First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Josh Girvin: These are certainly unprecedented times we are experiencing right now. We have not lived through a global pandemic, so there’s no playbook for how you’re “supposed” to handle it. However, we’re remaining positive, trusting the science, and taking things day by day. One thing is certain, we’re all in this together, and we’ll get through it together. It’s definitely an adjustment for the family as we try to navigate the new normal with young children in school and transitioning to a fully remote work environment. There’s naturally challenges with all of it, but we’re remaining positive, adjusting our new circumstances, and generally doing well. One positive that has come out of this situation is the reduction of travel, which has allowed me to spend more time with the family than I have been able to in years.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded O3.
Josh Girvin: I began my career in entrepreneurship at a fairly young age when I dropped out of school after my sophomore year to co-found my first company, Proximities, a venture-backed, RFID technology-based, payment processing company. We raised $5M in funding, and were issued 12 US and International patents, and landed some marquee clients that lead to our eventual acquisition. After Proximities was acquired in 2007, I returned to Princeton, where I graduated cum laude with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
After graduation, I decided to try my hand in venture capital and joined Novak Biddle Venture Partners, a venture capital firm that had $580M under management at the time. After a few years in the venture, I realized that my true passion lay in operations and began looking for an opportunity to start a new company or join an early-stage company. I ultimately joined Atlas RFID Solutions, a supply chain management software focused on the industrial construction market. As the SVP of Product and Market Strategy, I was responsible for setting and overseeing the execution and marketing of the hardware and software product strategies. I helped grow that company from 9 people and $100k in revenue to 150 people and $25M in revenue.
After Atlas, I realized that the Industrial Construction market had far greater inefficiencies than those found in the supply chain. It was with this knowledge that I co-founded O3 Solutions, an agile Project Management Software focused on Industrial Construction. As the CEO of O3 Solutions, I am responsible for managing the team that is marketing and deploying O3’s Agile Project Management software. The solution includes a suite of tools that help owners and contractors of capital assets improve the productivity, safety, and predictability of their construction projects.
O3 was founded to address the specific issue of lagging productivity in the construction market. Legacy solutions focused on this space have emerged to address the challenges of the individual silos of these construction projects. Engineering tools make engineering more efficient; workforce planning tools make construction more efficient; procurement tools help make procurement more efficient, etc. What has been lacking is a tool designed to view the entire project as a single system that can be optimized. This approach to overall project optimization requires the use of Advanced Work Packaging (also known as AWP) and agile project management methodologies to structure the work and data across all the stakeholders involved in a project. O3’s total project optimization approach is a brand new way of thinking about project management in the construction space.
How does O3 innovate?
Josh Girvin: While many industries have become more digital and automated, construction has remained a very human-centric industry. One primary reason for this is the cyclical nature of the market. With the feast and famine shifts in spending, many companies are hesitant to invest heavily in overhead and R&D. It is easier to scale up the variable cost of people in times of feast and scale down those variable costs in a time of famine. As a result, we have historically seen less continuous innovation in Construction and more focus on hiring the “A-team” as a means of improving project outcomes.
The state of the art for continuous improvement is lessons learned documents that have very little impact on how future projects are executed. When we attempt to compare projects using data, we are met with explanations of how every project is unique and cannot be compared with others. This “project snowflake” mentality has impaired our ability to drive continuous improvement and is responsible for the divergence of construction productivity and that of other industries over the past 50 years.
What excites O3 most about the future of construction is the introduction of data-driven continuous improvement. The use of Advanced Work Packaging and agile project management are game-changing in how they improve the productivity on a single project. However, even more, exciting is the fact that these methodologies provide a platform for organizing project data in a way that facilitates meaningful cross-project comparison. By analyzing a project’s ability to plan the work and execute against that plan, we are able to abstract away from the project-specifics such as scope, location, technology stack, company, etc. By measuring planning leading indicators and combining that data with lagging outcomes at the micro-level, we as an industry can move beyond relying on the “A-team” for project delivery and instead leverage real-time data to understand true project status and the course correction needed to achieve project goals.
