Three ways Fortune 500 real estate teams can overcome bureaucracy, uncertainty, and risk aversion to launch a successful technology pilot at a large corporation.

This is the first piece of a 2-part series.  In this part we focus on the corporate real estate leaders and the things they can do to accelerate innovation.

The rapid evolution of real estate technology is transforming the physical workplace into a digital experience.  Companies that don’t offer the most advanced and innovative workplace will be at a competitive disadvantage within their market.  Compared to the companies that embrace, adopt, and scale these technologies, the laggards will be challenged to 1) keep their employees engaged and productive, 2) attract and retain top talent, and 3) miss out on the efficiency and cost savings these new technologies can offer.

Despite this set of compelling incentives to accelerate innovation, the corporate real estate market has been a laggard in the adoption of modern mobile technology.  This seems to be changing as more companies become educated on the benefits, yet the process to research, vet, and pilot technologies can still take up to 12 months. Based off our research at CrowdComfort the leading reasons for delays include bureaucracy, uncertainty, and risk aversion.  Through 5+ years of experience on 100+ projects we’ve identified three key factors that can mitigate these forces and accelerate the innovation process within large companies, ultimately shrinking the time-to-deployment of a new project o 3 months.

1) Define and document the specific pain point you are solving

2) Assign a champion early on in the process.

3) Set a weekly cadence.

Now, let’s take a deeper dive on each of these, shall we?

1) Define and document the specific pain point you are solving.  Too often, what starts off as a simple and well-defined project, snowballs into a significantly larger and more complicated endeavor that ends up watering down the original purpose of the initiative.  Defining and documenting the pain point you are solving provides an anchor when the project becomes noisy.

An example:  You have a team that is tasked with deploying a room-booking technology.  As you do research you discover that some room-booking companies also offer a service request category.  You loop in facility teams to include them in the process. As you work out the details, someone suggests that if you are already deploying an app that will do room booking and service requests, you should also think about adding other services like badging in, food orders, and wayfinding.  Before you know it you are coordinating the interests and requirements of 5 different departments only to discover that there are no off-the-shelf apps that can do all of these things well. It is decided that the project will need to be completed by either the in-house IT or an outsourced custom development shops.  By this time 12 months have gone by, the budget has ballooned to $1M+, and there isn’t even a working prototype.

Stick to solving the original pain point.  Deploy the standalone room booking app recognizing that it may not be perfect, but at least you can get something delivered on-time and on-budget that will create a foundation of which you can build upon.  Rapid iteration and a Lean approach are critical to execution of an agile innovation strategy

2) Assign a champion early on in the process. A technology provider cannot be expected to navigate the corporate waters efficiently or effectively without a champion.  If the technology provider is leading efforts to engage with IT, Security or procurement, they will likely be de-prioritized because there is no sense of urgency since they lack the authority to enforce the completion of certain tasks.    A big reason that CREtech project can take 12+ months to launch is because they get held up in one of the “approval gates” and can spend 3+ months on the shelf, often time forgotten.

A true champion is a business leader who will advocate for the technology and your team throughout the project ensuring the initiative doesn’t fall victim to inertia.   This person will guide the technology provider through this process and will be by their side from the initial introduction to procurement, then through the launch and evaluation period.  Some specific responsibilities of the champion include

  • Intimately understand the organizational culture and process and “approval gates”.  It’s important that the champion has the knowledge of who needs to review and eventually approve each part of a new technology.  
  • Communicate the importance of the project to relevant stakeholders across the organizations.  If the IT doesn’t understand the purpose of context of the project, they can often misunderstand or mismanage the review of the technology leading to unnecessary delays.
  • Collaboratively build a business case with technology provider.  There will be many objections throughout the process that will create delays, often ending with the question “why are we doing this?”  While articulating the reasons is helpful, it is essential to have a business case that is data driven and demonstrates an ROI.
  • Be a squeaky wheel.  Most people don’t like to be this person, but the champion needs to be vocal and persistent in order to keep process moving.
  • Creatively overcome barriers presented by bureaucracy.  Many companies have outdated review process of technology requirements.  A champion will work with the necessary stakeholders to appropriately overcome these challenges, whether that is modifying specific language, creating new forms, or getting buy-in from the higher-ups on signing off on an exception.  
  • Manage expectations of the technology provider.  Technology providers will not be as familiar with your organizational culture or process, as you are.  It’s important for a champion to communicate the process and manage expectations of the provider. The sooner a provider understands the journey that lies ahead the better they can prepare to execute.

Real disruption and innovation isn’t easy.  Most people don’t like change and there will be many who push back on any new way of doing things.  A champion is the person who embraces the challenge with enthusiasm, energizes the community with a vision, and ensures that a project will be delivered on-time and on-budget.  

3) Set a weekly cadence.  Time kills all projects.  The longer a projects takes to execute, the greater the likelihood a showstopper will emerge, whether it is a sudden change in budgets, priorities, or leadership change.   We all know that when someone suggests to “table the conversation for 2 months” what they really mean (80% of the time) is that the project is being put on the shelf indefinitely.  An effective way to overcome this is to set a weekly cadence with the relevant stakeholders.

A weekly 30-minute check-in should be structured and consistent each session.  While each project will be unique, a general framework for this check-in is outlined below:

  • What we did last week, current status, and what we are doing next week
  • Review the project goals and determine if you are on track to hit them
  • If you are, great, share the success with team to keep them engaged and enthused.  
  • If you aren’t, acknowledge that and determine ways to get the project back on track.  
  • Leave time for open questions, objections, and organic discussion.  This is an opportunity to weed out any new objections, ulterior motives, or hidden opportunities

This cadence keeps the project top-of-mind and acts as a forcing function to complete all the seemingly small tasks that can accumulate and fester over time if left unaddressed.  Also important to document many of these check-in with email summaries or minutes afterward to ensure everyone is on the same page and has ownership of certain action items. This consistency, transparency, and accountability will prevent delays and keep a project moving along efficiently.  

Summary

Innovation is hard.  This is especially true when working with emerging CREtech within a large corporate environment. There will be objections, delays, and stakeholders with incentives to derail certain projects. There will be ambiguity, uncertainty, and a handful of risk factors lurking around every corner.  It’s important to recognize these obstacles and proactively implement the appropriate infrastructure that will position the project for success. Specifically, defining a specific pain point to solve, assigning a champion, and setting a weekly cadence.  At CrowdComfort we’ve completed over 100 projects many that were successful and some that were not. The successes always included at least two of the these factors. The failures lacked all three.