Matthew Kleiman ADT podcast cover
Episode: 119

Matthew Kleiman - Work done right through systems thinking

Posted on: 11 Jan 2024
Matthew Kleiman ADT podcast cover

Matthew Kleiman is the co-founder and CEO of Cumulus Digital Systems as well as the author of the recently released book Work Done Right.

In this episode, we talk about some of the key lessons and takeaways from Matthew's book, covering topics such as systems thinking and how it differs from systems engineering, the issues with having to do rework when work wasn't done right, and the Splashy Technology Syndrome and its consequences.


Links & mentions:


"When you're trying to solve a business problem on... in construction or maintenance, whether it's making something more efficient, reducing rework, making it safer, to think about it systematically and how each part of your system, whatever that may be, interacts with each other, and to develop those skill sets."

Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host, Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop.

Tim Butara: Hello everyone. Thanks for tuning in. Our guest today is Matt Kleiman, co founder and CEO of Cumulus Digital Systems. Matt recently published a great book about reinventing work, Work Done Right. And in today's episode, we'll be discussing some of the key takeaways and lessons from this book. 

Matthew, welcome. We're very happy to have you here today. Thanks for joining us. Do you want to add anything here? 

Matthew Kleiman: No, thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited to be on the podcast. 

Tim Butara: Yeah, I'm also really excited to have you here. I really enjoyed reading your book, as I just mentioned to you before we started recording. A lot of really, really great points there that I think will, will be very interesting to our listeners as well. So yeah, let's just go ahead and jump right into it. 

Matthew Kleiman: Sounds good. 

Tim Butara: So, assuming that work needs to be done right, right, then it isn't being done right now. I guess that's a fair assumption. So why is it so important to redefine work? 

Matthew Kleiman: Sure. I'll throw out some statistics for the audience, just to kind of situate everybody in the construction and heavy industrial maintenance facility.

There was a study that was put out recently that said that more than 30% of work is rework, which means that it was work that should have been done right the first time, but wasn't, there was a mistake. And usually it's a mistake because of human error. 

And the consequences of this are severe. The average project costs and increases by 12 percent because of rework. And when you talk about large capital projects and the billions of dollars, then you're talking about real money there. 

But more importantly, there's been studies that workers are 70% more likely to be injured or even in some cases killed during rework than during planned work in the first place. And the reason for that is something's already gone wrong, and then people are rushing to fix it. And as most disasters happen, because mistakes compound on each other, and that's what you get in construction and maintenance. So most injuries are because something wasn't done right the first time. 

So this is something, my background is an aerospace and then in construction and the energy industry. And this was a problem we were constantly, constantly facing, and it's why I'm so passionate about helping our industrial base and construction industry globally find better ways to make sure work is done right the first time. 

Tim Butara: Yeah, yeah, that makes perfect sense, right? Because as soon as something is determined to be wrong, that creates a lot of pressure, which in most situations is not helpful and can only compound the issues maybe that were already pinpointed or create new ones, you just mentioned, with people getting injured because they're rushing to fix something that should have been done right in the first place.

Matthew Kleiman: Exactly. And you know, my original background is in aerospace and I'm a pilot myself. And when you think about aircraft disasters, it's normally not one thing that goes wrong. It's, something happened and then there's this chain reaction. And so the aviation industry has actually done a huge amount of work over the past decades to engineer a lot of this risk out of aviation. 

That's why civil aviation is the safest industry in the, in the world. And then this is global. It's not just in the United States or in Europe, it's everywhere. You of course have accidents from time to time, but they're so much rarer than before and my goal with the book was to teach construction managers and maintenance managers a lot of the lessons from the aerospace world and how those can be applied to improve work quality.

Tim Butara: Yeah, that's very cool. Yeah, of course, accidents still happen. But when you consider that, you know, just the amount of air travel has also increased drastically over the years. Yeah, that percentage, you know, it's just negligible probably. 

Matthew Kleiman: Exactly. You don't even think about it. Exactly. 

Tim Butara: Yeah, I've heard that it's much more, you're much more likely to get like in an accident in traffic, you know, in your car, than you are when, you know, flying in a plane.

Matthew Kleiman: Exactly. I will have my, I have a daughter who's still, she's she's too young to drive, but I will be much more concerned as a father about her getting in a car and driving than I ever will be about taking airplane trips together. 

Tim Butara: Well, Matt, the episode is titled work done right through systems thinking and systems thinking is like the approach that you pinpoint in the book as kind of the solution to doing work right. So let's now talk a little bit about this. So what is systems thinking as opposed to systems engineering and what are the key elements and key best practices here? 

