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West Fraser

Navigating New Business With Data

Douglas Corrigan was a pilot in the 1930s who flew a ramshackle plane mockingly dubbed “The Spirit of $69.90” by its mechanic. Corrigan is known for inspiring the phrase “flying by the seat of his pants,” because he didn’t use flight instruments or mechanical aids, but rather relied largely upon his own instincts, perceptions and “feel” to fly his plane.

In 1938, Corrigan took off for a flight scheduled from Brooklyn to California, and ended up in Dublin, earning him the nickname “Wrong Way Corrigan.”

In the early days of aviation, flight instrumentation was very basic, and prone to malfunction. “Flying by the seat of your pants” was fairly common practice. Predictably, misdirection and crashes were also common, even for experienced pilots.

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Too many home builders today are still flying by the seat of their pants. Many were started by someone with a lot of skill and passion for building things, but not much desire or competency for running a business. Operating on gut instinct and subjective judgement has become standard practice for many in our industry. Construction has the lowest rate of digitization and, predictably, the highest failure rate of all industries.

Modern flight instruments like altimeters, and indicators of airspeed, attitude, and vertical speed, have made flight far safer and more reliable in recent decades. In much the same way, the “business instrumentation” of data and scientific process can reduce risk and accelerate growth in your construction business.

Knowing with precision where you are, where you’re headed, how much fuel you have, how your engines are performing, which obstacles lie ahead, how fast you’re going and in which direction, makes safely flying a plane, and successfully running a business, much easier. It turns the ride from terrifying to thrilling.

Here are some examples of “business instrumentation” that every home builder should be leveraging:

  • Industry data: Market and competitor data
  • Input data: Customer needs, materials pricing and availability, and labor trends, costs and availability
  • Process data: Process/value maps, Takt (turnaround) times, waste, errors
  • Output data: Productivity, quality/defects, profitability by process/team/location/project

You may be thinking, as many in our industry do, “Data? We don’t need no stinkin’ data! We’ve been doing this for decades, and we’ve gotten along just fine!”

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That may be true, but the environment is changing rapidly. We’ve flown into unfamiliar territory of rising costs, labor shortages, value chain consolidation and unprecedented demographic and regulatory shifts. In addition, a storm of technological advancements and innovation has rolled in, reducing our visibility into the future.

Would you want to be on a plane in these conditions, with the pilot flying by the seat of their pants?

Sure, it takes some courage, patience and investment to run your business on data rather than intuition. But safely and reliably arriving at your destination is worth it.


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