Build a hive mind by embracing data-centered operations
Thanks to technology, the limits for what’s possible is expanding every day.
Architects and project managers have access to incredible tools for 3D scanning, design, and fabrication.
These tools provide rich datasets that allow us to be more precise and creative for our clients than ever before.
But tech tools and datasets don’t just benefit clients. They can also improve the efficiency and operation of your entire company.
Libo Li, former COO of Voyansi and current CTO of Katalyst DI, talked to us about how he helped build data-centered operations at Voyansi.
Here’s how your team can develop a hive mind mentality, with the right tools and documentation in place.
The definition of building intelligence
First, let’s give some background on what a company like Voyansi does and why a data-driven approach flourished there.
Voyansi helps architecture firms make decisions using what’s called building intelligence.
They provide end-to-end digital software services to firms so that the firms can benefit from spatial data.
“There's a lot of engineers and a lot of really great people who are really good at working with tabular data, but spatial data is much different,” Libo said. “It has certain rule sets to it. Buildings have certain part-to-whole relationships that must stay intact.”
Building intelligence happens when you combine spatial data with analysis best practices.
Voyansi also helps firms take advantage of cutting-edge 3D scanning tools, which they call “reality capture.”
The technology is much more accurate than traditional hand-measured drawings. It also gives a firm a robust set of data that can be used over and over again for different purposes.
“That raw dataset is something that's a constant, you can always go back to it,” Libo said. “You can always reevaluate.”
Build data-centered operations
Data is at the core of Voyansi’s business. It’s also baked into their operations and procedures - and every employee is expected to uphold it.
Libo referenced the Melvin Conway quote, known as Conway’s Law, that states:
“Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization's communication structure.”
This means that once you document your standard procedures, you need to make sure they are consistently followed. Otherwise, there will be a clear disconnect.
“That's why we are so conscious of building a data culture inherently in every level,” said Libo. “We place that responsibility on every individual on every level.”
When every team member knows they’re a stakeholder, their own iterative process has to reflect how the company understands operations.
Turn your company into a hive mind
When everyone at a company is looking at and using the same data, you start to experience operational synergy.
A few months after putting their data-centered system in place, Libo’s colleagues realized they were building a hive mind.
A person would bring up something they were thinking about to a colleague, only to learn that the other person was already working on it.
“That kind of organized to a sensitivity where everyone's pointing the same direction and also stepping towards these convergence points where their data matches,” Libo said. “The effects are amazing.”
Here’s one example: Libo took on a project to create a data connection between their deal side and project side. This meant integrating the Head of Growth’s data and the Head of Product’s data.
He thought it was going to be a day-long task, but it ended up only taking 10 minutes. Everything was set up to integrate easily.
“When everyone's working towards these common goals with the right motivations in mind, these conversion points are very simple to put together,” Libo said.
Evaluate and own your solutions
Once you embrace data-centered operations, you also have the power to perform insightful post-analysis on all projects. This helps you tweak the system so you can improve the next time.
At Voyansi, they approach it a little differently than other tech companies.
“We really put the onus on the team to evaluate and own their own solutions,” Libo said.
He recalled a specific project where they ran into trouble that could have been catastrophic.
The team got together for a lunch and learn, talked through the problem, and identified two initiatives they would implement to fix it.
Leadership at Voyansi offers whatever resources or support that’s needed, but the ownership of problem-solving lies with the team.
“You own the solution because you did the project, you know what went wrong,” Libo said. “So you're the best person to plan the fix.”
Stick to small, surgical fixes
A data-centered culture is one that embraces iterations. Everything that you’re doing will have to be done again - and each time, you’ll do it better.
That means that when problems pop up, it’s important not to waste time.
“We don't over-fix a problem,” Libo said. “We try to find the smallest, most surgical fix that has the greatest impact. Because we know next time you run this process, another problem is going to come up. And your original solution might not be the ideal solution.”
The best solutions have three qualities. They are:
- Easy to do
- Highly effective
- Easy to throw away
“I think that's really valuable, especially when you're iterating,” Libo said. “Nobody's ego is tied to that solution that they made, because the next solution is always better.”
