Avoid Boeing Blunders: How To Use Systems Thinking To Identify And Eliminate Quality Issues With Matthew Kleiman | Ep. 268

Construction Genius| Matthew Kleiman | Systems Thinking


In the construction landscape, quality is not a luxury but a necessity for you to have an edge against your competitors. Prioritizing your quality brings a multitude of benefits to your business and customers. In this episode, Matthew Kleiman, the co-founder & CEO of Cumulus Digital Systems, explains how construction business owners use systems thinking to identify and eliminate quality issues. Using his rational and high-quality manufacturing approach, Matthew was able to share his insights on how leaders could drive quality in projects by establishing a “No Fear Culture” in the industry. He also touches on the importance of transparency and awarding those who report quality issues. Matthew is willing to share his treasure trove of wisdom, so head into this episode to not miss a thing.

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Avoid Boeing Blunders: How To Use Systems Thinking To Identify And Eliminate Quality Issues With Matthew Kleiman

Wrongly drilled holes, loose rudder bolts, and a fuselage section that ejected during flight on a brand-new aircraft, leaving terrified passengers exposed to a gaping hole in the cabin at 16,000 feet. These are some of the quality issues that have plagued the aircraft manufacturer, Boeing. These impact our lives. Many of us tuning in to the show travel quite a bit by aircraft. The good news is air travel is still the safest way to travel. What this does highlight is how quality issues can impact a business in a tremendous way.

I’m very glad to welcome to the show Matthew Kleiman. Matthew’s background is interesting because he comes from the aviation industry in construction and has a pilot’s license. He understands very much the importance of a rational, high-quality manufacturing approach. He uses that background to work with contractors, helping them to drive quality in their projects. That’s what this discussion is all about here.

Using systems thinking, creating a culture where fear is eliminated, reporting quality issues is rewarded, and driving into an organization the importance of transparency are some of the ways to help improve the quality of the projects that you build. We get a great definition from Matthew of systems thinking and a deep, insightful discussion on how to create a culture where fear is eliminated. E njoy my conversation with Matthew. Feel free to share it with other people that you know would benefit from reading this discussion. Thank you for tuning in to the show.


Matt, welcome to the show.

Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.

I, like many of my audience, spend quite a few hours in airplanes. You have a background in aerospace. We’re recording this in January 2024. Boeing has been, unfortunately, in the headlines for a number of months. How concerned should we be?

As a society, aviation aerospace is still the safest way to travel. You saw that even with the accident in Alaska Airlines. What seems almost crazy is a piece of the airplane broke off, but these airplanes are built with such redundancy and so safe that nobody was hurt, thankfully, and the plane landed safely. It’s almost a miracle of modern technology, how safe aircraft are. That being said, Boeing and its supply chain have a real issue that they need to fix, or else, the public’s confidence in the safety of aircraft will be shaken.

When we talk about Boeing, we’re talking about a manufacturing environment. You have a lot of experience working in aviation. Tell us a little bit about your background and the experiences that you have.

I’m a pilot. Before I got into the construction world, I was working for an aerospace company that built control systems for aircraft and spacecraft for many years. After the deep water horizon incident, that’s the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, a bunch of energy companies started to look at aerospace companies like mine to bring in expertise around how you build reliable and safe systems that operate with either hazardous chemicals or in difficult environments. That’s how I started to make my way into construction.

Eventually, I was hired by one of our customers, which was Shell, to start a center for capital projects around how to bring better safety, reliability, and work quality into capital projects. A few years ago, I left Shell to start my own company, Cumulus, to focus on the quality issues in construction and industrial maintenance full-time.

We want to get to the quality issue because I know it’s something that’s vital to every single person reading this in terms of the projects that they’re building. What are some of the things that you learned in your previous life that have been most helpful in your work with construction companies?

The number one thing that I was able to bring over from aerospace was the concept of systems thinking. It is that every unit of an organization, which could be a team, a project, or a facility, has to be thought of as a system that is completely interconnected. That’s how aircraft are built to be so redundant. You depressurize the cabin. You think about every other impact that depressurization will have on every other component of that aircraft and design for that.

I found in the construction world, generally speaking, that it’s very siloed. It’s, “This is my piece of the project. I will do my piece of it,” and then it gets handed off to somebody else. It’s that as opposed to thinking about it as a construction project or as a system where there are all these interrelated components, and you could have butterfly effects. If something happens all the way over here, that has a downstream impact that you could avoid if you were thinking about it cohesively.

