Sherrill & Co.

... Construction Program Management  &  Architecture

Practice and Principles of

Project Partnering

Summarizing a conversation of 05Feb99 with Howard Bruce (GSA), Steve Farrington (GSA), Norma Barr, PhD. written by: Carl Sherrill, 20Feb99; ver 1.2



All of us have different individual and personal reactions when we hear the word "leadership."  Such reactions are influenced by our previous experiences � both good and bad. Regardless of our reactions, we should keep an open mind and open ears to how others are developing good experiences when working with other people for a common, expressed goal. Such awareness goes beyond the construction industry.

Information sources on such good experiences can be readily available, while others may be more obscure.  For example, (but not to be overly dramatic) the Feb 15 �99, TIME Magazine ran a cover story on Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan, and Larry Summers and how they go about managing (and LEADING) the Federal Reserve System to maintain our very long period of national economic growth. They displayed a key characteristic and we shared such a characteristic with them for this construction project. That is "with analytical people, self-esteem relies on the analysis and not on the conclusions". TIME goes on to say, "That must be it. The three men have a mania for analysis that has bred a rigorous, unique intellectual honesty."

In retrospect, we used similar tools on this project. Leadership and management requires working with people, and those people will encounter problems of one sort or another. Regardless of the problem or the individual (s), we undertook an analysis of that situation with input from the effected individuals and in most cases, found a solution based upon the facts related to the problem, independent of the emotional status of those involved. We believe the guys in the field really appreciated the direct and timely discussion of their situation (s) and our response to the unexpected field condition (s).

1.0 ... Project management principles for use by anyone in the public OR private sector with desire to achieve good results.

Outstanding project management is the foundation to successful management of the larger organization. There are various definitions of a "project."  One that makes the most sense describes a project as a unique, customized work effort performed by specific individuals during a specified time period with a defined budget. The construction and entertainment industries readily come to mind when we think of project work. We�ve built buildings for thousands of years and we have been entertaining each other for just about as long. In the US, in the 1990�s we�re no longer accepting "standardized" (i.e. one type for all) products that we�ve accepted since the end of World War II.  In industry after industry and on a global scale, industry is now customizing "special-run products" to appeal to different market segments. Thus, the essentials of project management we develop in construction can be applied to many other industries.

2.0 ... Our case is drawn from experience on a GSA Region 8 construction project.

We believe the good techniques employed here can be modified and applied to ANY OTHER type of project. This project fell under the larger "umbrella" of GSA�s re-invention laboratory; thus we encouraged techniques that we believed would minimize problems as experienced on other GSA projects.

GSA Region 8 is taking "re-invention" very seriously. On 18 Feb 99, in an afternoon seminar titled, "Doing Business in Colorado" sponsored by the AIA / Colorado, AGC of Colorado & ACEC of Colorado, along with Hall & Evans (a Denver law firm), two of the specific topics were "Partnering" (by FMI) and "Doing Business with the Government" (by Hall & Evans).

The speakers relayed many concepts as conveyed to them by GSA, who in turn cited our Partnering work and project management techniques as employed on the National Water Quality Laboratory. Some of the topics they relayed to that audience included but were not limited to:

2.a �

Provision of a value added service.

2.b �

Small companies can successfully team with larger companies to enhance project delivery.

2.c �


GSA can consider proposals that clearly offer "best value" as determined by the contract officer.

2.d �

Price of professional / management service is not the leading factor in selecting a proposal.

2.e �

"GSA is NO LONGER your father�s Oldsmobile"

2.f  �

Past performance on GSA projects is a significant factor (varying from 10% to 51%) in selecting professional services.

Pro-active planning and budgeting for future "conflict resolution services" are recognized as part of the proposal.

3.0 ... Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting a different result.

Undertaking any construction project inherently requires CHANGE � this requires a corresponding change in the "status quo."  Projects are "living," dynamic & constantly changing. Thus, if techniques on previous projects have not provided the desires benefit, CHANGE techniques!

Keeping up to speed with the daily (and sometimes hourly) changes on a project provides extremely valuable information to anticipate delays or other impediments to project momentum. The workers provide continual field service and just like on a factory production line if there is an immediate problem, progress for the whole day is affected.

4.0 ... Basic project management components: leadership, people, service, teamwork.

Our CM effort was provided by the following (w/ their respective unique / individual experiences): Steve Farrington / Howard Bruce (GSA), Carl Sherrill, Henry Ong

5.0 ... Competent Decision Making - project management means CUSTOMER SERVICE.

Who is your REAL customer? Competent project management also inherently REQUIRES timely and competent decision making with cost and / or benefits to / from any project participant. ANY type of major and/ or minor decision will need to be made typically with VERY short notice to resolve the unanticipated / unexpected problem (s). The competent response (or resolution) to such unanticipated problems will be a significant part of maintaining the successful momentum required for a successful project.

6.0 ... Productive Project Management Guidelines.

 Outline effective project dynamics that worked for us.

$$ costs - risks - benefits

Meyers-Briggs evaluation as background to better understanding of co-workers

Competence expected to fulfill "roles and functions" no reliance on "chain of command."

Those who deserve trust have typically earned it (those who earn it are given a chance).

Competence can be found in most people regardless of organizational position.

6.1 ... Leadership is a dynamic art.

Leadership is a natural blend of individual, personal skills and qualities balanced by learned skills for productive interaction with others. It�s a spiritual combination of individual "art and intuition" combined with learned "scientific skills."  It�s relevant for the experienced who maintain a better sense of depth and perspective, who rise above special interests for a more assertive and accurate holistic vision. Outstanding leaders must see the separate parts and make competent decisions for a compete, finished whole.

