Fail more, succeed sooner: How change management spurs construction progress

While new technology brings many benefits to how we work, implementing new solutions in the construction industry isn’t without friction — and that’s part of the process. The challenge is not only technical but also human and organisational. In the journey to adopt autonomous technologies, success depends on comprehensive change management.

I recently served as the moderator for a panel on the autonomous future of construction, and one of the topics we discussed was how firms can ready their teams for this era of automation. Change management stands out as an essential component, equipping organisations to prepare their workforce for the future. This preparation ensures that changes are not only implemented smoothly but also are sustainable for lasting benefits.

Here are just a few lessons I’ve learned when managing the change that comes with adopting new technology solutions.

Embrace the learning curve

Implementing autonomous solutions in the construction industry is akin to learning an entirely new skill. It’s a journey filled with opportunities, challenges and inevitable missteps. Here’s how construction firms can approach this learning curve:

Recognise the inevitability of mistakes: No one learns to walk without falling, and no company can adopt new technology without facing setbacks. Mistakes are not failures; they’re essential steps in the learning process. Recognise them as such, and you’ll create an environment where exploration is encouraged and learning flourishes.

Encourage exploration and experimentation: The fear of the unknown often deters employees from fully engaging with new technology. Encourage users to play with the system, ask questions and experiment. Provide them with a safe space where they can test and learn without the fear of failure. Just like learning to walk, the first steps with new technology can be uncertain but are essential for mastery.

Apply learned skills strategically: Once the new skills are mastered, look for ways to apply them in various contexts. Just as the ability to walk opens opportunities for running races or hiking, mastering a new technology should lead to innovative applications across different projects and areas within the construction firm.

Develop references

References are essential in guiding the adoption process. The concept of references here extends beyond mere guidelines or manuals; it encompasses experiences, examples and learnings that can be shared across the organisation. Here’s how you can use references to ease the adoption of new technology:

Start with exploration and learning: Successful companies often create dedicated teams responsible for exploring new technologies. This team’s mission is to learn, experiment and understand the nuances of the latest solutions, making them the internal experts or champions. By doing so, they create a bank of hands-on knowledge, experience and best practices.

Create tangible demonstrations: Developing tangible demonstrations or pilot projects within the organisation can be an effective way to show the benefits and practicalities of the new technology. These can serve as living references, inspiring confidence and illustrating the path from concept to implementation. They offer concrete examples for people to see and understand how the technology fits within the existing framework.

Take small steps for lasting change

Implementing a transformation project with completely new equipment and changes in processes, contracts and coding can encounter resistance. The magnitude of such an overhaul can feel overwhelming, leading to pushback and slow adoption.

The story of James Dyson illustrates a more practical approach. Dyson created 5,127 prototypes for his vacuum cleaners. Instead of using expensive materials, he employed cardboard or paper, which allowed him to test hypotheses with a marginal cost per learning. He could direct air streams using the most cost-effective materials, facilitating rapid experimentation.

This method echoes the importance of small, incremental steps in implementing new technology within a construction firm. By taking a similar approach, the focus shifts from an extensive overhaul to a continuous improvement process. Keep these principles in mind:

Start small and experiment: Just like Dyson’s use of inexpensive materials for prototypes, begin by testing new autonomous solutions on a small scale. Use cost-effective methods to experiment with the technology and learn its functionalities and limitations.

Scale gradually: Once the technology has been validated and refined, begin a gradual rollout. Monitor the results, make continuous improvements and increase the scale as confidence grows. This approach minimises resistance by allowing everyone to adapt at a comfortable pace.

The lesson from Dyson’s methodical approach to innovation is clear: the faster you can learn, the quicker you can experiment. Avoid the temptation to leap into grand transformations. Instead, focus on incremental improvements that can be quickly tested and refined.

The path to an autonomous future isn’t merely a technological challenge; it’s a journey that demands careful navigation, strategic planning and a mindset open to exploration and learning. By embracing the inevitable learning curve, developing concrete references and taking small, incremental steps, construction firms can overcome resistance and pave the way for innovation. The lessons from pioneers like James Dyson serve as a reminder that the art of successful adaptation lies in continuous experimentation and the courage to make mistakes.

As we find ourselves on the brink of an autonomous future in construction, we shouldn’t approach it with apprehension but rather with curiosity and creativity. Let’s create environments where failure is seen as a stepping stone, not a stumbling block, and where a continuous pursuit of innovation drives us forward.

Explore construction automation’s role in overcoming challenges and meeting priorities in our Autonomous Construction Tech Outlook.

Or, if you’re ready to discuss how new technology can be implemented in your company, please reach out to me.

Tobias Pforr

Meet Tobias Pforr, a hands-on professional with roots in Germany's Black Forest and a current home in Switzerland. In his role as Business Lead at Hexagon Geosystems, Tobias integrates technology, business, and people as he spearheads market development for the Leica BLK2FLY autonomous flying laser scanner. With over a decade of experience, Tobias assists companies in exploring new ventures and shares his expertise as a master's level university instructor in Innovation & Strategic Management. Beyond the office, Tobias enjoys staying active, exploring the culinary scene and spending time with friends and family.