The world depends on infrastructure to live, work, travel, and innovate. As firms develop projects to build new infrastructure and enhance existing structures, many turn to technology partnerships to ensure success. Collaborating with firms like Autodesk enables infrastructure teams to find unique and effective solutions to overcome these projects’ complex nature.
This week, we’re highlighting the people behind the projects and companies that shape our transport infrastructure through our Virtual Travel Series for Infrastructure Week. This week, our trip takes us to Helena, Montana. We were fortunate enough to speak with Jen Jewett, U.S. DOT Technical Solutions Executive for Autodesk, about her career in the industry, experience with cross-functional teams, and love for optimizing workflows. Read her story below.
You have a pretty unique path to construction. Tell us more about how you got here.
My first degree is actually in dentistry. After a 15 year career in dentistry, I went back to college for my Civil Engineering degree. While I was in school, I started working for the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) in what’s called the MSU Design Unit. After I graduated, MDT transferred me to the headquarters office in Helena. I worked my way through the ranks at the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) in road design, into design supervisor, and then into a project management role. As a project manager, I was in charge of implementing innovations and developing related business processes. In this role, I had the opportunity to work with cross-functional project teams and deeply understand their daily business. One of the most rewarding projects I had the pleasure of working on was with a team of preconstruction surveyors, road design engineers, and field construction managers and inspectors.
I began to realize there was room for improvement in how project data is passed between disciplines. Until this cross-functional team was formed, we didn’t have the opportunity to truly understand the needs of downstream data users.
As a team, we had many “ah-ha” moments as we discovered expectations were often unrealistic for other disciplines. This team had the unique opportunity to learn from each other, ask questions, and begin to understand what “a day in the life of a surveyor/road designer/inspector” was like.
One such “ah-ha” moment came about when one of the road designers suggested we just give the contractor and our construction folks the CAD file. Though a solid effort toward a solution, once the field inspector on our team spoke up, we all quickly learned that a CAD file is the last thing folks in construction want to see.
Working with this team opened my eyes to the construction industry’s need to adopt technology; in particular, technology specifically developed for construction practices which position the construction industry to better leverage the vast amount of project data conveyed in CAD files. I came to Autodesk by way of being a project manager on the MDT’s pilot projects for the Autodesk software. Seeing how Autodesk does business is what sold me on the organization. I wanted to be part of the Autodesk family and help construction clients better prepare for and more easily adopt processes to leverage advanced, complex project data coming from the design side of infrastructure.
What makes you most excited about the future of Autodesk and construction?
One of the things that excites me about Autodesk is how we do business. Even though the U.S. is in the middle of a fairly uncertain economic time right now, Autodesk is still investing. We’re making strategic investments and preparing for the future. We’re keeping pace with the direction of the infrastructure industry.
Autodesk’s background is in vertical design; and the company is truly committed to the needs of the horizontal design and construction world. Autodesk continues to invest in partnerships and bring in functionality needed for design and construction processes, particularly related to public agencies and their associated reporting requirements.
Can you shed some more light on how the transportation industry is innovating on projects?
I worked with Autodesk on multiple pilot projects, and it was really enlightening. Historically, the MDT has utilized a different product. Autodesk demonstrated a completely different level of service and commitment. The entire Autodesk team wanted to hear feedback from users about our experience with the Autodesk products
Autodesk captured feedback from the MDT project team and turned our recommendations into reality by including product development to address our needs in the software’s next release. The Autodesk team did two different documented discoveries with the MDT project teams to capture existing complex workflows and data exchanges. They were extremely thorough with questions about current workspace, data hand-off, the goal of the overall agency, etc. They truly wanted to understand the workflows, the processes, and how MDT does business. The Autodesk team then produced written documents of their findings, which made reporting to my management easy for me. These documents continue to be living documents for MDT and are still used today.
It was mind-blowing watching a vendor be so dedicated to truly understanding the needs of the DOT as well as the needs of the DOT staff. Being able to provide the staff and management at MDT experiences relevant to their workflows and agency direction was extremely rewarding to me professionally but also was mutually beneficial for Autodesk.
The way Autodesk believes in working, particularly with the DOT clients, is so refreshing. Autodesk comes to the table with a sincere desire to be a trusted industry partner rather than be seen as just another vendor. Autodesk focuses on solving problems and finding solutions that bring full, complete services to clients (whether they’re in the public or private sector).
What was the most rewarding aspect of these infrastructure projects?
I loved being able to bring together cross-functional teams as a project manager and understand their workflows and the pain points in those workflows. This work allowed me to discover a lack of understanding about who uses the project data and how data is (or isn’t used) downstream. Assuming we know what happens to project data after it leaves our desk sets the stage for siloed processes and overall siloed organization.
The most rewarding part of my work as a project manager was working on initiatives that benefit the entire DOT. I loved analyzing workflows, bringing people together, tearing down existing communication and process barriers, and leaving people with a better understanding of each other’s business needs as well as requirements for the overall project data lifecycle. I distinctly remember one of our lead designers and construction field crew members meeting for the first time and solving a couple of workflows together. In their first meeting, they had ironed out a lot of miscommunications and had coordinated between the two of them how they were going to pass data back and forth. As a result, the project team was able to seamlessly move right into a pilot phase.
You can only take one item with you for a road trip. What would you choose?
I’d take my phone. I like to climb in the truck and go exploring but sometimes I end up needing directions.
What’s one place you cannot wait to travel to once things get back to some normalcy?
I’m really looking forward to going back to Central America. This next time I would like to go to Nicaragua. I have a good friend that grew up there, and she’s now in the States. She is one of my industry partners and peers. I have a lot of respect for her, and I want to visit her home country and enjoy the beautiful beaches.