process

The process is making sure that everybody understands the what, when, where, how and why of what they’re doing.

For a business to scale, it has to count on all of the individual parts doing the same thing. Amazon for example, is all over the country, you can't be everywhere at once. What you need is a disciplined process. It can’t be too complicated, to ensure that everyone can follow it. That will allow for the same result repeatedly, following that same process.

It is crucial to have a disciplined environment. Otherwise, even if you have a standard, no one's going to follow it. If you have a culture of discipline, and then you're able to put standards in place, you’ll get the return of a good quality product. The counterpoint to that is in order to increase it to create a disciplined environment, you need to have standards. This essentially means you need both standardization and discipline to progress with your employees, giving expectations to achieve and rules to follow.

How have you seen technology evolve in your career related to process improvement?

The first 10 years of my career came down to statistical process control. Going from handwritten X bar and R charts to something more computerized. Then, we progressed into something that would be more like Excel, so you could actually see it and get it into a spreadsheet so you could act upon it. Moving in that direction was a big transformative method to get it to see where quality could really improve over the last 10 years.

For the first 10 years of my career, we were competing with the Japanese and we were competing with German companies where it would become a multi-country, global environment. And that's where a lot of the quality improvements happened in the first 10 years of my career.

And then after that, it became more complicated with the implementation of fast programs. Fast programs, meaning increasing the speed to market and technology was a huge help in getting products to market a lot faster. Before you were having a six-to-seven-year product cycle for automotive. And then we had to get down to four years. Now it's even shorter than that.

The biggest piece there for technology and communication was the enablement of the information engineer. At that point in time, it was a big transformative process. Now it's gone even further. It's really getting down to the actual operator or the builder, on a construction site where the individual operator has all of that information at their fingertips, so that their processes and their feedback can get instantly back into a database or the cloud.

That is where I see industry 4.0 with IoT and a lot of these emergent technologies coming together to give you instant feedback on what you're doing at that moment in time.

What were the biggest challenges you faced working on building automation and optimization at Amazon?

Time and money. They go hand in hand.

But the biggest thing is the time from certificate of occupancy, or when construction hands over the building, to start with the execution for the stuff that goes into the building to the time where it actually goes into operation is only six weeks. It is a very fast-moving ballet of parts and people to get everything into that building and up and running. There is quite a bit of coordination that has to happen at least 20 weeks prior to what they call ‘Day One.’ And Day One obviously is the first day of operation.

There's the communication, the tracking, the risk mitigation—all of that has to happen well in advance to make sure that you are going to hit your target day. Clearly, they have all these employees that are going to start, and you really can't tell them the day before that’ “Hey, we're not going to open today.” You have to know that well in advance.

How did you overcome those challenges?

At first, you start off by trying to put some discipline around the amount of paper that comes in. You have to start with the amount of paper that was coming in and the shared files—it was extreme. So, in the beginning, just understanding your deliverables and making sure that they were all categorized properly in the right locations was a challenge. That was the first part of the problem.

The second part of the problem was, how can we make this better? How can we alleviate the load off of these startup managers and these construction engineers that are out in the field? A lot of that led to ‘why can't we just put it in the cloud?’ And that's where I came in because I had previous experience with Quickbase. I understood that a lot of these forms, which were done in Excel and which were done in Word could easily be created and automated inside of Quickbase.

We made a priority list based on criticality and understood which ones we want to work on first and then worked our way down. And a very large list of standardized operating procedures for our department created a roadmap of which ones were going to be done by which day and then within six, seven months. We had critical mass of all the startup operating procedures done inside of Quickbase.

What do you think is the most significant challenges that businesses in the built environment are contending with today?

I still believe it's risk mitigation. It’s identification of risk, and that comes from the hyper fragmentation of data. This comes from the number of general contractors and time that is spent collecting and analyzing all the subcontractors’ reports making sure that they're following either a quality checklist or following timelines. Making sure that orders for suppliers got placed on time is a huge issue. Let alone the weather, I mean, acts of God are always going to be there. But you can prevent a lot of the issues through early risk mitigation. It's just a question of how much time you are going to be allocating towards putting all of that data together, and that's the biggest issue.

Jurisdictions and permits can always put a wrinkle in your plans, you never have complete clarity until the piece of paper is in your hand and signed. And that's part of risk mitigation. You want to make sure that those are all taken care of. But all of that really comes from that hyper fragmentation of data.

You need to have your electrical contractor done when he says he is going to be done. And knowing that earlier in the program would be certainly beneficial to mitigating risks. And I see that as the biggest challenge right now for the construction industry.

How do those challenges fall into your 'four Ps'?

I would say People and Parts—not having the right person on the job at the right time is a big issue. You don't have an early understanding if somebody is pre-committed for another project. You need to have identification of that, so that you can make a change for your subcontractors.

Then, Parts is the big one. Think about the steel industry. You need an understanding of where the support beams are coming from. If you'd have to change suppliers, you need to find a supplier early on for long lead items. And if they can't meet the timeline, and or identify that they can't meet the timeline, you're going to end up delaying your project. That was a big, big issue, and it still is a big issue.

The supply chain still hasn't fully recovered from COVID. I still think there's going to be a supply chain accordion effect over the next few years. Identifying those parts like roofing materials, you would have never thought that roofing materials could delay a project. That is one of the things that we were able to mitigate early on because we identified it earlier on in the process. You're going to talk to your roofer, and if you don't have that constant communication chain set up, you're not going to be able to mitigate your risk earlier.

For the full conversation and more insight from Anthony, check out the full podcast

Elise Freedman
Written By: Elise Freedman