Matthew Kleiman: Yep, systems thinking and systems engineering are very closely related. If there was a Venn diagram, there's probably a 80 to 90% overlap. The big difference is systems engineering is an actual engineering discipline that people go to school for and get degrees for. And there's very in depth, technical practices around systems engineering to implement systems thinking. 

But systems thinking is something that anybody can do. You do not have to have any specialized knowledge. And what that is, is thinking about problems holistically, thinking about whatever The system that you're working on, whether it's an airplane or a construction site or a factory, thinking about it as systems within systems. 

And what I mean by that, I'll explain by example, think about the human body, your human body is a system. It has all kinds of, all different parts that do things together. And it's made up of the circulatory system, the pulmonary system, which are your lungs, the nervous system, which is your brain and nerves. And you could keep going in more levels of detail. You could think of the heart or the brain or your lungs as a system.

Each of those interacts both the system itself and then could interact with the other systems. So if your lungs aren't taking in enough oxygen, that means you're not getting enough oxygen to your brain. And therefore you could have, you could have real issues or even... and develop brain damage.

And you could think of an end of a technical system the same way. If you think about an airplane, you have engines and avionics and wings and the tail and everything to do with passengers and the pressurization system. Each of those are systems, but they all interact with each other. 

And what happens in heavy industry and in construction is that it's traditionally each part of a project is very siloed from each other. Meaning that each of the engineering disciplines on the project, the procurement team, the planning team, the architects, each of them are their own universe and they don't play well together. And they don't think about how changes in one area will affect and have these downstream effects. 

So, the point of introducing systems thinking is, when you're trying to solve a business problem on in construction or maintenance, whether it's making something more efficient, reducing rework, making it safer to think about it systematically and how each part of your system, whatever that may be interacts with each other and to develop those skill sets.

Tim Butara: Yeah, I mean, silos are a huge problem, even in cases and in industries where there's much less at stake as with aviation and construction. And it feels like that where, you know, you know, actual human lives are at risk sometimes, or, you know, just there are injuries that can happen. So. If we need to get rid of siloed thinking and siloed operating in something like e-commerce or, you know, digital marketing or something, then it just makes sense that it's that much more crucial in construction, in aviation.

Matthew Kleiman: Exactly. And, and that's really the best way that through my career that I've seen to have dramatic improvement in whatever the challenges are that you're trying to overcome. 

Tim Butara: So the next thing that I really, really want to talk about today, Matt, is the Splashy Technology Syndrome, something that you also write about in your book. So what is the Splashy Technology Syndrome? 

Matthew Kleiman: That is a tongue in cheek, somewhat snarky title that I give to the concept of that, especially in legacy industries, but this really happens everywhere, there's an attraction to whatever the hype is about. So if the hype is Blockchain, if the hype is AR/VR, if the hype is drones, people just want those technologies without thinking through what the problem is they're trying to solve and how those particular technologies will solve those problems or whether they will or won't.

And then so what you end up happening is just a very splashy exciting pilot that a company runs, they make some cool marketing videos and get some marketing hay out of it. But then after that pilot, it goes into what I also call pilot purgatory where nothing ever happens because the technology is sexy, it's cool, but it's not actually solving a problem. So it doesn't make any business sense to use that technology. 

Whereas something that's not so splashy can very often be what's solving the problem. And just, you know, as an example, you could have a challenge managing your contractors on a project. People might bring in some technology to help train or manage those contractors that may or may not work, but maybe the problem isn't even a technology problem. Maybe it's a contracting problem. Maybe it's a management process issue. That's not as sexy, that's not as splashy, but that's what actually solves the problem.

Tim Butara: Yeah, we did mention in the beginning that a lot of the times in these industries, in these cases, the problems are the result of a human error. So if you don't thoroughly consider all the possibilities and just straight up, you know, dive headfirst into a splashy technology solution, I can see how that can often go wrong in industries where there's so much stuff that you need to guarantee on a high level.

Matthew Kleiman: Exactly. And especially in large companies where people are looking for a career, just going from job to job through a career path, they get some bad incentives and some bad habits where they're incentivized to do something splashy because that splashy thing will get them promoted. And they're not, they don't have to, to stick around to deal with the consequences of that technology not working.

And so, that's something that we often tell our clients is to look at those HR practices and the incentives for people, because a lot of the promotion incentives encourages the splashy technology syndrome, and that's often a root of a lot of problems in big companies. 