Give people the right tools to fix a problemThe right tech tools make a big difference when it comes to overall operations efficiency.
You have your team own the fix. You encourage them to think small in scope. And then you give them the right tools to do the job.
When you’re managing a large team of people, you don’t have the time to teach each person how to use complex tools. Accessibility becomes very important.
“I only see what I see. I try to be as sensitive to as many people as possible, but there's 150 people in the company,” Libo said.
That’s exactly why Voyansi’s focus on educating and empowering employees to take action is so important.
Libo’s favorite tools for company-wide knowledge sharing include G Suite, Google Apps Script, BigQuery for SQL, and Dynamo for design automation.
Three intuitive tools for redesigning operationsIf your team is just starting to focus on operations or looking to redesign your system, Libo recommends three tools that are easy to learn and highly useful.
1. Air Table“What Air Table really teaches you is data design, and it does it in a really friendly way,” Libo said. “Their help articles are great.”
He said the platform is a good introduction to a database way of thinking.
2. NotionWhen Voyansi was still AEC Lab and there were only three people, they used Notion to organize their projects.
Even after that ballooned to 365 projects and a much larger company, Notion is still handling it all.
“It's a great tool, fairly accessible once you get used to the way that it nests information,” Libo said.
3. G SuiteLibo is a big fan of G Suite, especially for spreadsheet management.
“If I see that you're in Microsoft, I automatically know that I can improve your efficiency by 30% by moving you into G Suite and putting all your spreadsheets in one place,” he said.
Share knowledge across your companyA hive mind can’t operate effectively without a strong educational component.
At Voyansi, they share knowledge and improve skills in a few different ways.
One is they use Notion to create educational guides and how-tos.
They also have a mentorship program for connecting people across functions and have them see each other in a personal way.
“We do book clubs, which is really helpful, especially across languages,” Libo said. “It's really helpful for our team down in Argentina to practice speaking and reading and really deeper dialogue with native speakers.”
Lunch and learns are a weekly event where anyone can create a course and contribute to team training.
Sometimes the leaders put together courses in Google Classroom, but anyone who has expertise or knowledge to share can do the same.
Give permission to fail through iterationIt may seem like a lot of pressure for the team to document everything and constantly be a part of so many internal processes, but Libo said they’re very efficient at it.
“With the right templates, the right kind of structure, you can slap together a deck fairly quickly, pulling together resources in Google Drive,” Libo said.
He’s been able to put together a class in an hour and a half, the morning before a training session.
The other, possibly more crucial factor, is that failure is accepted and even encouraged.
“You can fail,” Libo said. “It's okay to be in the middle of the class and say, sorry guys. I missed a bunch of stuff on this slide. I actually mean this.”
Failure is okay across the board, because they know they’re going to do it again. The next time, they’ll do it better.
Operating as a hive mind is possible with the right tools and the right culture.
When your company prioritizes data and problem-solving, there will always be a next time to get it right.
Join us on Thursday, February 25th for Best Practice, a virtual fireside chat series dedicated to practice operations at architecture firms and beyond. From pain points to potential, hear how leaders in the architecture and engineering industry are innovating through new business models and managerial techniques.
We’re chatting with Libo Li. Libo is the COO of Voyansi. He is an organizational architect with a passion for the built environment. He builds teams and systems to better leverage data driven decisions. In his day job, he fights organizational fires to build a team that can help anyone leverage building intelligence.
In this 45 minute chat, we'll talk to Libo about building scalable frameworks .
- How Voyansi shifted the company to remote work
- How to create a better ecosystem for iterations
- How to prevent your team from being blocked by poor systems and process
- How to build a teaching and learning culture
- and more!
IVoyansi's mission is BIM for all. Tehey believe that every user has the right to tools to understand the complex built environment around them. Their team is a one stop shop for all your BIM needs regardless of company size or level of adoption. Voyansi helps others not only do BIM, but have fun doing it too.