3rd A n n u a l G S A A c h I e v e m e n t A w a r d 17 May 99
1. Describe policy or practice.
We were very successful in filling GSA’s historical mission to construct a new building for another Federal agency. This practice was performed under the "umbrella" of GSA’s reinvention laboratory. Further, we clearly demonstrated tangible & intangible benefits of quality project management. These project delivery system concepts support the evolution of GSA from a "value & legalistic based organizational culture" into a focused organization using a performance approach to project management.
These management concepts and practices built a collaborative environment with the different organizations who in turn have diverse, long term organizational and business strategies. For this project, other organizations included our client, (USGS), together with the general contractor, their sub-contractors, and suppliers.
In the dynamic construction industry, the art of thinking is linked to the art of relationship building and skillfull communication. This clarity provides energy for innovative leadership; effective project planning & design; and quick responses to unknown site conditions. Many unknown conditions such as weather, gaps between design and constructibility, differences between client expectations and constructors’ intentions, and varied interpretations of contractual obligations and legal compliance have historically presented many obstacles which are typically difficult to resolve.
2) Explain the background.
When speaking with a private industry group, Norma Barr, PhD, (of Barr & Barr Consultants our Partnering Facilitator), remarked that she’d seen outstanding leadership and a remarkable partnership on a government construction project - disbelief and disdainful remarks erupted. After the comments subsided, she said, "The leadership, teamwork, and innovative problem-solving was among the best she’d ever seen, including my experience with corporate America." The businessmen vigorously challenged her perception.
Norma then challenged the group. "What if you had to build a state-of-the-art laboratory for a group of exceptional scientists whose mission was determined by Congress? While waiting for Congressional funding, years pass between the initial concept and construction. In the meantime, the lab’s mission expanded and needs changed.
Concurrently, GSA’s Contract Officer had to work a procurement systems that doesn’t allow quick movement through Congressional funding, concepts, bidding, and site construction. Additionally, the awarded bidder was a small company who hired a large company as its major subcontractor. This required them to integrate two different business cultures with different systems and approaches. How do you bring common sense, creativity, and continuous innovative problem-solving to bear with upon all these factors? As well, how do you continue to think creatively in the midst of continually changing forces?"
A vigorous discussion occurred when that group bit into the scenario with such unrealistic parameters. They were astounded that the challenge was successfully met and GSA turned over the world class $23 million National Water Quality Laboratory (NWQL) to the U.S. Geological Survey on schedule and on budget in the spring of 1999. People involved said it was the best partnership experience. Satisfaction was voiced from the owners, the users, and the constructors.
Leadership Philosophy. The NWQL leadership team was composed of five people: Howard Bruce GSA Project Mgr. (PM); Carl Sherrill, Construction Mgr. for Abide International; Steve Farrington, GSA Contracting Officer (CO); Linda Pratt, NWQL Lab Operations, and Taryn Edwards, Blackington & Decker’s Construction Project Mgr. Four have an intuitor-thinkers personality; the other is a sensor-thinker. Typically intuitor-thinkers prefer quick conceptualization, recognize connections among variables, analyze impacts, and bring intense focus to an issue. Sensor-thinkers work with practical, realistic solutions that are analytically sound and quickly assessed. Each is self-disciplined and believes in partnership, collaboration, and teamwork. They share a leadership philosophy: recognize challenges; involve the right people in solutions; find mutual direction; and provide a productive framework for people.
Starting in 1993, work began on the project to meet a scope that was over the lab’s needs. Within three work sessions Carl and Howard recognized the other’s capabilities to think logically, innovatively, and decisively. They recognized the need for hard decisions and took time to understand the other’s thinking. Howard said, "We took time to explain our thought processes. We were deliberate to build a basis for challenging and integrating thoughts." In subsequent work sessions they demonstrated easy grasp of the another’s ideas, and set in motion a model of shared reasoning, vigorous discussion, and a workable rhythm to explore innovative possibilities.
Prior to this, in 1990, Linda Pratt (NWQL lab operations) started as the liaison to communicate lab’s requirements into construction. As one partner described Linda: "She’s very intelligent with an analytic mind and was able to define lab requirements." Another said, "Scientists have a way of speaking in a declarative way, in their own language, expecting others to immediately understand".
In 1995, two years into this synergy, GSA ‘s Contracting Officer Steve Farrington "volunteered" his services. How would Steve fit into the process that was already working with Howard and Carl? Steve says "seize the moment and help others do what they do best." When asked about leadership, Steve said: "I don’t want to forget what it’s like to be in the trenches. I had a Military Special Operations Commander who became so arrogant, he forgot. It was really clear that I did not want to turn out like him. I never want to forget the people in the trenches."