We’re still early in the investigation into what happened with Boeing, but it seems like there was a system breakdown between their supplier and the work being done for spirit error systems. Subsequent work was done at a Boeing facility and records were not transferred or accessible. These are early indications or early reports.

Somebody basically forgot to inspect the bolts holding this door plug in place because there was no record of it. The record didn’t make it across. That’s the most recent information that we have. The system broke down. As far as we know, it was a communication breakdown or a system breakdown. All of those redundancies that were put in place failed because of that. That’s what it seems like.

It’s very interesting. Give me a sentence definition of systems thinking then.

Systems thinking is looking at an organization of some sort and thinking about it as an interconnected network. Every part of that organization is inextricably linked to every other part of the organization. A change in one node of that network necessarily has cascading effects in every other node.

Systems Thinking is looking at an organization and thinking about it as an interconnected network. Click To Tweet

Describe that in terms of a construction project.

In the construction project, you could think about it linearly what happens when you want to build a new building. You start in the planning phase. You acquire the real estate. You start as the owner of that real estate. You hire a general contractor and an architect. They start building the design for the system for the building. Then, you start building your schedule and start estimating costs. Once you have your design, you bid it out, and then you start bringing in the supply chain. Those are multiple contract layers of contractors and fabricators for materials. Everything’s coming together.

It eventually arrives on site. There are multiple contractors who have different specialties, like your mechanical contractors, electrical contractors, paving contractors, etc. They all have to arrive at the same time. They’ll have to know what they’re supposed to do. The supervisors of that site have to understand what they’re doing and have visibility like, “Where am I on my job site?” Eventually, people get comfortable that the work is done. You have the commissioning turnover startup process depending on the type of building.

All of those people are coming in to do their piece of it. Often, they’re in their own universe. A problem in one area, a problem in a contract, for example, can have a very far-reaching downstream effect on what material arrives at the site and what contractors expect they’re supposed to do months or even years later when they arrive at the site. Then, somebody has to do punch lists and other commissioning to validate that everything came together properly.

We have the expressions like, “We did it right because we did it twice.” That often happens, or there is a massive rework problem in construction. I know you’ve talked about it on your show before. The statistics, generally, around 30% of work has to be redone. That’s what we see in the industry. You also see expressions like the last 10% of the schedule takes 50% of the time because everybody realizes, “All these things weren’t done,” so it takes a lot longer at the end to fix everything. Maybe you don’t have the right documentation or whatever it might be and you have to go redo all of that.

The tale you’re telling is a very familiar one. I’m thinking about the audience of the show here. We have a combination of general contractors and subcontractors who tune in to the show. The word that pops into my mind as you’re describing this is the idea of control. As a contractor, I only have so much control over this linear process that you are describing. How is it that a contractor can assert as much control as possible in order to do things like improve the quality and the deliverability that they’re responsible for?

The best way that I have found in my career, and this was both in the aerospace world and when I moved over to the construction world, is transparency in data, who’s doing what, what they’re supposed to do, and whether it was done. The contractor coming to a site has to have transparency into what the expectations are of them, what the plans are, what the designs are, what the procedures are, and what the specifications are. That often is not the case. It is showing up and then figuring it out when you get there.

That’s often what I find working with our own clients. People, especially contractors, often assume, “Transparency is bad,” or that someone is looking at them. I try to work with them to say, “It helps you and your business as much as it helps the owner or the GC. Everybody’s starting out with the same information on the same system. The expectations are understood. When there is a problem, that’s clear to everyone so you can work together to fix it.” That’s the biggest thing.

Let me ask you this. Who is responsible for initiating transparency?

In my view, ultimately, it comes up to the owner. The owner has to set the expectation of transparency. We tend to see owners take a very hands-off approach. That’s not always the case, but it’s very often the case. Ultimately, the GC is going to work with the owner to spec out the project, or maybe their architect, the owner’s rep, or whoever it might be, and then everything cascades down from there. When we’re working with companies, we try to start with the owner. If the owner’s not setting that expectation, that often is not going to permeate throughout the project.

Construction Genius| Matthew Kleiman | Systems Thinking
Systems Thinking: When working with companies, we try to start with the owner. If the owner does not set that expectation, it will not permeate throughout the project.


