Digitisating Architecture

Innovation Strategy for the arch office of tomorrow

Brief

HENN is the second largest architecture office in Germany, specialising in high-rise, healthcare and industry buildings. Having built over 100 projects during the span of 3 generations, HENN has undeniably influenced the built environment in Germany’s urban and industrial areas. But with great power comes great responsibility, and that meant it was time for HENN to look inward at the workforce, and outward to the global trend of digitisation. Both the world and the company were entering a new area, and it needed to be publicly communicated. This project was to be a complex, strategic undertaking that I, along with other company leaders, was lucky be heading.

Client

HENN gMbH

Year

2022

Expertise

Leadership, Vision Building, UX/UI, Communication

Team

HENN Strategy, HENN design Systems, HENN leadership

How can we imbue an innovative drive within the company and communicate a shift towards more digital thinking?

I broke down the mission into 3 goals: to synthesise and communicate a digitisation innovation strategy, to deliver a new website for HENN and to aid in mapping out and designing our services.

The Innovaiton Strategy

The aim was to create a vision and roadmap for how digitisation would unfold for the architecture industry within the next 10-20 years. We needed to make sure HENN would take part in global developments. A second goal was to understand how to boost innovation initiatives, and what sort of processes and tools would be needed.

The new website

A new website would be launched to communicate a shift company values, striving to be more human-centric and data-driven. The imagery and text was to be bolder than before, displaying HENNs contemporary and courageous new identity. I was tasked with leading the team through the implementation, which included content development, facilitation, and quality control.

The Process tool

As part of the initiative to digitise our key processes, HENN decided to map out the complexity involved in a large-scale architectural project on a digital canvas. This allowed for better standardisation, and would serve as a visual aid and checklist for project managers who had been asking for such a tool.

The Innovation Strategy

Defining a future-proof framework for development

Defining Innovation for HENN

In the first phase of the project, I conducted extensive research on innovation best-practices. There were 3 main sources: innovation theory as defined by experts such as Joe Tidd, best-of-class examples from leading architecture offices, as well as interviews with our current staff. Using the method of appreciative inquiry, I asked team members to write out examples of innovation they believed where successful, including what it would take to bring them even further. Having collected a large amount of data on the subject, I was able to define where HENN fit within the innovation maturity matrix. This enabled productive discussions regarding where we wanted to be in the future and what resources we would need to get there.

Defining Personas

Personas were another key technique that was used in order to empathise with, and better define the roles of, different innovation participants. A team member named Barbara was created to represent employees. She would communicate in an accessible manner what skills would be necessary to develop for the future-proof office. Barbara was later used extensively in communication material. In fact, she was accepted so well that she was referenced often by enthusiastic fans. Further personas for ‘idea owner’ and ‘leader’ were drawn up as a way to distinguish between needs and responsibilities of different actors.

Key Critical Points

Thanks to the 12 conducted interviews, it was possible to label the bottlenecks to successful implementation. Since HENN is a company with long-standing tradition, the idea of a corporate immune system came up repeatedly. Risk-taking was not yet imbued in the company’s DNA. Besides that, being a highly creative team meant ideas came more easily than the follow-up required to implement them. Adjusting our “creative chaos” meant we require a more structured approach that empathised pushing ideas through to conclusion. Finally, the operational mindset- putting paid client projects above all else- made it impossible to plan internal innovation projects properly. In order to tackle these issues, 4 counter-mindsets were developed and illustrated. These were put up on posters to remind team members of key principles.

Creating an innovation Process

Without a clear and simple process for pushing ideas forward, those that were promising but required greater resources would inevitably fall to the sidelines. Based on a hybrid of the the double diamond method and gating innovation processes, I developed a 2 part framework for our team. It would allow for idea exploration and iterative implementation, which in turn could be extended multiple times if the leadership executive board approved it. Radically simplifying the process to two parts allowed for easier implementation. That the “gate” meetings for project assessment were also reduced to two allowed leadership to give critical feedback when it was most needed.

Defining Tools for innovation

In order ensure smooth progress, 2 canvases were developed. The first canvas would be used during the “into gate” to help leadership assess the value of a project. Having a list of criteria created consensus around which ideas deserved more attention. A second tool geared towards idea owners was also created to aid with progress assessment. This canvas would be used to track projects and keep main aims top-of-mind. Loosely based on the concept of KPI’s, success metrics would turn an abstract mission statement into actionable SMART goals reviewed at the end of each implementation round.

Communication

After the framework was set and approved by management, it was presented to the team. I had the opportunity to share with HENN members what they could expect from a digitised future. The presentation was well received by all parties.

The Website

A bolder, fresher public interface

Project Management

As project manger for the new company website, I was tasked with leading a team of 3 through a wide variety of different tasks. We guided the website development from content creation through to quality check and launch. This meant I kept track of milestones and deliverables using gant charts and Kan-ban style tools. I lead daily team stand-ups and conducted weekly presentations with upper management for coordination. Another key task involved briefing and giving feedback to the design agency coding the website- Stan Hema.

Facilitation

Our team structured and organised workshops with all the HENN partners, needing their input and support In order to create the right content. We prepared dummy canvases and facilitated brainstorming sessions, carrying out a total of a dozen sessions with each expertise. You can view them all on the HENN website.

Content Creation

A great deal of new visual and textual content was created for the website. With design direction from my side, one of the team members organised regular photo-shootings within the office. New employee photos enabled personalities to shine through in an expressive manner. Additionally, our team wrote new texts for each of the 30+ projects on the website and reorganised, modified and added to existing imagery. We also implemented non-linear storytelling, allowing visitors to “jump” to the sections that interested.

Quality Control

The team conducted control checks of content, design and responsiveness for each page of the website. Bugs were collected and relayed to our agency via Microsoft Teams, enabling a fast and agile communication loop. Thanks to this, we were able to launch the website beta within 4 months.

The final result

Having launched the website in record time also represented a new way of working. Rather than polishing the product to perfection, the website would be a “permanent beta”, constantly being improved and added to. This approach was novel for the office, so the website presents a milestone in both its communication format and its process of development. Take a look at HENN's new website

Process Mapping

An Interactive architecture project timeline

Process Mapping

Embarking on a big challenge, the strategy team at HENN was tasked with mapping out each step and sub-step within the very complex process of designing, planning and building architecture. This process is multi-layered and siloed, which is why crucial to finally get it all down on paper. A dozen leading team members were consulted in order to gain the big picture. The final result was a massive timeline, showing all 9 phases, or leitungsphasen as they are referred to in Germany. A large undertaking indeed.

Digitising the process

The next step was to take that information and turn it into data, then take that data and turn it into an interactive interface. Members of the HENN systems team did a superb job in data management and coding, enabling a first draft of the tool to exist on our servers. The strategic team helped make sense of the information and cluster it in ways conducive to extraction.

Adding the UX & UI

The final step involved creating a “skin” for the digital tool. Many usability issues were found and fixed- such as the stakeholder filters, the orientation of text and the timeline’s graphic representation. The new HENN branding and font were also implemented in order to maintain a consistent image and make the app more appealing. The app has received positive feedback during first tests from partners and project leaders. In the near future, the app will allow for more customisation of unique project aspects, as well as collection processes in order to inform and update best-practices.