Concrete, glass, brick, and steel might all spring to mind when you think of architecture and engineering, but in the digital age, there’s another equally important element in the mix: software.
“We want to be at the center of all project-related information for our customers,” says Brock Philp, CEO of Newforma, the Manchester, New Hampshire-based software developer that builds project information management solutions for architects, engineers, contractors, and owners. “If you think of a large construction project from design to finish, there’s a lot of communication and documents flying around. We want to be the company that can find and compile all those emails, contracts, and invoices—both to administer the projects and as a reference point in case there are any problems down the road.”
Newforma’s software readily interfaces with other programs used commonly in the industry and aims to dramatically reduce the administrative hassle associated with large building projects. To date, it’s been used to consolidate more than one billion project emails for 3 million projects.
Newforma also operates in a variety of geographic markets around the globe, with offices in the US, London, Munich, Singapore, and Sydney. Even so, though, because Newforma participates in such a targeted industry market, Philp says, the company’s philosophy toward software development is succinct.
“In a vertical market, project management isn’t that difficult,” he explains. “You ask your customers, you listen to your customers, you document what they say, and then you prioritize what’s going to go into your product. In terms of software, the bulk of architects’ or engineers’ needs are really the same. If you’re an architect in Baton Rouge and you ask for a feature to be added to the product, it should apply to an architect operating somewhere like Toronto or New York.”
This outlook forms the foundation for Newforma’s product advisory board, which connects the company to its customer base. The board, which consists of 18 customers, provides an important platform for timely feedback on real-world usage of Newforma’s products. It also steers Newforma toward ever-improving project management.
“The product advisory board is a voice for our customer base, but that’s not to say we don’t have individual conversations, too,” Philp says. “Often those conversations will match what we hear at the product advisory board meetings, but, if not, we’ll bring the ideas there.”
Although the product advisory board existed in concept before he began his tenure as CEO, Philp is elevating the board to more than just a marketing point. “Previously, the company was certainly built on communicating with customers, but I don’t think it had been as formal or taken as seriously,” he says. “What I brought in was having quarterly deliverables and a sense that we’re going to do what we say we’re going to do and make sure we maintain operational discipline and credibility.”
To that end, Philp and his team ensured that changes elected by the board members would be implemented within two quarters, and they formalized follow-up meetings in subsequent quarters to assess and review those changes. Defining a timeline, Philp says, has made all the difference.
“It puts a lot of pressure on our developmental organization to follow through,” he says. “It also puts a level of seriousness around the board for what they’re recommending, because if you want to get your deliverable scheduled for the following quarters, you’ve got to make your case, discuss it with the board, and make sure it’s good for everybody in our vertical market.”
Giving such a prominent voice to consumers has made way for a lot of feedback for everyone at Newforma. The key for the company, Philp says, is managing consumer enthusiasm while also maintaining the ability to deliver on promises. “People want to have a voice; it’s just human nature,” he says. “After that, it’s all about prioritization.”
Photos courtesy of Newforma