Isn’t that where some of the conflict comes in? What we’re talking about here is innovation in construction and why a legacy industry like construction is so difficult to innovate in. If I think about the incentives, the owner cares about one thing, and that’s getting the building built the way that they want it as cheaply as possible. They don’t have a natural incentive to go through the pain and agony of innovation. Am I right when I say that, do you think?

Absolutely. There should be an incentive, but they don’t believe they have the incentive. I would phrase it that way.

Speaking to the contractors that are reading here, how do I persuade an owner to adopt a more systems-based way of thinking with that transparency when the owner perhaps has 1 project that they’re building in their lifetime or maybe 2 and it’s not something where they’re coming back day after day again and again?

It is a challenge. The best way people learn this is from experience. If the owner doesn’t have experience, it is once something goes wrong and someone goes through that process of something going wrong that they say, “We can do this a lot better.” How do you learn from other people’s mistakes instead of your own mistakes?

The best way people learn is from experience. Click To Tweet

It is very difficult for an individual contractor to come to a project. GCs might be different, but certainly, a subcontractor can come to a project and try to influence the owner, especially when budget, contract, and other decisions are made far in advance. A lot of that’s locked in. Nobody wants to reopen the contracts to do something differently.

We participate in a lot of the industry organizations that try to work with owners to give them case studies. Some examples are they bring in speakers or bring in people who’ve lived through this and say, “Learn from our mistakes. Learn from where things went wrong. Don’t let this happen to your project. You don’t want to be the one who’s months late or millions of dollars over budget at the end of the project because of something that could have been avoided far earlier in the process.”

That’s the same thing that you’re learning and what the aerospace world is going to be going through in the wake of this Boeing example. Everybody’s looking at their processes. How do we not wind up the Boeing CEO? Looking at culture and process, what can we learn from it so that we can make our systems better?” One thing that the aviation industry is very good at doing is learning from mistakes. A lot of it is because of government regulators like the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the amount of visibility that aircraft accidents have.

The aviation industry does learn from its mistakes. That’s how we have the safety record that we do. Every single time there’s an accident and people survive, it’s because there was a lesson learned from an accident in the past that an adjustment was made either to the technology, the process, or the way of thinking that made it so that type of accident wouldn’t happen again.

That’s interesting. There’s so much I want to ask you about here. You mentioned three changes that can be made to improve an outcome. The outcome for any airline is ultimately safety.

Safe landing, getting passengers from one point to another safely.

We know that safety is tremendously important in construction, but for the purpose of our conversation here, we want to focus on quality specifically. You mentioned those three types of change there. There’s the technology change, the process change, and a way of thinking change. What do you mean by the way of thinking?

The way of thinking can go back to what we were talking about before, which is thinking of the interconnects between all the players on my project and how I could align incentives. For instance, if I set up the contracts in a way that incentivizes transparency, cooperative behavior, and win-win situations, then that’s going to affect behavior down the line.

If I, as the owner, am solely focused on driving down prices and getting the lowest bidder to bid on my project, the old expression of, “You get what you pay for,” is going to happen. Have owners think about it differently, not looking to jack up everybody’s prices, but incorporating in the contracting process, expectations, and specifications that this type of transparency is going to be required.


A quick break. I’d like to share an insight with you, and it’s this. You don’t need advice as the owner of your construction company. You need confidence. That’s why the right executive coach is important. Their role is not to give you advice but to help you process through your options and provide you with a sounding board so you have confidence in the direction that you choose.

A lot of the work that I do with the owners and leaders of construction companies is one-on-one executive coaching. If you would like to explore how I can help you as an executive coach, providing you with that sounding board, feel free to reach out to me on my website, ConstructionGenius.com/Contact. I’m not a fit for everyone, but for those people who I do have a connection with, I have a tremendous positive impact. If you need that sounding board, feel free to reach out to me on my website. Let’s get back to the interview with Matthew.


That’s interesting. Going back to something that you were saying earlier, a lot of this play around change in construction, if it’s going to be driven by the owner, has to be achieved through influence. You were talking about your involvement in associations. What advice would you give to contractors in terms of how they position themselves to influence the industry in ways that are not necessarily impactful on the project and the issue?

