Q&A: industry evangelist Jeff Sample spreads the word
The technology expert is encouraging builders to be more collaborative.
It’s a job title that you rarely see, but Jeff Sample believes it is necessary. As an industry evangelist he promotes collaboration and the transformation of preconstruction to help project teams reach their potential.
We spoke with Sample about his unique position at Join, a collaborative project delivery platform, and how he transitioned from a more traditional tech career into the construction sector.
Be sure to catch Sample in Vancouver, B.C. for 2023 Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) Construction Innovation Summit on October 30th and 31st. He and many other industry experts will be discussing how to push the construction sector forward.
SiteNews: How do you get involved in the construction sector?
Jeff Sample: I accidentally found my way into it. By trade I am an IT architect and I spent some time in the development world building software. As it goes with software, that company was acquired a couple of times and I was looking for a new job. A large masonry contractor contacted me and said we need you. I jumped on board and spent three years there. After some initial struggles getting my head around the business, I fell in love. I saw opportunities ahead and the struggles and honestly I got a wicked taste of the gratification that comes from building things, even though I don’t put the work in place. I helped the people who put it in place and it inspired me and connected me with those people and I want to make their lives easier. It’s a tough job and we don’t respect it enough.
What is an industry evangelist?
It’s part of the maturation of any industry. When I got involved in technology for construction it was very new and the tools were very new. And there is a curve every industry goes through where you have the peak of inflated expectations and the trough of disillusionment and then companies make their way from there. To really do it you need people who are passionate about both sides of the industry and can connect them. I became the head of communications at Join to bring the product to life in the preconstruction market. Once we built that up we realized that we needed to evangelize the change that Join was built for. We were built to solve a problem. Modern delivery methods are changing into more collaborative methods, teaming up earlier together to achieve more predictable and reliable products for owners. To do that we needed a whole new set of tools and Join is one of them. But we realized that the more that idea grew, the more we could grow with it. But it had to be about the industry. The role of “evangelist” was built to raise awareness about the problems and to realize that the boundaries don’t exist, rather than to just sell a product. If someone wasn’t evangelizing the power of this new kind of delivery model for all the stakeholders, it could continue to stall out.
How can the industry bridge the gap between the jobsite and technology?
Since I came from an organization that put work in place, and masonry is one of the last pieces of work put in place, I had this view of the entire process and how technology can help it. But tech can’t just be for tech’s sake. It can make a really bad process suck more efficiently. If your process is broken, it doesn’t matter if I make it faster. The idea is we have to understand your process and see where you are starting from, what is the goal and how we can help you achieve that goal. You need somebody who has free reign and isn’t tied to selling you something or handing something over. If I help them get set up for better, more collaborative delivery models, it plugs into what Join is doing. The difference between selling technology and partnering with an industry is having an evangelist.
What is the future of preconstruction and how do we get there?
It’s the most critical component of construction and that’s why I’ve bet my career on it. Being with trade contractors and working with them so much let me see the impact that happens downstream from poor planning. I had a stint at a project management platform for trade contractors and had this idea of doing integrated labour delivery. Other models have all players at the table at all times, but that is antiquated and expensive. That’s just a bad business model. The reason those contractors are there is because they are waiting for that one thing that’s going to help them be efficient and that they can give input on. And this can have a really high impact on the overall success of a project. But some of these models are like asking everyone to come to Thanksgiving dinner to have a conversation about politics, nothing gets done. But if the team can align early, can trust one another, and they can be empowered to know that when they are needed to collaborate they will be brought in and listened to, and have good decisions made that reduce risk, this can increase the predictability and move the means and methods forward. But ultimately none of this gets done if we don’t break down the barriers and expose the unconscious biases we have had for years. We have operated with our cards up our sleeves for so long, we do it without even knowing. Something will always go wrong on a project, whether that’s rain, late materials, or whatever. If the construction team hasn’t begun with trust at the earliest inception, they have no hope that they can lean on each other to deliver differently. If you want that to happen at the latest stages it has to start in the earliest. That’s why pre-construction is the future. It’s the future because with these labour shortages, we can’t build the same way. We are headed for a cliff of people leaving the industry
What is holding the industry back when it comes to innovation?
One of the barriers we have is that we are profitable this way. I don’t know many contractors that aren’t buying new trucks and beach houses and making money. It’s not as much as they should be making and it’s not sustainable. How many family construction companies have built wealth from generation to generation? That wealth is about to start going away if they don’t innovate and can’t deliver. One of the barriers is business as usual. I think the other is culture. Change is hard. Anyone telling you this is easy probably has a bridge to sell you too. The funny thing is, we are culturally built for this anyways. We bring new people into the industry as apprentices, turn them into journeypeople. We have changed, trained and molded people for years. We just have to look at our entire operations and change management strategies and apply that.
Advice for companies wanting to innovate
The first step is admitting you have a problem. The second step is asking for help. I don’t expect the owner of a construction company to understand innovation and technology at its core. You don’t have to. You have to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable and leaning into an uncomfortable space is the most powerful thing you can do. You have to be ready to fail. You will fail far more than you succeed but the key to succeed is taking the swing. The other thing is everybody is waiting for the perfect time. That doesn’t exist. There is no perfect time or project. Everytime you say that, you fall behind even more. Do it now. You don’t have to understand innovation or technology. AI is a perfect example of this. I get asked about AI all the time. AI is like a new engine in a car. It’s a cool, fancy thing like a supercharged car engine. But all you have to understand is how that changes driving down the road and how to get your vehicle where it needs to go.
To connect with Sample and other construction innovation experts, be sure to sign up for the 2023 ICBA Construction Innovation Summit. The event runs October 30th and 31st in Vancouver.