Tim Butara: Do you maybe have any good examples of the splashy technology syndrome in practice and the consequences of falling for this?

Matthew Kleiman: Sure, I can give two. I could give many more, but there's two that I think will be interesting for your listeners. One is augmented reality. That is, has been hot for a while, ever since the, you know, Google Glasses came out 10 years ago, or maybe it's more than 10 years ago now. And now it's again with the new Apple product that they recently announced.

And there are some use cases, especially in manufacturing, where augmented reality can help guide workers through a complicated process, but those have tended to be few and far between. And what I've often seen in the industry is people want to use augmented reality for all kinds of things, especially out in the field.

Well, the problem with being out in the field is you don't have very good connectivity and you're subject to various environmental forces. Maybe it's raining out. Maybe it's, you know, maybe it's very cold or very hot; all things that don't play well with technology. 

And so you send workers out with these not very attractive, not very comfortable augmented reality equipment and assuming they don't revolt just because you're making them wear it, but they go out in the field. And then you can't get your internet connectivity, so you can't get your data to download. And it just, they turn into these bricks and it's embarrassing for everybody and those end up going back on the shelf and nothing ends up happening. 

And I think I think a lot of the same thing happened with blockchain when, maybe around 19, sorry, 2019, 2020 at the peak of that hype, there were a lot of people who were focusing on smart contracts and how that's going to improve industrial supply chains. And it really was a hammer looking for a nail. And you've unfortunately now seen in the last year, year and a half, a whole bunch of companies shut down or big companies shut down projects because they can never get any market traction.

Tim Butara: Those are some really great examples. I actually love the first one about the embarrassing AR helmets and I can just imagine like how frustrating that would be if like if the weather was poor, I'm somewhere out in the mud or something, the connectivity sucks. I have to wear this embarrassing helmet and then I can't even get the thing to work. I, that would probably be super frustrating. 

Matthew Kleiman: Very, and especially when almost everything you want to do with augmented reality can be done better on a smartphone or a tablet these days. And you typically have much better, more consistent connectivity with those types of devices. 

Tim Butara: Yeah. And this was, to your previous point, this just highlighted the importance of, like, not just not falling for the splash technology syndrome, but also looking for solutions with existing non shiny tech, right? 

Matthew Kleiman: Exactly. A hundred percent. 

Tim Butara: Well, Matt, based on everything that we've discussed so far, what would you say is the key to unlocking the benefits of digital transformation and all of these new technological innovations? 

Matthew Kleiman: Yeah, I think there's a couple of things. One, obviously, is people learning about systems thinking, and that's why I wrote the book, so that people are aware of this and can start incorporating some of these concepts. Not that they have to be experts, but start incorporating some of these concepts into their day to day lives. 

But really what my goal is with the book and in the work my company does is to help workers be safer, help projects get done within budget. There, the world has a lot of infrastructure needs, and this is global, where, where we need to either build new infrastructure or repair infrastructure that was built previously and we're not going to be able to do it if we don't get better at construction. 

And thinking about new tech... and new technology can be incredibly powerful, but it has to be done correctly. You have to think about it systematically, as I mentioned, but also something that's going to be scalable and sustainable and not just that splashy technology pilot that that doesn't go anywhere. That is not a digital transformation. 

And that's the final point I think I'll mention is, digitalization should not be the business objective. A lot of people mistake that. They have digitalization initiatives. They want to digitalize for the sake of digitalization, not to use that word too many times, but the business objective needs to be something tangible, something measurable, whether it's improved efficiency, improved safety, reduced costs, and digitalization is one tool among many to get there. And systems thinking helps evaluate when it is and is not appropriate. 

Tim Butara: Yeah, yeah, that makes a lot, a lot of sense and some great insights here to finish on, Matt. Just before we wrap up the call, if our listeners wanted to connect with you, learn more about you, or of course, check out your book, what's the best place for them to do that? 

Matthew Kleiman: So, my email address is Matt ... So Cumulus Digital Systems, I am active on LinkedIn. That's probably the best way to find me. Just, you know, search Matthew Kleiman at Cumulus. And then the book is available, on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and I hope people read it, find it helpful, and would love to hear feedback from your audience if they do. 

Tim Butara: I sure hope that the audience takes you up on your offer, Matt. I really enjoyed speaking with you today, probably even more than I enjoyed reading your book. So thanks again for joining us. 

Matthew Kleiman: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this discussion. 

Tim Butara: And well to our listeners, that's all for this episode. Have a great day, everyone. And stay safe. 

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