There are a couple of things. One is openness to change. Not to pick on contractors, but our industry, generally, is conservative and has a reputation, at least. The reputation is earned to a degree of being stuck in our ways. It takes two to tango. The owner, Assuming they will do what they need to do to influence and make the contracts set up properly for transparency, the contractor then has to be open to that. A thought partner with the other players in the system of, “How can we do this better and not be immediately defensive?” That’s one thing. You need openness on all sides of people who are willing to work together.

The other thing is sharing data. Share bad experiences. That’s another thing that we don’t often like to do. When something goes wrong, we don’t talk about it and talk about what we did better. I spend a lot of time trying to convince either our clients or other people I know in our industry, “Come to this event. Let’s do a case study of not about how wonderful we are but about how something went wrong and these are the changes that we’re making so it doesn’t happen on our next project.” A general openness to new things but also to talk about what went wrong is so important. Everybody has made mistakes. There’s nobody who’s done a perfect project probably ever, but let’s learn from it.

How do you analyze the root causes of the mistakes that occur?

When we are able to get data throughout work, what we do and the data that we look at is we break down workflows on projects into their individual components. Oftentimes, we think of workflows like a procurement workflow or something like that. We look at workflows as, “What is a worker, supervisor, or inspector supposed to do at the granular level?”

Can you give a quick example of what you’re describing? Give me a real one.

Let’s say tightening bolts because that’s in the news. Let’s think about it in a construction context. You are building a piping system. Maybe there’s a chemical plant or some sort of utility. All those pipes have thousands of bolted connections that have to be tightened. Sometimes, they’re welded, but very often, they’re bolted together and tightened. Depending on the size, there could be hundreds of workers going out to tighten all of those bolts and assemble the piping.

In the ASME or American Society of Mechanical Engineering requirements, there is a process to follow on how you properly tighten the flange connection. There are, depending on it, 5 or 6 steps that have to be followed. You have to look at the gasket. You have to look at the alignment and look at any corrosion. Often, specifications are not set as expectations and are not tracked. It’s, “We’re going to hire a bunch of pipe fitters who are going to tighten the bolts.” You need to collect data on, “You’re supposed to do these five things. One of which is tightening bolts. Let’s make sure you do these five things and understand that when we sign off and say, “This work was done,” there is a record for each of those work activities that that work was done.”

That is an area where contractors can be defensive. We have saved dozens of people’s jobs that we know about because something went wrong later and they wanted to blame the contractor like, “You did your job wrong.” There was data to show, “Our workers did it. They did these five steps. Here’s the evidence. Here are the photographs and the real-time date stamps.”

That causes the investigators of the incident to look somewhere else and say, “There was a material issue. It was bad material. It was a counterfeit. It was a manufacturing mistake.” That’s why we try to convince contractors, “This protects you too.” We have dozens of examples of saving people’s jobs because we were able to show that they did their work properly. It’s not about finger-pointing and finding out who did something wrong.

It’s interesting. As you articulate this system’s way of thinking, and I, as a contractor, have ownership over one particular cog in that machine, even if I don’t have control over the other cogs, I can assert as much control as possible over my cog.

You can create a paper trail that your cog was done properly. You’re both using it. You’re training your workers. You’re supervising your workers as you normally do, but then you want that detailed record of, “We did it and we did it right. Here’s the proof.” When something happens later, people are going to come looking. The easiest people to come and blame are the workers because typically, there’s no evidence. It’s he said, she said.

It’s, “Somebody pencil whipped a paper form somewhere,” and then it’s, “Material arrived.” It’s, “It must’ve been that the workers did something wrong.” Sometimes, that happens. People are humans. People make mistakes. That happens, but very often, it’s not. Often, there was something that might’ve happened far back in the process, and then by the time it arrived, nothing happened.

I rewatched the movie Apollo 13 with my daughter. At the end of the movie Apollo 13, they talk about what happened that caused the accident. Tom Hanks’ character says there was a defect in a part of the module that happened way back years before when it was manufactured that when they did their cryo stir, it sparked and caused an explosion. During the incident, they assumed the astronauts made a mistake, but they were able to show, “There was a manufacturing defect by some subcontractor that worked its way through,” and that was the root cause of the investigation. We often don’t have that kind of data for construction or that kind of transparency and traceability. That’s what I’ve spent the last couple of years of my career trying to bring to the industry.

