PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog
Steve Oliver Trussway Manufacturing

Behind the Build: Interview with Steve Oliver, Truss Design Trainer, Trussway Manufacturing

Have you ever felt like you’ve found your life’s calling? That moment when the stars seem to align, and you’re doing what you truly love. Unfortunately, many of us have not–but it doesn’t mean we’re not on the right path. Take it from Steve Oliver, Truss Design Trainer. Steve has been working in the design field for nearly 30 years, over 20 of which have been at Trussway Manufacturing. Around five years ago, Steve came across the trainer role and it felt everything finally came together. “Throughout my career and even in my personal life, I was always helping and teaching people…When I came across the job description for the Design Trainer role, it felt like I had already been doing that for years,” he comments.

In this week’s Behind the Build, we speak with Steve on his journey in the design field and how he uses technology as a communication tool for a large remote workforce. Read on to learn more. 

Why do you love the design world?

I’ve always loved what I’ve designed. To be able to go out to the job and see a large building being put together because of what you designed is an incredible feeling. These are real structures that are going to be lived and worked in. To the outside world, it’s just a building–but I can see the internal structural pieces it required. I used to have a wall full of pictures of the jobsites I’d visit. I’d even plan vacations around them to go and take a picture of a project I had some involvement in.

Furthermore, in design, there’s always a new challenge, which I enjoy. We’re always challenged with complicated designs and having to meet various codes. Sometimes, it comes to the point where no one knows the answer, including architects and engineers. We need to be the experts and be one step ahead to solve the problem for the customer. Getting to see how it all comes together at the end is a fantastic feeling. 

How did you first get started in the design world? 

I was drawn to building things starting at a young age. As a kid, I used to love playing with Lincoln Logs. In high school, I decided to take a mechanical drafting class. That inspired me to take architectural hand drafting in a vocational school in college. Soon after, I got a drafting job designing trusses. I didn’t even know what trusses were at the time. 

In those early days, I was drawing with a pencil on paper and using white-out on the items I didn’t want. I would then put those papers into a copy machine and write or draw back in what I wanted. That was how I started my career. 

Then, late ’80’s this thing came along called the personal computer. No one knew what it was. In 1987, my company said to me, “We can build trusses, but we have no idea what’s in that box.” They sent me to school to learn how our company could maximize design software for the company. At the time, computers and software were very primitive and two dimensional, compared to the fast, three dimensional programs we work with today. 
For the last five years, I’ve been teaching others what I used to do. I am a design trainer for about 75 designers here at Trussway Manufacturing.

It’s funny to look back to my high school days when I hated trigonometry. Today, I not only use it, but I teach it. It feels like everything came full circle. 

How did you end up getting into training?

Throughout my career and even in my personal life, I was always helping and teaching people. Someone new would start at work, and I’d offer to teach them how to do a process or work with a particular software program. I’ve always been drawn to learning, which has helped me adopt technology that sometimes felt light years ahead. Hence, I was always willing and enjoyed assisting others to learn–it felt like my personality was coming out when I was doing that. 

When I came across the job description for the Design Trainer role, it felt like I had already been doing that for years.

Taking something that people don’t fully understand and know how to use and then showing them how to apply it to their jobs–the role really fits me.

As a trainer yourself, what were your experiences being trained with PlanGrid? 

I not only like teaching; I love learning too. When our company first started using the software, a trainer from PlanGrid came to Houston to train us. Together, we worked closely to develop our internal procedures, and he was incredibly helpful to my understanding of how PlanGrid works. 

The primary use of PlanGrid for our company is to call out issues, now known as using task stamps on drawings. With the training he provided, I was able to take that and apply it to our business model. After that, I was able to teach others how to use that tool for their specific tasks. 

Why does your team use PlanGrid?

Before PlanGrid, we were using Adobe PDF files to coordinate among our team. Before that, we were coordinating notes on paper. Fifty out of 75 people on our US team now work remote, and we have an additional 25 people in Vietnam. We could not coordinate via notes on paper, so we started to use Adobe to add comments to plans. However, these files were extremely large and were very slow to load on the server. We couldn’t even email them due to their size. It was a massive waste of time. 

I call PlanGrid our “communication tool” rather than simply for plan reading. We started using PlanGrid because we could quickly have our whole team add notes and comments; no need to mail or email. I think most companies that use PlanGrid have maybe one to ten projects on it. We’ve been using PlanGrid for three years and have 1,500 projects on it–with more than 400,000 sheets. Every one of our workers around the world is using PlanGrid. It’s a whole new world from where we were in the past.

It’s a big deal just to put notes on a set of plans, push a button and someone can read it immediately, whether they are in Hawaii or Vietnam. 

This idea of a remote workforce do you think it’s becoming more common in the building industry?

Not in construction but it is becoming more common in design for a few reasons. One, people are unwilling to move and relocate their families. Secondly, it is expensive to move talent even if they are willing. And if you’re only hiring people in your immediate local area, you’re limiting your workforce. 

PlanGrid has been a critical communication tool for our remote workforce. There’s no need for red pens and highlighters; it’s all electronic. Not to mention, the money we save on not having to mail plans and printing out paper is immense. Instead, our entire team instantly sees revisions.

What would you say is your favorite PlanGrid feature? And why?

Tasks stamps. The stamps on the drawings specifically can be tracked, assigned, reported and hyperlinked–there’s just so much you can do with them.

What should the next generation of designers keep in mind? 

Always be willing to learn. Most everyone’s able, but they need to be willing.

Through teaching and training in the corporate world, I’ve found there are a lot of people who are not willing. They’ll tell me to my face, “I don’t want to learn. Don’t teach me. I don’t have time. I don’t care.” But only an open and willing mindset will move you forward. 

“The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.” Brian Herbert

“If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.” Zig Ziglar


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