Case Studies

Microsoft – Mark Baracani

He’s lean but not mean at Microsoft

A company is only as efficient as its people, and for its people to be efficient, they must have the right facilities. It starts with wherever they’re earning their livelihood. 

So emphasizes Mark Baracani, who’s had a strong hand in fashioning a progressive workplace at Microsoft since September 2017 and the last few years with the somewhat esoteric letterhead of global director of lean construction and U.S. operational excellence.  

Mark Baracani - Global Director of Lean Construction and U.S. Operational Excellence

“The more worn-out people are, the more likely they are to get hurt or work inconsistently,” he tells Blueprint from Golden, Colorado, where he remotely serves the technology multinational that seems active in more places than it isn’t. “We aim to change the space and put our workers first.” 

Microsoft’s workforce surpassing 200,000 employees everywhere, from C-suites to offices to manufacturing facilities to construction sites, that’s a lot of ergonomic factors for Baracani to consider. But his goal is the same for all: To keep them comfortable and thus productive by applying the tenets of lean that comprise respect for people, optimizing the whole, eliminating waste, focusing on flow, generating value and continually improving.  

Those construction sites demand much of that leanness, Microsoft has committed to annually building between 50 and 100 data centers in the United States and elsewhere for the foreseeable future. Needless to say, these wired wonders are light years more complex than any widget factory, each needing sufficient floor space for infotech infrastructure and the means to power, cool, secure and manage it—and armies of skilled labor in-house and from vendors such as Virginia-headquartered M.C. Dean Inc., which lives up to its claim of “building intelligence.”  

No time to waste 

Baracani seems to have done enough of these data centers to have the process down to a science, usually going from groundbreaking to ribbon-cutting within 18 months. He even makes it sound simple by saying it’s about minding the details. 

The intent, he says, is removing barriers and eliminating waste from the construction process. Baracani works closely with tradespeople and vendors globally to improve their work and standardize processes through lean training. 

A key aspect is process improvement, from him and his team documenting and sharing best practices while working with tradespeople on all shores. All too often, Baracani has seen someone in an office compile a 100-page schedule for construction, but it isn’t that valuable if it lacks input from those with boots on the floor and tools in their hands. To him, these people are like industrial surgeons.  

Microsoft | Global Director of Lean Construction | Mark Baracani

“We go into the field, do work observations and brainstorm with the people who are actually doing the work,” he says. “Our team goes further in facilitating the best work environment.”  

From process improvement, he explains, comes burden reduction at construction sites. He describes The first part as teaching people to see their work differently. At Microsoft, it’s done creatively, such as by Baracani overseeing the installation of underground duct banks and conduits. 

“The focus on it is one of the lean principles,” he says. “When doing a work observation, you are documenting the process that the people are following. As a result, when you are done, you check which ones were classified as hard work and waste. You look for burden and waste reduction opportunities, where you focus your efforts.” 

Construction work needs to be treated like  assembly lines, where Baracani says work is designed to be in a worker’s “strike zone.” The goal is for the trade partners to work comfortably throughout their shifts, and respect for them and their work generally results in better production.  

Supervisors document improved activities, foster the continuous improvement mindset and sustain streamlining. It’s not all that complex—some of it comes down to eliminating the need for a worker to search for tools or walk too far from one task to another. You can’t improve what you don’t measure, he says.  

“Why would you want someone going up and down steps 300 times a day,” he rhetorically asks. “We teach people to see work differently. We don’t want burnout or injuries.” 

Growing leaner all the time 

Given the complexity of data center construction, some processes might be repetitive, but, as Baracani reminds, the lean process is ongoing and packs unlimited potential for workplace efficiency. The minutes saved add up, and he talks of activities  that used to consume five days now need three and how he’ll never stop looking for further economies. 

It’s all part of Baracani doing his part to enable Microsoft’s industry dominance. It’s also a task for which he seems geared from the start. 

Microsoft | Global Director of Lean Construction | Mark Baracani

Even as a boy, he always seemed to have a tool in his hands. His best buddy’s father being a general contractor, the young Baracani learned how to frame houses early. Science also among his interests, he graduated the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in 1987 with a degree in metallurgical engineering. He then spent 11 years as an engineering and operations manager at Alumax Aluminum Corp. in Golden and earned a master’s in engineering mechanics at Missouri University of Science and Technology.  

In 1999, he left Alumax for another 11-year stretch, this with Terex/Genie, an equipment manufacturer in Redmond, Washington, where he got his introduction to lean principles. He stayed in the Seattle area for his next job as data center engineer and West Coast construction manager implementing lean principles at —Amazon.com (AWS)—from 2010 to 2017. 

A great experience, he says of his Amazon tenure, as the skills garnered from developing data centers for Amazon Web Services proved valuable for assembling/optimizing Microsoft’s data centers. All the better, he says, that he can serve the company from his beloved Colorado, where life is indeed good and where his early lessons in home framing are much appreciated.  

Baracani saved his family a bundle as he built an addition to their home in the Rockies, but you probably won’t see him doing much of that now. Not with his to-do list so long at Microsoft. The demand for data centers still exceeds supply.  

“This is it for me,” he says about his Microsoft employment. “Cloud computing and data centers are in demand more than ever, and we can’t build them fast enough.” 

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. IV 2024 Edition here.

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