The future of project management lies in predictive and prescriptive analytics that are informed by data collected across a portfolio of projects organized in a way that allows for informed comparison. O3 is leading this space with its ability to structure data and manage the work across all project stakeholders (owners, EPCs, contractors, sub-contractors, vendors, etc.) for a given project and an entire portfolio of projects for a given organization.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Josh Girvin: There are some obvious effects from the coronavirus pandemic, like moving to working fully remote and adjusting our communications. But we were prepared. We’re an agile company and capable of making seamless transitions from an office environment to working remotely. We also already had a large portion of our team working remotely. As a ROWE (results-only work environment), we do not dictate when and where our employees do their work. We only require that team members meet their obligations to their team and the company. This approach to managing our team meant that the transition to a fully remote environment was much easier for us than it was for many companies.
When the pandemic’s reality first registered with the US in mid-March, we experienced some churn from construction projects being put on hold. Since that time, however, we have seen an increase in demand for our software. As a digital SaaS solution, we are much better suited to support a COVID-19 work environment than the legacy, thick client, on-premise solutions. We have seen more and more companies accelerating the shift to digital and remote work as a result of restrictions for in-person personnel. Since our product is built on the agile project management methodology and was designed to support remote collaboration, our clients find it a critical business tool in these challenging times.
Many software providers in our industry have been adversely impacted by reducing project work resulting from COVID-19 and the associated economic downturn. O3 has the advantage of being a proven cost saver, which has allowed us to continue to grow rapidly during this period. The other advantage that O3 has in a time of reduced megaprojects is our ability to efficiently provide scalable project management solutions to small-cap projects at existing operating facilities. O3 is the only Advanced Work Packaging (AWP) solution that has successfully been implemented on portfolios of small-cap industrial construction projects. Unlike mega projects that may be paused during times of market uncertainty, small-cap portfolios at operating assets tend to continue. We have seen this in our client mix with additional software adoption at facilities happening ahead of schedule.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Josh Girvin: Like many companies, we moved into a hyper-conservative mode in March when we did not know how the global economy responded to the pandemic. During that transition, we had to make the difficult decision to cancel or postpone investments that we had budgeted and that teams were counting on. We also practiced our culture of radical transparency and continued to share fortnightly updates on the status of the company as well as what we had put in place for triggers to introduce reductions in force. Luckily, we never had to let any of the team go and have since returned to expanding the organization, but it was certainly a difficult time when things were more uncertain. The lesson that we learned through that process is that employees really do appreciate transparency even when it is regarding difficult topics such as potential layoffs. After we emerged from the temporary time of hyper conservatism and returned to the normal state of continued investment, we had many employees thank our leadership team for the level of transparency and increased proactive communication that we had implemented. We actually saw an increase in employee satisfaction that we can tie directly to the confidence that our team had in their managers and leaders.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and O3 in the future?
Josh Girvin: Maintaining mental health is imperative to a healthy and productive work environment. There’s a variety of things that induce stress during this time, from working at home to not being able to go out and do regular activities to running a business in the middle of a pandemic that brings market uncertainty. Personally, I focus on remaining positive and taking things day by day. I try to get outside and spend as much time being as active as possible. Our family spends almost every weekend at the lake where paddle boarding and swimming are great stress relievers. I have also taken to increasing my exercise routine to include additional daily walks outside of my normal workouts. I enjoy listening to podcasts, especially “How I built this” during my daily 5 mile walks. I am not sure that this qualifies as a stress reliever, but my family also gained a puppy during the pandemic, which has helped keep the kids happy and distracted from the negative aspects of the world around them.
In terms of how the company is dealing with increased stress and anxiety, our culture is very important to us, and we have always put a big emphasis on events for team members and families. In the past, we have rented boxes at the baseball stadium, gone paintballing, gone ATV riding, held team dinners, etc. One major challenge for us is the difficulty associated with having social activities in a responsible manner. These activities are extremely important in this time of staying socially distant. You really have to get creative as it is hard to stay safe, social, and healthy. Our team pivoted to introducing zoom happy hours, lunch and learns, surprise care package drop-offs, mandatory time off, and other activities that allow everyone to have as much safe social interaction as possible.