It’s interesting. L et’s say the owner isn’t driving that transparency. They’re not really incentivized themselves. Perhaps the general contractor and their contracting partners can get together and say, “We want to build long-term partnerships with each other regardless of the owner. By creating this transparency, one of the things that we do is protect ourselves from the unintended consequences of any errors that may occur throughout the process of building a project.”

Also, when mistakes happen, it’s in everybody’s interest to see it in real-time and fix it before it hurts somebody. Then, fix the fact that someone didn’t properly install the bolt before the plane is a plane full of passengers or in the air. Don’t be afraid of that. That’s something we end up training workers a lot. We are able to automatically detect quality issues, but also we make it easy to report a quality issue. It’s like, “Something didn’t look right.”

Construction Genius| Matthew Kleiman | Systems Thinking
Systems Thinking: In our system, we can automatically detect quality issues. But also, we make it easy to report a quality issue.


We do a lot of training with workers to say, “It’s in your interest to press this button that says Report an Issue because that’s going to protect you. Don’t try to hide it or think you’re going to be punished.” We then work with their management teams to make sure they’re not punished for that and that they’re rewarded and recognized for reporting an issue. That’s counter to human nature often. It’s counter to the culture in a lot of places but report the issue. It’s like, “I got this material and it looks damaged. Let’s report it.” That way, you fix it then and there and not wait for something to go wrong later.


It’s very interesting as we talk here with Matthew about quality. Culture is very much connected with the quality that you produce in your organization. Culture is a reflection of leadership. If you want to improve your leadership and therefore your culture, I have a resource for you. That’s my book, Construction Genius. In it, you will find effective, hands-on, practical, simple, no-BS leadership strategy, sales, and marketing advice.

If you want to improve your leadership, buy this book on Amazon. The paperback is $20. You can get a hardcover if you like. I saw a hardcover in the wild. I was working with a contractor and one of the guys in the room had a hardcover version of it. You can also get it on Audible. Audible is sweet because you know how much windscreen time you spend. You can listen to the Audible narrated by me. That can help you to really get those concepts that I communicate in the book drilled into your head. I promise you that if you take 1 or 2 insights from the book and use and apply them in your daily leadership, it will transform the way that you lead. Go to Amazon and get yourself a copy of the book. Let’s get back to my conversation with Matthew.


Let’s talk about that a little bit more. How does the culture of an organization impact the ability to spot problems and then solve quality issues over time?

Culture is so important. One, a lot of organizations are run by a culture of fear. We see it a lot in construction, but many other industries too. If somebody makes a mistake, they are punished. If somebody reports an issue that slows down the work, they are punished either directly or sometimes, it’s not officially punished, but they’re hazed by other people on the project. That’s the number one thing. You have to overcome that. That comes right from the top of rewarding people who call out issues and making sure that’s a good thing.

You have to balance that. You are going to get people who misuse that, so there’s always a balance. That is the number one thing. It’s the culture of fear and the culture of not wanting to look bad. Everybody makes mistakes. Even the most expert worker is going to make mistakes. They’re human. We all make mistakes so many times, but do you learn from them? Do you call them out as they’re recognized so that they’re not hidden? That makes the biggest difference, in my experience.

It's the culture of fear and the culture of not wanting to look bad that makes people make mistakes. Click To Tweet

It’s interesting. As a leader, you might have safety issues, quality issues, or productivity issues. A lot of construction company owners don’t necessarily immediately look in the mirror and say, “I’m having this issue because of me.”

Exactly. It comes right from the top. Think about how you reacted the last time something went wrong. Did you start screaming at people? Did you fire someone immediately without any sort of investigation into what happened? Think, “How could I have reacted differently that would encourage people to behave differently the next time?” It becomes a matter of leadership. The expectation for transparency has to go to the top, which is the owner. The culture is set at the top of whatever organization people are in.

It’s interesting. You described how, when we were talking about tightening the bolts, you may have a standard or a specification that’s already articulated. If you don’t train on that specification and then hold people accountable for that specification, it has no impact.

It’s in a binder or a PDF document somewhere that nobody ever looks at. We see that very often. Whoever the engineers are at the company spent a lot of time making this beautiful specification. When it comes down to the field, you’re right. They’re not being trained on it in the first place. It’s not their fault because they’re not being trained on it. They’re saying, “I’ll come out and show you how we’ve always done this.” That’s not being tracked.

