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Insights into the ideas and innovations that are transforming project planning and delivery

Lendlease Innovation Leader on How to Put Ideas Into Practice

In this month's "Trailblazers" interview, we speak with Jasna Sims, group head of innovation culture at Lendlease.

Sims discusses how her career background, including her training as an architect, informs her work as well as how Lendlease fosters a culture of innovation to accelerate the pace of new ideas.

Dr. Burcin Kaplanoglu, executive director, innovation officer at Oracle Construction and Engineering, leads the conversation.

BK: Can you explain your current role and how your career has evolved since you started in the industry?

JS: I'm the head of innovation culture at Lendlease. I'm lucky to work for an organization with a strong innovation track record. From the very beginning, our Lendlease founders have focused on our customers and were willing to challenge industry norms.

We realized a few years back that we needed to accelerate our pace of innovation. We noticed that our customers are increasingly impacted by big challenges, including: the impact of climate change, escalating urbanization, an aging population, and housing affordability.

These mounting challenges impact the communities that we operate in all around the world. We’re determined to be a part of the solution. That's why we've put even more focus and support towards innovation.

Creating an innovation process and methodology

We’ve embedded innovation into our strategy and set aside budget specifically to support early-stage innovation and exploration. We've introduced an innovation process and a methodology and established innovation labs.

We continue to train people and have assigned dedicated resources to support the innovation portfolio. But we also knew that doing these things independently wouldn’t necessarily result in the innovation pace increasing—we needed to embed the right behaviors.

Developing an environment that supports innovation

In my role, I work with our leadership teams to create an environment that’s supportive of innovation. Driving the right culture throughout the organization is a key component to creating this environment.

I’ve been a Lendlease employee for a long time. Before my current role, I worked in transformation, driving change throughout the organization, and as a development manager, a project manager, and a consultant.

I’m an architect by training. I’ve operated from an architectural design-thinking mindset from the beginning. My previous roles have prepared me well for my current position driving innovation across Lendlease.

BK: What is your view of the state of innovation in the industry?

JS: We've seen how much more innovation there is—both in property and construction. The property and construction tech sectors are really heating up.

Lendlease is focused on the future of construction, ensuring our construction methodology evolves, improves, is safer, and less expensive. As an industry, we innovate around construction and delivery techniques, but we also innovate around the products that we deliver.

Improving project delivery through innovation

Our customers' needs are changing. There are big global trends that are impacting the built environment. While it's important that we improve how we deliver things, it's also important to improve what we deliver.

A lot of what Lendlease delivers takes a long time. Some of our communities in urban regeneration developments can take up to 30 years to complete. People will experience significant changes in their lives throughout this timeframe.

It's not easy to predict how trends like autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc., will evolve and impact how people live, work, and play in the places that we deliver. The industry must look at innovation from numerous angles to ensure we're solving customers’ problems as well as our own.

BK: Where do you see are the biggest challenges to innovation? How can organizations foster a culture of innovation?

JS: I was in Silicon Valley not long ago, and there were posters around that said, "So you have an idea? How cute."

Organizations are full of ideas. What's difficult is translating those ideas into meaningful innovations, or meaningful new outcomes, that deliver value for customers. The challenge is how to execute these ideas and turn them into something.

Innovation delivery and execution

We’ve focused heavily on building the capability to experiment and execute on our ideas. Innovation requires different mindsets, metrics, and management methodologies to those used routinely in a business.

For example, over the past few years, our innovation lab has been running an innovation accelerator program in partnership with professors from Stanford. The program is focused on accelerating a meaningful portfolio of ideas and on building an innovation capability in our organization.

That capability must be ingrained in those who are innovating: employees, managers, sponsors, senior leaders, and CEOs.

Learn how to innovate by innovating

We've learned that, while it's easy to run training courses in innovation, our people often found it hard to consolidate and use those newly acquired skills. For example, all innovation training instructs why it’s important to be lean and fast when you experiment, but it's hard to imagine what that looks like in practice.

Nowadays, our people learn how to innovate while innovating. We support our founders with coaching from our innovation teams and the lab.  

Through our accelerator, we hand out innovation assignments to our founders and coach them on how to execute those assignments. We’ve learned how to execute hundreds of experiments leveraging this approach, using no more than a few hundred dollars with dozens of customers across a one-week period.  

That’s when you truly start to understand what lean, fast experimentation, and innovation implementation means—when you go through this type of hands-on, purposeful learning experience

BK: How do you foster that culture within the organization?

JS: We’re creating a workplace culture that will help us change our behaviors and mindsets every step of the way. We want this workplace culture firmly in place for everyone involved in driving innovation in the organization.

A lot of innovations get neutralized in organizations because the innovation teams are asked for five-year business plans. Innovation teams are expected to meet standard KPIs and they’re expected not to fail.  We know that new innovations are never going to pass that.

The role of experimentation

Senior leadership must demonstrate, showcase, and reward the behaviors that we need throughout the organization. At Lendlease, we want to deliver products that will work in 30 years’ time, not just now. We must accept that failure is something to be expected as part of innovation.

That’s a hard concept for people to accept. If we fail onsite, it could impact safety. And of course, it’s not acceptable for people to get hurt onsite.

It's essential that every person who works on our sites leaves in the same condition as when they arrived.

You need to create sandboxes and environments where it's safe to experiment, to fail, and to try new things. And you need to reward people who fail as they challenge the norm.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of our interview, in which Sims discusses which emerging technologies represent the best opportunities today.

Read our eBook: "Innovation in Construction: Perspectives from AEC Innovation Leaders"

Related "Trailblazers" posts:

Explore innovation in action at the Oracle Construction and Engineering Innovation Lab, a simulated worksite with integrated technologies.

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