They say that anyone with a sense of humor can learn to be a comedian; while for some, such learning may take more time than others. Why not apply that same spirit to leadership. With a reasonable personality and desire to get along with others, and with desire to accomplish something unique, then leadership skills are essential to your accomplishments.  Personally, I feel it�s easier to be a leader than a follower, but there are times when I must be a follower for the benefit of the project.

The successful leader must show "something" demonstrating value. The era of a "symbolic leader" without tangible benefit is long gone. Leaders who understand the underlying order of how real people do real work in the real world WILL be better able to quickly illustrate benefits.

Everyone employs leadership skills in different ways on different scales and at different times. Some politicians employ leadership on a national scale in four-year increments; three guys sweeping a floor have a combined leadership style that may last an hour. Each of us has an opportunity to continually improve our leadership skill when we allow ourselves to practice and practice and practice a little more.

6.2 ... Why is leadership essential to project management?

Leadership is dynamic creativity; like a project, it�s not static. If we compare project leadership to other activities having a unique, one-time outcome, like preparing good food, making music, or creating art to touch the soul of the beholder, why not consider leadership as a personal expression that provides satisfaction and provides a beneficial influence upon the actions of others for the ultimate success of the project. Leadership is a mature set of work skills allowing good people to do good things. Most project participants perform a specific part of a project, while multiple levels of coordination are constantly needed.

Most people on a project WANT to do a good job, take pride in their work and provide for the important people in their lives. This sets the stage for project leadership with comprehensive general skills that complements and supplements other management already present on the project. Essential to overall leadership is REALLY listening to those who make comments, counseling those who may express problems, and coaching those needing of direction. This also required knowing what to listen for.

6.3 ... How do we provide competent leadership?

Fundamental to all of this is competent decision-making and acting as quickly as the situation requires to solve unexpected problems. Mostly, quick decisions are better than late ones. Getting the information required for a competent decision requires input from our own personal experience or directly from the effected individuals.  Flexibility is necessary when working with the different personalities (either in a group or one-on-one) to provide necessary problem analysis and testing of various options.

This world is not perfect. I�ve found that by talking with a genuine sense of "fact finding," independent of emotion, honest, direct and impartial, good things happen. When you�re leading individuals who are empowered to make their respective decisions and can accomplish the tasks and can overcome specific difficulties, then leadership is synergistic and positive.

On the other hand, we all have an inner radar providing us with a sense of truth and accuracy. When an individual should have responsibility for a specific activity and that individual is constantly being "second guessed," or is not able to accomplish the task, or has not been "granted" authority, then even the best leadership is moot. Responsibility and authority MUST be combined to accomplish real things.

When we realize that some individuals may have a better technique for a specific task, then we are in a position of empowered leadership that encourages people to accomplish something significant in spite of the other difficulties prohibiting performance.

When we sense others are here only to take undue advantage of others or credit for activities they don't achieve (or undue blame for actions they don't undertake), then leadership has a credibility problem.  Without two-way credibility, honesty, and trust, the corresponding leadership will not be effective and the project (or organization) shall suffer. 

As Gandhi said: "One man can not do right in one department of life while he is occupied in doing wrong in another department; life (with work) is one indistinguishable whole."

7.0 ... Think

In any given situation, gain an understanding of "intent" in lieu of blindly following "by the book micro-management."

Develop your "natural skills" AND recognize that ANY new skill (s) can be learned.  For resolving any problem, start with basic analysis: who, what, when, where, why, how, how much, and how long

8.0 ... Assumptions for our managerial framework:

Project need       

"Get it done"


Self-imposed limitations

Follow the statutes

9.0 ... Illustrative Principles:



Raft trip as prototype of small groups working towards common goal (Shared mission)

Individual vs. group accomplishments (s)

Required cooperation (regardless of formal organizational title!)

Continual value engineering

10.0 ... Requests for Information (RFIs)

Other significant project performance issues that are typically beyond the contractors direct control, but heavily influences job site performance, revolve around RFIs.  RFI�s are inherently controversial and, on other projects, have been subject to abuse. During our final Partnering workshop we did not undertake an analysis nor discussion of the RFI process as developed on this job. However, we believe our handling RFIs was a significant factor in maintaining positive momentum.

As we progressed on the project , we adopted the technique to clarify contract documents, to confirm direction, or to answer most questions and issues via the RFI process. Such response would include text or graphic responses. Text responses were entered into the BDI computer database for ease of later searching and distribution. "Small" sketches were produced on "faxable" paper for easy distribution & referenced in the text response. As of 15 Feb 99, we handled 678 RFIs. (Some early project estimates were predicting up to 2000 RFIs.)

Performance measurements of the RFI process are approximate, however, during HOK�s heavy involvement on the first 200 project RFIs, the average response time was 4.39 calendar days. For RFIs 200 thru 678, (without HOK involvement) the response time was lowered to about 2.2 calendar days. Of 678 total RFIs, 423 (62%) were answered either on the day the RFI was submitted or the day after submittal.

11.0 ... Contemporary leadership references to supplement personal & professional experience:

What It Takes to be a Leader, Harvard Business Review © 1981; Inc. Magazine (each monthly issue had relevant articles on small business); "The Inner Game of Tennis" Gwathmey; The many works of Steven R. Covey; The many works of Tom Peters

last modified: 04.08.2002 ; (c) 2001 Sherrill & Co.; email:;