In terms of office culture, we are a ROWE company, meaning “Results-Only Work Environment.” We were already set up to be a remote-first company, so we were already prepared when the pandemic hit. It was a seamless transition for us to shut down the office and work fully from home. What remains up in the air for us is whether we will be a remote-first or remote-only company in the future. I believe that the reduced office usage over the past 6 months has many companies thinking about whether or not they can justify a large office infrastructure investment moving forward.
I believe that we will continue to offer physical office space to facilitate in-person collaboration sessions, but it will not be as large as a part of our plan as it would have been without COVID-19.
As for the future of O3, we will continue to innovate and be the leader in technology for industrial construction project management. We will also continue to provide solutions for owners and construction companies that are making the shift to working digitally and supporting remote collaboration. Innovation never stops for us, and we will continue to grow and improve our products for our clients. We see ourselves becoming the dominant market leader in the industrial construction project management space.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Josh Girvin: O3’s biggest competitor is the status quo. The greatest challenge that we face to introducing any new technology or process is change management. The industrial construction industry is not known for rapidly incorporating change, making the change management hurdle greater in construction than in many other industries. O3 recognized this challenge early on and developed software to manage and track the change management process. O3 allows projects and organizations to develop courses and learning paths for Agile Project Management and O3 Training. We have projects where thousands of people have gone through multi-course training programs managed in O3. Our ability to address change management head-on with software tools has reduced the burden of switching from an antiquated process and toolset to agile project management powered by O3.
In terms of competitive tools, construction jobsites are littered with Excel sheets, access databases, homegrown tools, and other antiquated solutions built on a 1990’s mentality towards project management. The key to O3’s success against these alternatives is found in the fact that we offer a modern, collaborative, SaaS environment that is built from the ground up on the new paradigm of agile project management.
One of the challenges with legacy software tools in the industrial construction market is that they have addressed the overall project needs by piecing together multiple solutions that were acquired after being built by different teams. This disconnected approach to assembling a complete solution leads to data management and implementation challenges as well as inconsistent and inefficient user experiences. The majority of the implementation cost for many of the tools in our market lies in the services to configure and setup and train on the tools. As a modern tool, O3 is simple to configure, deploy, and use. Our implementations for megaprojects are measured in weeks, not months or years like our competitors, and the investment required in O3 services is a small fraction of that required by less modern solutions.
In addition, O3 is a modern solution built entirely on the new paradigm of project execution. Unlike some solutions which are attempting to jump on the AWP or Agile bandwagon by slapping a marketing sticker on their legacy tools, O3 was designed from the very beginning to deliver the future of project management. O3 is not constrained by the technical debt of solutions that were built 20 years ago to address the way projects were poorly executed in the past. As a newer solution, we have the advantage of being built after we understand “what right looks like” for industrial construction projects. Legacy solutions try to adapt their solutions to be relevant in a time where project management is evolving, but without a complete restart, they will never be able to purpose-built for the modern approach to project execution.
Since O3 has had success rapidly expanding its client base of companies who understand the value of better project management process, some new startups have emerged following in O3’s footsteps. O3 has the advantage of being battle-tested with deployments all around the globe ranging from the World’s largest Giga projects down to small capital projects at existing operating facilities.
O3 is leading the industry in expanding AWP and Agile to address the needs of every industrial construction project stakeholder. We are constantly working with our clients and Subject Matter Expert partners to develop additional functionality for every person involved in successful project delivery and introduce expanded agile concepts to ensure that O3 remains the most innovative tool in the space. As a true SaaS provider, we do not offer an on-premise solution and do not require any thick clients to leverage our tools. This enables O3 to utilize agile development on our own products and make production releases every two weeks. Our competitors may release one new production version per year. O3 releases 26. This means that our rate of out-innovating others in the space is continuing to increase.
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