Mead & Hunt provides clients with expert planning, architecture design, engineering, environmental and construction administration services. At Mead & Hunt, they approach each project as an opportunity for innovation – and they believe that innovation in any field begins with the same step: listening. That’s why they launched their FIT initiative. IdeaScale invited their innovation champion, Mike Ellicott, to our interview blog segment to talk about it:
IS: Mike, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your role at Mead & Hunt?
Mike Ellicott: My name’s Mike Ellicott and I’ve been with Mead & Hunt for a little over two years now. My official title is Federal Market Leader for the Southeast, which means I develop business with the federal government for Mead & Hunt focused on the Southeast, but I’ve really had fun as an innovation champion.
IS: And that’s of course what we’ll talk more about today. So can you tell us a little bit more about Mead & Hunt and why innovation is vital to your organization?
Mike Ellicott: Sure, Mead & Hunt is an architectural engineering firm that has been around since 1900. It’s been climbing up the list of ENR top 100 design firms and broke the top 100 this year. It started off as a small business way back when, and is now just under a thousand employees, 40 offices nationwide with a full range of services across the architectural engineering design market.
As I joined Mead & Hunt, they stood up the Foresight Innovation and Technology initiative (FIT initiative). That happened the month that I joined and that was when they said they were looking for innovation champions: folks who were interested in and helping leading innovation forward.
They recognize that the only way that they’re going to get continue to grow and climb within the industry is to innovate. So, to that end, Mead & Hunt has dedicated some pretty significant resources towards developing the FIT program and I’ve had a blast being part of it.
IS: What types of innovation are there in the architectural world?
Mike Ellicott: I think you see the same types as what’s going on in any other industry, right? How do you do things better, the process-level innovations that are out there, and then what are the next technologies that are over the hill and how are we going to leverage those more and deliver them better? We’re continuing to look at things like: how do we leverage AI to do better? How do we leverage the big data capabilities out there?
IS: Interesting. So it’s a lot about efficiency and a lot of our digital transformation and the tools that you use. So can you tell us how crowdsourcing fits into this innovation strategy?
Mike Ellicott: The key to an innovation program is that there has got to be support from the owners and principals, but that you don’t generate profitable ideas from the top down. You generate these cool ideas from the folks who are actually out there every day. And so to the extent where you can create a culture that enables that, where everyone feels comfortable raising their hand saying, “Hey, look, there’s an issue here” crowdsourcing becomes a way to create that culture.
And there are books out there. There’s a book called Knowledge and Decisions by Thomas Sowell and it’s about the power of the crowd to deliver the best solutions that are out there. I’ve seen it at every organization I’ve been: when you’re in leadership, it’s the folks who are doing the work who actually come up with a better way to do things.
IS: Can you tell us about some of the ideas that you’ve gathered or especially the ones that you’ve implemented?
Mike Ellicott: So right now, we’ve been up and running officially for about nine months. In that time, we’ve had 82 ideas entered into the system in two standing permanent campaigns: one is a continuous improvement campaign for those short-duration, quick-turn improvements that you can come up with. We’ve got 42 ideas currently in that campaign and seven of them are under implementation right now and we’ve got another 11 of them that have already passed through all the stages are out there. The other campaign that we have is our open innovation campaign and that’s for the big ideas that don’t fit in anything else. And we’ve got 40 ideas in there, five under implementation, and 12 ideas that have been vetted and in some cases, put on hold for a time when the idea is right for implementation.
There are cool ideas in both of them, but my favorites were in that open innovation one. Recognizing we need to take advantage of all the big data tools out there, we had folks submit an idea saying, “we need to organize some portion of our company to look at big data.” The effort was led by our transportation folks who do a lot of work with big data and big data innovation already. They submitted that idea and now they’ve created a new organization within Mead & Hunt and we’ve just had our first dedicated hire into that organization.
We are also implementing an idea to take advantage of the shift towards 3D visualization (VR, AR, MR), and all those different realities that are out there in a way that they’re being powered now with this digital transformation, we’ve also created a whole new focused effort dedicated towards that.
But one of the most powerful innovations was in that continuous improvement campaign: it’s a professional organization – everyone’s got to manage time towards different projects to make sure you’re accounting for them in order to maintain your auditability & profitability. But the folks who were project managers had access to all the time information and the folks who are actually providing a lot of the services, unless they’re a name of a project manager, couldn’t access even their own data.
So one person put an idea out there on FIT HUB, a subject matter expert saw that idea & they worked together. They just deployed a new way for folks to be able to track their how much time they have dedicated towards projects. And it’s really helped facilitate understanding to make sure you’re spending your time wisely, as opposed to on what’s most urgent or most compelling.
And the coolest thing about that last one was the idea went out there on FIT hub and then the team of people who formed to implement the solution found each other on FIT hub.
IS: So, I was going to ask who is in charge of implementing these ideas, but it sounds like you’re empowering the community to make those changes? Is that always the case?
Mike Ellicott: Yeah. So the person who’s in charge of implementing those ideas is the person who had the ideas. If they’re interested enough to have the idea we’re going to empower them to put that idea into practice.
But there’s a whole host of folks who support it on the backside. We’ve got folks who are subject matter experts, we’ve got other folks who have just always been fascinated by innovation who will jump in to help them organize and build teams (if a team is necessary), help them gain consensus.
But within our innovation program itself, there are two people that really have made this happen: one is a guy named Chad Moffett, and he’s a long time Mead & Hunt employee. He has been one of the main driving forces behind getting us up and running. And then the next one is Candace Gosney – another long-time Mead & Hunt employee. She spends most of her time building out our digital presence. So the idea authors take the ideas to fruition, but those two folks, Chad and Candace are the two who really put this thing into practice.
IS: If somebody else wanted to do this at their organization, what’s the most important piece of advice that you would give them?
Mike Ellicott: I think the most important thing is going to be that culture, right? Is there an actual innovation culture there? If there is no culture there, it’s going to be hard to create one from scratch. You’re unlikely to be able to generate the support from the top that’s necessary.
You’ve got to have leadership involvement and an active support, not just passive acquiescence. So if you’ve got the cultural leadership support that’s the most basic building block.
IS: Of what are you most proud in your innovation?
Mike Ellicott: Well, we got it up and running. As of today 367 folks have logged in. And we don’t force people to log in, which gives us about almost 40% of the company is in there at any given time. We’ve got probably 50% of them actively engaged in and talking about or commenting on ideas in there. And it’s been fascinating to see sort of the growth in the use of this. Probably the thing that I’m most proud of is that it’s up and running and people are starting to make it part of the innovation culture. I wish that I’d had this in my previous job.