We end up digitizing those specifications and building them into workflows. A reason that those specifications aren’t used is because they’re completely impractical. They were written in some engineer’s mind of, “This is the perfect way,” to keep on the example, “to tighten a bolt.” Maybe it was using twenty-year-olds understanding of bolt technology. The technology does change over time. There are better ways we can be doing this stuff. It is a whole system. It’s, “The engineer made the specification. Someone’s not using it.” Maybe it’s not the worker’s fault. Maybe your specification is bad and you need to work on something that makes sense given best practices.

Let’s dive into that a little bit. The first question I want to ask you is we were talking about doing that case study on things that go wrong. People do this. We talk about it at least where we’re going to do a post-job debrief. What are some ways to structure that process to make it as effective as possible?

You can’t do that once. It can’t be a one-time thing at the end of the project. What you need to do, whether it’s every day, every week, or whatever cadence makes sense under the circumstances, is we’re always talking about doing a retrospective. It is, “What happened the day before? What happened the week before? What went wrong? What could we do better?”

Those are usually small things. It’s usually, “We forgot this tool. We had to stop work, go back, and get the tool because we forgot it.” They are these little things, but that sets the culture and the expectation of talking about the big things. It can’t be a one-time, “At the end of the project, let’s go back.” If it’s not part of the culture by that point, it’s not going to be effective. You want to have been doing all the small things.

It’s the same thing we do with toolbox talks and safety. We’re like, “Before we start doing any work, does everybody have the right PPE? Does everybody understand the safety plan? Does anybody have whatever permits they need?” We’ve been very good at incorporating that into safety over time. It’s not perfect, but good. We don’t do the same thing with quality. It’s, “Yesterday was yesterday. We’re going to keep moving along.”

My team and I have been encouraging the companies we work with, “You have your safety talks and safety briefings at the beginning of the day. The reason that those came about is because you talk about it all the time. It becomes normalized. It’s the same thing with quality. What mistakes could we have caught? What mistakes could we have prevented? Talk about it all the time.”

I like the parallel between talking about quality as you would talk about safety because everyone understands those safety talks. Let me ask you. How do you balance the tension between quality and productivity?

There’s the old expression that you could have things cheap, fast, and good and you can pick 2 of the 3. You hear that in project management courses a lot. While there’s certainly some truth to that, that gets exaggerated in people’s minds when they think it’s a zero-sum game. Quality and productivity do not have to be zero-sum games. They don’t have to be opposites. They could go together for a couple of reasons.

Construction Genius| Matthew Kleiman | Systems Thinking
Systems Thinking: Quality and productivity do not have to be zero-sum games. They don’t have to be opposites. They could go together.


One, while it’s making sure you do the work properly, it may feel like you’re slowing down a little bit to follow your process or procedure. There’s a lot more productivity lost in rework at the end of the job than there is if it takes you a couple of minutes more to do whatever it is you’re supposed to do because you’re following whatever the process is.

I’m not looking to pump our own products. There are others out there. If you are able to track what happens during the course when people are doing their jobs as they’re supposed to do them, and don’t change how they’re doing at all but make sure they’re being tracked and visible to everybody, then you catch issues as they come up and can fix them as they come up. That saves a huge amount of time at the end of the project because you’re not fixing things when it’s too late. That is the biggest lesson that we’ve seen.

You can’t think about productivity in terms of, “This worker is going to spend 5 minutes versus 7 minutes doing this job.” One, technology exists that you don’t have to sacrifice those two minutes, but you can bring transparency to what they’re doing. You can set the culture so that people are talking about this all the time so that they’re catching mistakes as they happen. You’re going to save a huge amount of time at the end of the project by preventing rework.

There’s a real disciplined approach that needs to happen if we’re going to improve quality over time. What I’d like you to do is to give our audience a starting point. We don’t want doors flying off of planes in the middle of a flight. What’s the starting point for me as a contractor to begin to focus on improving my quality?

The starting point is culture and looking at yourself in the mirror as the leader. Whether you’re a foreman, an executive at a contracting firm, the owner of the contracting firm, or whatever you might be, think, “How am I reacting when things go wrong?” The biggest immediate impact someone can have is to change the behavior for themselves and the people who report to them and work with them, “We’re going to eliminate a culture of fear.”

