Business Center

Be Bold: Lessons Learned from a CDOT Internship

By Meagan Brown, Process Improvement Intern
Posted: May 22, 2018

Meagan Brown

Meagan Brown
Process Improvement Intern

In a world where audacious ideas and tenacity win, learning to be bold is a crucial lesson. And it’s a lesson that is best learned through experience. As an intern with the Office of Process Improvement (OPI) at the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), I had just such an experience. With the support of great mentors and teammates, I was able to show courage, initiative, and creativity in the pursuit of innovation.

I didn’t quite understand what Gary Vansuch meant my first day on the job when he showed me the Three Peaks poster and he had written the words courage and respect. These are not just labels that look good on paper but they are core values that Gary truly embodies. Like most people, I thought I knew what those words meant. Over the next eight months, my appreciation for these terms deepened in unexpected ways.

When I look back on my first days at CDOT, I remember Gary slightly cracking doors of opportunity and then letting my curiosity lead me the rest of the way. For example, he mentioned that JE Dunn, the contractors building the new headquarters building, were using the same process improvement methodology (Lean) that we use here. Nonchalantly, he suggested that someone write an article on it. Not knowing anything about Lean or construction, I was hesitant but I decided that it would be a great little project. So, I peeked through that door, which led to another slightly bigger door, then there was another, and another, and the opportunities just continued to build.

That small article as People-Centered Lean Efforts: New CDOT HQ Collaboration with J.E. Dunn Construction and RNL Design turned into a tour of the construction site with all of OPI and one of CDOT’s innovative contracting managers, Nabil Haddad, which turned into a white paper about how CDOT could begin to use Lean in its construction management, which led to a proposal to fund applied research on the topic. I shadowed Lean practitioners at other JE Dunn sites, arranged lunch and learns, gained sponsorship from CDOT’s chief engineer Josh Laipply to initiate a pilot project, organized subject matter experts (SMEs) from various organizations to work collaboratively to begin implementing Lean tools into CDOT’s construction management. I became the resident expert on Lean construction in transportation.

While, I worked on numerous other significant projects that required a great deal of courage, but I use this example because it still scares me a little to think about. I have had to learn a lot in a small amount of time about Lean, contracting, construction, etc., and I am just scratching the surface. I was able to face this challenge with confidence due to Gary’s support and those two little words on top of his Three Peaks poster: courage and respect. Thank you, Gary!