Maarit Sääksi: Making a Performance Leap Putting People First

Removing silos will make construction better

Maarit Sääksi is head of the Performance Leap program at YIT, the biggest construction company in Finland. She admits that explaining her goals to others in the company is sometimes challenging: “It is kind of funny that we’re talking about a performance leap after having made continuous improvements over so many years. Do we really need to leap?”

Sääksi knows her industry. She came into the business in 1993 and has worked as a site engineer and estimator, managed procurement, and controlled design. She has experience with project alliancing and is well-versed in lean construction, even if she does not promote the term herself. Sääksi remembers how lean construction entered the scene in the 1990s at a time when the industry was not ready to embrace it. Now, lean is an essential philosophy and practice in many companies, including YIT.

Working Across Borders

“My goal is improved productivity at the enterprise level. I’m trying to find common factors in all our segments and functions,” Sääksi explains.

A big contractor typically maintains different organizations for various types of new building, renovation, and infrastructure construction. Likewise functions like development, design, estimation, and production, form separate silos within a company and between organizations. YIT has discovered that working toward the same goal necessitates mental and physical removal of these silos.

“We engage every employee in the performance leap. Titles don’t matter, everyone can participate, whatever their role is in the organization,” Sääksi says. “The days are over when someone could use their position or title to force adoption of his or her solution.”

Piloting as a Development Tool

Sääksi is currently mapping the value chains in each business segment, looking for ways to eliminate process waste. Pilot projects offer a quick way to test new ideas.

A recent pilot of interior construction showed that YIT could cut lead time by 50% without using any more resources than normal or investing in new technology. The pilot motivated craftspeople, and site safety and quality improved. The company incorporates the lessons from pilots like this into their production processes.

Construction projects have become complicated, but each one is not unique, Sääksi observes. For example, the process used to build a certain structure or a portion of a metro tunnel can be repeated on many projects, which enables continuous improvement of the solutions.

People First, Digitalization Later

Many in the industry see digitalization as a panacea for poor productivity. Sääksi’s main message is to start with people, not technology. “I don’t see any point in digitalizing underperforming processes and hope they become more efficient,” Sääksi says. At its worst, digitalization can be an excuse for not changing unproductive behavior.

A construction project is a joint journey aimed at meeting customer expectations. YIT emphasizes that communication between the customer and the project team should begin early in the project. The company utilizes the Last Planner system widely and aims at pull planning and improving process and information flow.

Sääksi says that once shared processes are in place, digitalization makes sense. She sees great value in making standardization visible with digital tools. Digitalization helps with open sharing of information and distributed learning, and it enables real-time control and performance measurement.

People fear mistakes in the construction business, which hampers innovation. “I want to make people realize that you can do things differently. I inspire them to ask ‘why,’ many times if necessary,” says Sääksi. “When people hear about the benefits we’ve gained so far, they become interested and are willing to collaborate.”