Shaping a Better Industry

Written by Robert Hoshowsky

Times, they are a-changing indeed, and that has never been truer than in the construction industry. Construction is undergoing a much-needed revolution. Change of that magnitude over a short period of time brings about lots of questions. What transformations are necessary to increase productivity, efficiency, sustainability and safety on sites? What should fuel this transformation? How should it be approached? At Pomerleau, the answer was FOX – the Foundation for Operational Excellence.

A few years ago, President and Chief Executive Officer Pierre Pomerleau read a study from global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which pointed out that construction hadn’t seen any productivity improvements for some 30 years. FOX – Pomerleau’s corporate transformation program – is composed of initiatives that tackle roadblocks to change. It helps answer the question, ‘what technologies could be useful to optimize efficiency and safety?’ but also speaks to the process, the ‘how it will get done?’

In other words, FOX ensures that there is a close relationship between offices and sites, and that Pomerleau’s corporate transformation involves everyone, and improves everyone’s day-to-day.

Inspiration for change
Varun Dhawan, a Project Manager in Pomerleau’s Toronto office, recalls a speech by Pierre Pomerleau in 2015 on the urgent need for construction as a whole to change as much as other industries had. Since construction is playing catch-up compared to many sectors, the industry also needs to pick up the pace.

To Dhawan, FOX is an embodiment of Pomerleau’s ongoing commitment to its core values of excellence and innovation in the campaign to root out ‘dinosaur’ thinking.

“Continual improvement is something we always look for in an industry that historically is not known to deal with change efficiently,” he says. “We’ve taken this initiative that many of us are involved in and we’re trying to improve little things. We’ve been in FOX for over two years and come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go.”

It is, he says, a tremendous platform for collaboration across the entire company spectrum, where lessons can be learned, practices improved, and different perspectives appreciated and understood, enhancing collaboration between different divisions like Civil and Infrastructures and Buildings.

The genesis of FOX goes back to 2018 when the company held discussions about how to streamline efficiencies, like eliminating repetitive/duplicate tasks, harmonizing its processes, and focusing on high added-value activities to operationalize change management. Participation in the program is done on a voluntary basis.

Many other construction companies remain top-down in terms of how they transform and how decisions are made, but this is not the case at Pomerleau, where all employees are encouraged to give input on matters great and small. Through FOX, the company then finds solutions to improve processes.

These conversations resulted in some 15 improvement projects that began in January 2019. Monitoring these initial initiatives, Pomerleau launched 20 more the following January, which included a Sustainable Development program.

Serving as an engine, FOX is being utilized by Pomerleau coast-to-coast to foster collegiality and innovation, and to power the company’s corporate transformation and how it continues to evolve as a business.

Employees as drivers of change
One of Canada’s largest and most respected general contractors, Pomerleau was founded in Quebec in 1964. Now in its second generation of Pomerleau family ownership, the business has grown to over 4,000 employees, nine regional offices, and approximately 200 active worksites engaged in projects of all sizes ranging from institutional to industrial, commercial to residential.

Despite its significant presence – currently ranked sixth in terms of revenue in Canada – Pomerleau maintains a family-feeling working environment. For Krista Gill, this continues to resonate through the Foundation for Operational Excellence.

“For me, FOX represent the values of the company I work for, and it’s great that as a business, they are asking for my advice and involving colleagues and me in the change management process. It speaks to how we are treated and valued as people,” says the 12-year veteran Sustainability and Commissioning Manager in Pomerleau’s Halifax office.

“Rather than telling me how to do my work, it’s Pomerleau saying, ‘What do you think, how can we improve this? You’ve had lots of experience, tell me about it.’ It’s that mechanism that allows us to learn from each other to improve, rather than stay stagnant,” she says.

For Gill and others, FOX initiatives can help address a range of inefficiencies including those related to material purchasing. “If you look at a lot of the initiatives, they’re aimed at making the best use of all the resources that we have in our big toolbox, our people and our knowledge,” she says. “Getting rid of inefficiencies in everything is what FOX is all about.”

Involved with FOX for a long time, Gill has experienced its many benefits firsthand across various projects and current initiatives – from the creation of an expert group and in-house trainings for sustainable construction (certifications like LEED) to the deployment of a new integrated document management system for every new project. By bringing like-minded individuals together, FOX connects new and seasoned employees to one another, and represents a milestone in organizational transformation for Pomerleau.

Set up for success, even during the pandemic
While all construction companies have had to face challenges stemming from COVID-19, some at Pomerleau believe the pandemic and working remotely actually unleashed the full power of FOX. The construction industry will play a central role in Canada’s economic recovery and Pomerleau, who has always banked on teamwork and innovation as drivers for excellence, will help drive this recovery forward. Through FOX, the company has continued to empower all staff to seize opportunities, even in the context of the pandemic.

“While COVID took our close networks and separated them a little bit and made us further away from the people we were typically physically close to, it also brought people who are further away closer to us,” says Gill.

Operating coast-to-coast, Pomerleau staff were accustomed to dealing with others remotely, yet the pandemic sped up technology, allowing them to become even more collaborative while getting to know their co-workers from other parts of the country better.

Unique assessment program
Among FOX’s latest initiatives is the Zero Percent Assessment Initiative, a platform used to optimize project kickoff.

For Tomy Drolet, a Senior Project Manager in the Civil and Infrastructures Division in British Columbia, this initiative comes as a welcome change from old-fashioned ways of working, like using a one-pager with bullet points and sitting in a room and taking notes during the initial project meeting. Since Pomerleau is growing and has shared services and knowledge, the company wants to ensure it gathers all information ahead of a project and has developed a method for capturing and disseminating key information.

With the Zero Percent Assessment Initiative – a web-based platform – everyone involved in a project has the opportunity to provide information at a live, accessible, and efficient kickoff meeting.

“When we get to the kickoff meeting, it’s a much more productive process,” says Drolet, who, like Gill, is also a 12-year Pomerleau veteran. “Everyone around the table already has knowledge of the project and knows what they want to bring to the discussion, instead of sitting and hearing all of this new information for the first time.

“It’s just one example of a simple process where we found FOX could bring value to the company by making it a 2021 version, if you will.” FOX, by its very nature, pushes everyone to think outside the box. It is a means of looking at new ways of doing things, sharing best practices, and adapting to various realities in which the company operates.

Many FOX initiatives help bring cohesion to the complex environment that is a construction worksite. It involves not just Pomerleau employees, but trade partners and collaborators to make things more efficient for all.

Onwards and upwards, what’s next for FOX?
As one of Pomerleau’s core values, innovation, including human-driven innovation through programs like FOX, has guided the company’s growth over the last decade. The hope is that paired with the use of processes and technologies like BIM (Building Information Modeling) and Spot the robot dog (Pomerleau was the first construction company in the world to use this technology on a worksite), FOX will helps accelerate the pace of change not just at Pomerleau, but in the industry as a whole. As part of the larger Innovation team and working in combination with the aXlab (Pomerleau’s newest research and development team and facility), the FOX process is set to foster the scale-up of the various processes and technologies to create the construction site of the future.

To date, feedback on FOX has been outstanding. Dhawan, Gill and Drolet encourage other colleagues to be part of its initiatives and are open and responsive to answering questions. Feedback from Pomerleau’s clients and trade partners has been invaluable, with some praising the initiative for saving money and time, and for working with openness and transparency.

No step is too small in a necessary industry-wide revolution and modernization. Having different voices represented and people from different backgrounds involved in crafting practical and effective solutions that will make a difference in the day-to-day on a worksite is a good starting point. That’s how FOX will continue to drive progress at Pomerleau and beyond.



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