Also, Howard is concerned with people. He said, "I don’t believe in telling someone else how to do their job. Let them bring their own stuff to the table. Help them get to the point where their own enthusiasm takes over, then step back and provide the resources they need. I always watch for excitement to know when to back off and let them take over. When I see someone get excited, I know they’ve engaged and I don’t have to tell them how it. It is my job to explain philosophy and the outcome. People should have fun and room to innovate."
Leaders use empathy to understand and think with perspectives to know how to establish a mutual framework for action. Carl explains leadership as a rational process to resolve the unexpected and establish truth to maintain momentum. From that basis, fairness is established. He prefers to listen for facts, probe and question for accuracy. Integrating viewpoints uncovers the true situation. Carl notes a fear factor as an inhibitor of open-mindedness. When people fear, they’re afraid to think openly. His talent for conceptualization and translating such into visual representations aids communication. His natural intuitor-thinker style is matched with rigorous analytic training providing well-honed skills to conceptualize and operationalize ideas. He can take ideas and turn them into plans and schedules, which are easily communicated.
Taryn Edwards, the construction project mgr., in 1997 (for about 4 months), brought in intelligence, experience, and a reputation to get things done. When she initiated work, she faced working with a small construction company having a very different culture from the large construction company who was the primary subcontractor. Taryn had to facilitate discussions to get these companies business methods into a workable system. Additionally she had to get construction started.
Leaders with excellent thinking skills, good people skills to build trustworthy relationships, and continuous demonstrations of open communication led to success. Leaders throughout the project, from the field to the offices, contributed to building and sustaining a real partnership. They also achieved another important part of the vision: they walked away with each partner shaking hands with the others saying, "I would count it a privilege to work with you again." One partner said, "The project was a pleasure to work on and we had fun while building a top quality project."
Leadership Style Leadership is not easily "taught" but can be practiced. Lessons are more relevant for the experienced and mature with a sense of depth & perspective and for those who rise above narrow interests for an accurate vision of what’s to be achieved. Leadership is dynamic like a project; it is not static.
We demonstrated this in our initial Partnering workshop. Within a week of GC award, we invited major project participants on a ½ -day experiential workshop to allow project participants to get to know each other without specific job problems and to think about working with other specific individuals. Further, we addressed our implied, but not easily reached goal, to form a "perfect team" within the 1st - 30 days (or so) of the start of the project.
We considered several activities for this workshop, and felt an outdoor activity would have the greatest impact. We decided on a white water river raft trip as the first "tool" to help everyone think about the upcoming work in a new, innovative manner. We felt it important for "raft-mates" to have an enjoyable, low risk way to work together.
As partnering’s a "no threat" activity (I.E. no monetary risk and no individual competition), we felt we’d establish an emotional "bond" with participants, then translate such into value. We provided a workshop to symbolize many desirable qualities, have fun, and think beyond "assumed limitations". Prior to "leaving down the river", we charged the group to think about working with a common goal and to learn about that "stranger in YOUR boat". The next day, Norma’s analysis helped bring this thinking into our conscious minds.
3) List most significant achievements.
Establishing Trust These leaders shared a strong respect for analytic reasoning and skill to build relationships. Carl remarked, "Trust is not an enigma, it’s built on facts. Openly establishing accurate facts helps establish a level of truth. A willingness to work together to establish what’s really happening impacts relationships to build trust. I check emphasis and proportionality of the way people discuss an issue. If they use too much elaboration and dramatic expression, truth is harder to establish. Logic and reason gives everyone a fair chance to establish truth."
Howard needs to hear people’s reasons to better communicate. Linda noted that she and Carl quickly agreed on ways to respond to scientists’ concern such as issues of air quality inside and outside the building, water quality in the labs, etc. She asked scientists to quantify acceptable limits for something measurable for constructibility. "We’re all well grounded in math so using numbers to establish acceptable parameters kept things understandable. As scientists we operate in a testing environment where we quantify things for a living." Thus, for an established analytical frame for scientists & constructors used a mutually acceptable language.
When asked about establishing trust, Linda described her work with Carl and Howard in 1993. "The liking was there immediately. We spoke the same language and instantly comprehend intent and meaning." Howard acknowledged the moment he stepped into the project. It was time to "bite the bullet and make decisions. We had to decide what we could afford. The scope was out of budget and no longer matched the changing mission. We had to communicate and work together throughout the project. We had a dynamic, moving target to tame."
In 1997, as field construction started, Taryn worked directly with the superintendents and foremen. "Taryn is really sharp, super intelligent, and can think fast and spot possibilities that can solve complex problems." She spent a lot of time getting business systems worked out, built a company structure to manage the project, then worked to find the rhythm of the leadership team.
Dynamic Problem Solving Our individual experiences brought to this project shaped our proposed work here. Subconsciously were looking to not repeat previous errors – insanity is doing the same thing over & over and expecting a different result. Construction inherently requires CHANGE. Projects are "living", dynamic & constantly changing, thus if previous techniques have not worked CHANGE techniques!
