How to make technological transformation projects succeed

For the last three years of my career in the built environment, I have been involved with transformation in one form or another. I have seen first-hand what works, and more to the point, what doesn’t work.

As an industry, we are poor at sharing our successes, let alone where we failed. I want to share some of my experiences with you in the hope that it improves your chance of succeeding in whatever transformation project you’re involved with. 

Don’t underestimate the power of leadership. 

I have seen the good and bad of transformation leadership.

In my experience, there are three mistakes that leaders generally make when they are managing a transformation project.

  1. They don’t understand their teams and the abilities they have 
  2. They concentrate too much on processes and pre-conceived philosophies
  3. They invest too much in new systems without focussing on the impact to organisational culture

My biggest point about leadership is around the experiences of decision-makers. A lot of the time, those in positions of authority aren’t as experienced in digital as you may hope. 

Having empathy is key when explaining to leaders how their business needs to change. How would it feel to be told you need to embrace a technology that you don’t fully understand?

For successful technology transformation, don’t focus on technology

I know this sounds odd but it’s a mistake made time and time again. Organisations fall into the trap of buying a product without truly understanding why they need it and how it will be used. 

Organisations generally know what they want the technology to do, so they start with this. They buy a product based on its functionality and not how easily it can be used or if it will improve how employees deliver projects and do their jobs. 

This again comes down to empathy. How will decisions made during the transformation project affect those you are asking to change?

Put employee engagement first

I helped run a transformation project where we asked staff what innovation meant to them in a simple, approachable way. 

We asked them what they are proud of and what they would like to do. This enabled us to gain a baseline of where the business was in terms of innovation and technology, while also engaging employees with the work we were doing. 

Simple, yet effective. 

In the past I’ve seen, and been involved with, transformation projects that don’t have this approach and instead look at the bottom line. Projects that don’t adequately engage with staff and instead are obsessed by return on investment may succeed for a short period but fail to stick and truly transform the organisation as intended.

You must change perceptions if we are truly going to transform

If you are trying to do something new then you are going to bring something alien to the organisation. This could make everyday procedure difficult or even uncomfortable for a while. 

This needs to be tackled head-on. The way you do that is by playing on the fact that things are developing by bringing a new way of leading to the project. 

Bring a brand identity to what you’re doing, something that is a little contrasting to the organisation. Communicate differently and communicate a lot. Report your wins, losses, progress and what you do on a daily basis. More than anything, have fun with it. 

We take ourselves too seriously in the built environment and bringing some fun to the transformation project will go a long way to making the changes stick.

Time for Change

Why we started This is Change and why now, above all other points in history, is the time to rethink the way we do things

 My crazy journey to transform the construction industry / For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with the built environment. I have admired and enjoyed the structures that surround us and love trying to understand how these things go together. I originally wanted to be an architect but my path eventually led me to become a design manager and I loved it! I love the cut and thrust of delivering a job, I love overcoming challenges either on-site or in the office before a project gets to site and, above all, I loved working in a team to deliver something that would truly change the World in a small way. Whether that’s through providing scientific research, education or jobs… what a feeling to be able to change the World!

Yet I find myself frustrated, pissed off, angry. Why is the construction industry only famous for being late, shit and over budget?

If I’m honest, we don’t help ourselves.

The construction industry is in a bad place right now and tier 1 contractors are really wobbling and struggling to move forward. Grenfell, issues with delivering Crossrail, uncertainty around major infrastructure projects and, most notably, the collapse of Carillion are hitting the industry hard. 

 We have a major skills shortage which isn’t going to be helped by BREXIT. People don’t want to come into the industry and I can’t blame them with the way the industry is portrayed. 

The industry is slow to adopt new technologies that could help to plug this skills gap. We have been trying to drive the adoption of BIM and yet people still ‘don’t get it’.


We have a mental health crisis with more suicides than any other industry in the UK. This is, partly, down to how male-dominated the industry is with toxic masculinity a real poison that is crippling the industry.

We are not diverse enough as an industry. Too many men. Not enough BAME. Lack of real support and inclusion for the LGBT community.

This list of negative stories goes on and this doesn’t help an industry that is self-conscious following years of put-downs from the media and public and years of not advertising itself well enough.

Towards the end of 2018, this negativity started to get to me, more so than it had started to encroach into my own business. I looked around the industry for leadership, those who are dragging the industry forward, changing perceptions, shouting down the neigh-sayers. 

Admittedly, there are some doing some great work but nothing collective. Nothing that truly champions the people of the industry. I mean, where is our Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson? Where is the charismatic leadership that will truly transform the industry and inspire change? 

I failed to find this. So, I thought I’d do something myself.


What am I doing?

There is a lack of charismatic, strong leadership in the sector to truly transform and champion it. It is my belief that people should be at the centre of any change and, in particular, digital change. I feel companies should manage people based on their motivations rather than a process. This is no more apparent than in construction where we are told to be more like manufacturing and automotive industries an eliminate people from the process more and more.

 As well as the negative perception, there is a hell of a lot of change happening in construction at the moment. Some for the good and some for the bad. Some around quality and some around technology. We need to look at this as a time for opportunity, a time to embrace change.

 I am fascinated by leadership and its impact on business, industries and people’s lives and when it is done badly, it really pisses me off. I believe that everyone deserves to be managed by the content of their character and by what motivates them, not by a process that governs them. Everyone deserves a voice that will be listened to. Everyone deserves to be empowered. It is now, at the centre of so much change, that we need to rethink the way we do things and put people first. People before process. People at the centre of transformation. People empowered, with a voice.

So here’s what I’m going to do to change all of this:

  •  Speak- we want to inspire people and share this message at events across the UK. 
  •  Host ‘This is Change’ events- I want to host events, starting in the north west, that bring people across the industry together. An event that celebrates construction whilst highlighting where we must change. 
  •  Create a #thisischange revolution - through a blog, across social media, and through a dedicated website. I want to create the go-to place for industry thought leadership and best practice.

We are going to show people how to lead the industry by celebrating and empowering the great people within it. This is Change and I can’t wait to get started.

- Rob