Scaling and Streamlining Solar Business Growth: Page 3 of 6
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Biomimicry and Meeting Rhythms Promote PEACE
By T.J. Kanczuzewski, Inovateus Solar
Inovateus Solar has become one of the leading solar development, design, engineering, procurement, construction and supply companies in the Midwest. Headquartered in South Bend, Indiana, the company has developed and built solar projects for utility, rural electric cooperative, commercial, industrial, governmental, educational and microgrid customers in the US, the Caribbean and Latin America. A founding staff member of the company, T.J. Kanczuzewski has been with Inovateus Solar since 2007 and serves as its president.
Like many solar companies, Inovateus has experienced remarkable growth over the last few years. We have recently completed or are close to completing more than 100 MW of commercial and utility projects, have become the part owner of a solar power plant that we helped develop and build, and have seen our supply and distribution business flourish. However, along with experiencing rapid growth, we’ve learned some hard lessons about managing our increasing responsibilities while properly serving our customers and remaining profitable.
To accomplish what we have recently achieved and successfully meet our ambitious goal of becoming a leading national developer, we have had to change our organizational and operational structures. As a people-first workplace that is adding new as well as veteran solar industry staff, we face the challenge of maintaining our friendly corporate culture while adapting our company to competitive new market realities.
By continually looking to improve our organization, we are not only more effective but also more cooperative and focused on our day-to-day goals for building projects as well as our long-term goals of sustainably and profitably expanding our business during the ups and downs of the solar coaster. A variety of sources have inspired or led to the development of the following business management tactics. These include lessons that we have adapted from invited speakers at our weekly solar “think tank” sessions, books that I have read, examples from the natural world, and seminars that I and other team members have attended.
Truly Believing Our Core Values
Inovateus has won two “Best Place to Work” awards in Indiana, and one of the reasons we’ve earned these honors is that our team truly believes in our core values. Having everyone remember those values and act in alignment with them keeps us all focused on the long term when short-term problems get in the way.
We like to use acronyms at Inovateus. First, there’s PEACE, which stands for passion, engagement, ambition, creativity and esprit de corps. We’ve also adopted a rallying cry: building a brilliant tomorrow. These company mantras are not just something we pay lip service to—we live them. They’re truly a part of our business mindset with customers and within our internal Inovateus culture.
For example, in 2015 we landed our first large-scale contracts, including a 58 MW project, currently in its final construction phases, in Lapeer, Michigan. We had a successful sales-centric operation, but feedback from some customers and our own staff informed us that we could make our processes more efficient. We realized that we needed to create structures that largely did away with departmental silos and to implement an organizational plan that encouraged participation and greased the wheels of internal communication. And, importantly, we had to tighten up our execution.
Because our team members believe in PEACE, it was a lot easier for us to step back and avoid pointing fingers. Instead, we focused on fresh ideas to increase cooperation and efficiency.
One of the things we’ve done is create what we call PODs for each project. These are unified, inclusive cross-disciplinary teams. Our inspiration for PODs came from diverse sources. For one, we applied a feature from the natural world, namely how dolphins and other wild creatures live and work together (hence the name). We also borrowed ideas from retired US Army General Stanley McChrystal’s book Team of Teams and his experience with breaking down operational structure gaps in the military and making groups “faster, flatter and more flexible.” In a sense, the POD is our biomimicry-influenced team of teams.
Although we didn’t originally intend to do so, we’ve embraced biomimicry as a way to rethink processes. We consider Inovateus a living organism that is in continuous growth and improvement mode. As a result, the PODs have evolved. We’ve recently implemented POD 2.0, which strengthens and adapts the POD structure to be more inclusive of other personnel in project execution. In addition to using more concise and easily measurable agendas for each POD’s weekly meetings, we saw the value of adding more input from finance and business development folks on the front end of projects, more participation from purchasing and logistics during primary construction periods, and more robust closeout management between substantial progress and final completion.