The Art of Thinking This partnership was repeatedly tested with many difficult and demanding situations. The problem-solving environment began with Carl and Howard. They found a natural rhythm by taking the limits off and allowing creativity to produce unbounded ideas. Others noted the rhythm of the way Carl and Howard learned to work together. Steve said, "Carl and Howard have a chemistry that really works. A common element among these leaders was the thorough training prior to GSA, where they developed the art of thinking.
Leadership Competence As experienced while rafting, quick decisions & proper action are required for competent leadership. Some decisions may be better than others, but quick decisions are "generally" better than late ones. Competent individual AND group decisions are critical. When we realize someone may have better techniques for a given task, then we’re in a position of significant empowered leadership. When we sense others are here only to take undue advantage, then leadership has a problem. Without 2-way credibility, honesty, trust, & leadership will not be as effective.
Leadership in Action Significant performance issues typically beyond the contractor’s direct control but heavily influences job site performance, relate to "Requests for Information" (RFIs). RFIs can be controversial. During our final Partnering workshop in Feb 99, we did not undertake an analysis nor discussion of the RFI process as developed here. However, we believe our handling of RFIs was significant in maintaining a positive momentum & work discipline.
As the project progressed, we adopted techniques to clarify contract documents, confirm direction to unexpected problems, or address questions & issues via RFIs. Such response included text or graphic responses (sketches). Text responses were entered into BDI’s computer database for digital searching & distribution to trades. "Small" sketches were produced on "faxable" paper for ease of photocopying or distribution and referenced in the text response.
As of mid-Feb. ‘99 there were only 678 RFIs; early G.C. estimates approximated 2000 RFIs. 423 RFIs (62%) were answered either on the day of submittal or the day after. Considering the complex mechanical, electrical, and plumbing work were about ½ the project’s scope, expeditious responses to RFIs were significant to maintain a productive work environment.
Specific Tangible Project Accomplishments
1) Single weekly coordination meetings (short and ONLY activity coordination!)
9) Satisfied & pleased client.
10) Final Partnering Workshop – Summary of Norma Barr’s Notes 4 Feb 99:
PROJECT PARTNERSHIP: Partners took time during the project’s closing days for experience assessment & to explore Lessons Learned. This places us in position to better reinvest in partnership & affirm benefits to both government & business.
PARTNERSHIP SUCCESS: Partners were asked to rate Project Partnership by rating 20 items.
Rating scale: 4 = Very Effective; 3 = Effective; 2 = Ineffective; 1 = Real Failure
The ratings were as follows:
3.81 No litigation
3.79 Rafting team building session
3.78 Quality Job
3.76 Safe Job
3.76 Non-adversarial work environment
3.67 Snow mobiling team building session
3.61 Open communication
3.57 Payment Process
3.56 Fun on the Job
53. Direct / candid instead of posturing & hidden agendas
3.40 Schedule Management
3.33 Submittal Process (during 2nd ½ of project; 1.23 score during 1st ½ of project)
29. Less send / resend paperwork
3.29 Time & cost control over the project
3.27 As Builts
3.12 Reduced paperwork
* These evaluations are the highest ratings the Partnering Consultant has ever seen on a construction job.
4) Identify the problem(s).
Our previous GSA and private experience provided specific knowledge. For greatest value, we knew to begin teamwork as early as possible. We knew to build and establish a positive "organizational culture" and then apply such to specific project tasks. Essential to this is how our "organizational culture" was created for the best job site behavior of individuals. Such behavior is also effected by and reflective of the overall business strategy established by other organization's leaders. We believe it’s important to support and reward collaboration and reward efforts of individuals as supported by expressed or implied strategies of the other individual businesses.
Given our previous experience we knew that some people would not be familiar with the underlying concepts required to develop a quality organizational culture. In fact a cynical attitude would be an even greater problem to overcome. We felt that if we found a way to make teamwork "experiential" so that most individuals could quickly and dramatically experience first hand the "reality" of teamwork, a greater value and meaning would be enjoyed. Our intuition said to let participants experience the lessons 1st hand, then transfer these lessons to the job site.
As we progressed into actual project work, we knew the importance of quick and effective decision making to expedite effective field operations and maintain high levels of efficiency and quality. Managerial & organizational skill helped for a successful project, but the real skill is applying practical knowledge everyday to continually support the work. We demonstrated that Partnering is not just a "show for the guys in the suits"
Continuous partnering – initial development thru project work
Our experience and through technical knowledge served to create a positive environment in two ways:
5) Show how the replicability of the policy (or practice).