Once you can do that and say, “We’re not going to be afraid of things anymore,” then you put the systems in place to bring transparency to the process. The first place to start is to look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “How am I reacting to things? How could I react to things in a way that makes it so that people are willing to speak up, talk about it, and be open to improving?”

From a safety perspective, we mentioned the parallel. That’s a journey the industry started decades ago and is continuing on that journey. It’s like, “Let’s talk about safety. This is important.” We want people to be rewarded for calling out safety hazards on the job site and saying, “Someone’s not using proper PPE on the job site.” That’s called out and rewarded. The answer you give when someone says, “You forgot to put on your safety goggles,” is, “Thank you,” and not getting mad at that. It is those kinds of things. Once you’re open and talking about it, then you could say, “What systems could I put in place? What quality management software might I use to track this stuff?” It becomes a lot less scary to do it once the culture’s not as scary.

I like that. Eliminate the culture of fear and then use systems to enable transparency. Is that what I’m hearing?

Exactly. Talk to the contractors you work for, other subcontractors you work with, and then ultimately, the owners. Talk about the benefits as you start to see the benefits with your own teams.

This is a long-term play, isn’t it?

Absolutely. You’re not going to improve it overnight. I’ve been working at this in my own little world for ten years and it still feels like we’re at the beginning. People are recognizing the issue a lot more, and that’s often the first step.

That’s great. Tell us a little bit more about your company, what you guys do, and how people can get in touch with you, please.

The company is called Cumulus Digital Systems. What we do is we make it super easy to upload all of your work procedures into our system. It turns them into detailed workflows that workers and inspectors can use to track work in the field step-by-step. They have real-time visibility into what’s going on, whether it’s a ten-person project. We’ve worked on 2,000-worker projects before. We also connect to various types of Bluetooth devices such as pressure gauges, wrenches, and things like that where we can get real-time tool data in the effort of having more transparency. You can find us online at CumulusDS.com. I am very active on LinkedIn. That’s the best way for people to get in touch with me.

Construction Genius| Matthew Kleiman | Systems Thinking
Systems Thinking: Cumulus Digital Systems makes it super easy to upload your work procedures into the system. It turns them into detailed workflows that workers and inspectors can use to track work in the field.


Before we leave, tell us. In your mind, who is the contractor that must contact you that would get the biggest benefit from working with you?

The contractor who should contact us is somebody who has already started down the culture or the journey of being open to, “I recognize there’s a problem and things can be better.” Maybe they made a mistake on a prior project. Maybe they know a competitor made a mistake and they’re like, “I don’t want that to be me.” The best person to contact us is somebody who has had that thought go through their head. We can help them not only on the technology side, but we also provide professional services and advice on the cultural change aspect and the process change aspect as well.

I really appreciate you joining us and sharing your insights on the show. Thank you very much.

Thank you so much. This was a lot of fun.


Thank you for reading my interview with Matthew here. I hope you enjoyed it. I know I did. Make sure that you’re creating a culture of no fear and transparency because that can have a tremendous impact on your quality. Feel free to connect with Matthew on LinkedIn. Go to his website, CumulusDS.com. Hit him up. Let him know that you heard about him from the show. I have one last request. Please give the show a rating or a review wherever you get your shows so that the shows can be seen throughout the internet. Thanks again for tuning in. I’ll catch you in the next episode.


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About Matthew Kleiman

Construction Genius| Matthew Kleiman | Systems ThinkingMatthew Kleiman is an experienced entrepreneur, executive, investor, and author focused on bringing safety and sustainability to industrial maintenance and construction. Matt has focused his career on transforming industrial quality through digitalization and has worked with dozens of industrial facilities across five continents to improve quality, promote safety, and reduce rework.

Currently, Matt serves as co-founder & CEO of Cumulus Digital Systems, an award-winning connected worker platform that ensures mission-critical work is done right the first time, every time. His leadership has been recognized with numerous awards, including the prestigious Adoption Leader and Maverick Awards from BuiltWorlds.

Previously, he joined Shell as the co-founder of their TechWorks innovation division in Cambridge, Massachusetts. TechWorks used a systems thinking approach to develop, implement, and scale groundbreaking technologies throughout the energy supply chain.

Matt received a B.A. from Rutgers University, a J.D. from Duke University, and executive certificates in management and leadership from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Matt lives with his wife, daughter, and dog outside Boston, Massachusetts.