Ongoing Partnering Process
During program planning for the Construction Services Organization, Loudoun Water decided to pursue an ongoing formal partnering process as opposed to the typical approach of just a "kickoff" session with "optional" follow-ups as needed. According to Dick Bedard, Senior Vice President for CH2M Hill, "There had been several large water/wastewater projects in the Mid-Atlantic that had not gone well. We knew there was a better way to get projects done for all parties and set out to create a model for the entire industry." The process adopted by the team was developed based on the principles of collaboration, accountability and consistency. On a program of this scale, collaboration among all primary stakeholders was accomplished by development and use of a Team Charter, establishing values and goals, and managing expectations. Accountability was achieved by having a series of ongoing "internal customer satisfaction surveys requiring all participants to score the team's ability to reach expectations and to account for the various actions needed by each to progress the project. Consistency in approach involved the use of the same evaluation process for all contracts from all parties between partnering forums.
Elements of the ongoing process included:
Executive-Level Kickoff Session: For each General Contractor a smaller group of senior-level personnel from the parties initially met to agree on overall project values and goals, issue escalation process and communication protocol as well as the path forward for an ongoing partnering process. Says Dick Bedard, "We employed FBDM (Fact Based Decision Making). Everyone has opinions and emotion, but we demanded a full fact base to be developed which drove good decisions. The notion to utilize formal levels for decision-making was especially relevant; it fostered resolutions at the working levels and avoided micro-management from the top." The key piece of this was to establish the value that relationships at the senior levels of the organization were essential to project success. The relationships at the senior level extended beyond the formal partnering sessions, as executives continued to meet in impromptu lunches and phone conversations during the course of the project.
Project-Level Kickoff Session: In subsequent sessions for each General Contractor, the team expanded to include all on-site supervisory personnel and project engineers, where the Team Charter and Issue Escalation Process were finalized. Additionally, potentially key issues or "Rocks in the Road" were identified and initial actions defined.
Issue Escalation Process: The backbone of the partnering process was the implementation of five-level tiered collaborative teams composed of representatives for each business organization at each level of the organization (Exhibit A). As potential disputes were identified, the intent was to level the playing field and ensure the issues were first dealt with at the project level, and then, if no resolution was reached, escalated equitably upwards as a team to the next level of management. According to Rick Thoesen, "designing the five levels of decision-making up front was genius. Executive management was allowed to influence the outcome and provide conflict resolution at their level of the organization, but the process was largely controlled by project management; executives did not micromanage or second-guess field decisions. Field empowerment resulted in a confident and efficient project without interference from executive egos."
In fact, for all of the contracts combined, only three issues escalated to the Executive Level (the 5th Level). Those issues involved 1) evaluation of blasting operations and the effect of subsurface rock on the predictability of the outcomes when compared to the geotechnical reports provided for construction, 2) the effect of the change in building pad elevation and related changes in backfill material to accommodate deeper levels of bedding and 3) concrete cracking controls - due to the acceleration of work by one of the contractors, the effect on project efficiency and extra manpower needed to stack trades to match the schedule for move-in and start-up.
Quarterly Executive Sessions: To preserve contractual and proprietary information of the contractors, separate sessions were held on a quarterly basis for each of the two General Contractors. At these sessions, Project Managers for the key organizations for each contract provided a joint project update and then the group would assess team performance against the goals developed in the Project Charter (see Exhibit B). The assessment would be based on a one to five point scale where "four" was considered "meeting expectations," "five" was "exceeding expectations" and anything less than a "four," "less than meeting expectations." The assessment trend for the project duration is displayed in Exhibit C. These ratings provided the format for any team member to provide input on positive aspects of the work, the success or failure of relationships to date as well as raising issues of concern or opportunities for improvement. Action items were developed for each key issue. Thirteen of these sessions were held for each General Contractor during the course of the project.