Many COs know little of construction. Few are willing to think reasonably about ways to get things done. Many play it safe to avoid even reasonable risk. Steve’s an action man, not a roadblock." One partner said, "If GSA could clone Farrington, they’d turn their reputation around in a hurry. They don’t realize how pivotal the CO is to project momentum. A government moneyman can kill momentum, and usually do, but not Steve. He adds momentum instead of roadblocks."
Other specific qualities: Concise leadership to make partnership real
Non-threatening introduction / creation of productive project culture
Confirm / understand individual business strategies
Initiate innovative problem solving
Contracting concepts & techniques for competent professional service delivery
Knowledgeable individuals who can and will do the work
6. Summarize consistency with "Federal Asset Management Principles".
What behavior does the Govt. implicitly support? Explicitly support? On personal level? On organizational level?
Confirm Govt. policy (expressed vs. implied) towards GSA constructed projects.
Good News & Success Stories
1.1. NWQL is a state-of-the-art lab supporting clean water analysis. It's a science lab providing information on ground water, irrigation. Water quality / quantity analysis is part of a large national resource program. This "fee for service" lab is structured to earn its way with expanded capability without expanding staff.
1.2. This successful project demonstrates GSA's commitment to small and minority business utilization
1.3. NWQL represents a long-term government payback where GSA owns the facility, rather than leasing it.
1.4. Technological improvements allow reduced lab space, but increased capability.
1.5. GSA took a leading role in integrating sustainable, affordable design, starting in the planning stage.
1.7.1 Casework - Concept of layout is now being requested from other worldwide organizations.
1.7.2 Public Service Co. funded energy studies & supported early commissioning. This project is the 1st for GSA in the nation to partner with a public utility. Outcome: Huge energy savings, as compared to what the energy bill would have been. It will have a long-term benefit after payback.
1.7.3 Partnership was formed among government agencies, as well as with contractors
1.7.4 Early inclusion of commissioning provides a true warranty period for the contractors
1.7.5 Commissioning was integrated from design through submittals; Clear project leadership focused on commissioning and provided a genuine request for involvement
1.7.6 RKMI’s Performance Building Systems Company was brought in early to check & document equip. (before start up). They took a pro-active approach for a partnered, professional result. On move-in, the agency didn’t get ambushed on equipment; early check prior to start-up, avoids damage to pumps & motors & limits to integrated system performance.
1.8 Leader synergy occurred on the project throughout the different parts of the job.
1.8.1 Additional leaders sparked the team.
1.8.2 Procurement Officer took a risk on the innovative approach of going 8-A
1.8.3a BDI and HP put together a team with outstanding individuals
1.8.3b The leaders were visionary and thought outside the box
1.8.3c Innovative rapport building with experiential learning rather than a meeting / classroom approach
1.8.3d Leaders looked for the design intent to support the project, rather than taking the business-as-usual approach of rigidly considering contract content.
1.8.3e Leaders searched for better ways with minimal cost, minimal time investment, & workable solution. Overcame obstacles overcome with clear communication.
1.9 GC initiated an attitude to recommend solutions when presenting problems, providing a transition for workmen’s to be included in solutions. Problem solving was distributed throughout the project.
1.10.0 The CM offered to invest time and money into partnering and asked for authority and responsibility to plan ways to make partnering real. Carl found creative ways for strong relations & GSA supported innovation.
1.10.1 GSA relinquished some decision-making authority and invested in trust and good will to allow Abide to find innovative, experiential team building activities.
1.10.2 Partnering organizations shared the costs to build a real Partnership work environment (Abide, GSA, BDI, Hensel Phelps, RKMI, as well as the subs) provided money, time, and participation.
1.10.3 Partners were able to include values, emotional intelligence, good will investment and commitment to keep the partnership alive and functioning
1.10.4 Champions of partnering behavior led the process throughout the project
1.10.5 Many said this was the best partnering ever. They credited visionary leadership, experiential team-building, real human connection, and communication. They demonstrated work ownership as a partnership outcome.
1.10.6 Rafting offered a real opportunity to quickly connect & build a team. Debriefing for a deeper understanding of communication styles to recognize project application followed rafting.
1.11. Leaders kept partnering energized during the intermediate project parts. (This lab is the 1st building built on the DFC since 1967, with the exception of the child center addition).
1.12. Even this good project faced the difficulty of attracting laborers in a tight labor market. Subcontractors and the General Contractor brought in innovative people to meet the challenge, particularly with mech. / elect. trades.
1.14. GSA’s CO/ PM demonstrated intelligent interpretation & were equally committed to legality & contract integrity.
1.15. Companies put together a truly safety-minded work force. No lost time injuries occurred on the project.
1.16. Project photographs were available via web site, for interested families, workers, agencies, consultants, universities, and perspective clients to stay informed.
1.17. Partners are sensitive the environment (i.e. using manifolded exhaust in lieu of separate exhaust stacks).
1.18. Environmentally safe chemical lab; real planning for both an internally and externally safe environment pays off.