THE USE OF PARTNERING IN THE FACILITIES DESIGN PROCESS
James V. Allred
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The definition of partnering encompasses many ideas. But let's first look at what is not. Partnering is not a “cure-all.” If you have major problems which are not recognized or discovered until the facility is almost finished, partnering is not going to fix them. Partnering is not a “way-around” requirements. If you are supposed to have a fire door in a wall, then that criterion clearly must be met. Partnering is also not a “cookbook” solution. Not all projects are alike, with the same requirements, scope or schedule, so the overall goals as well as relationships may differ for each partnering effort.
On the other hand, because of the extensive effects and the impact partnering has on a project and the people working on that project, the description is difficult to pin down in a single idea. Partnering is many things. It is a concept of substituting an atmosphere of cooperation, among those involved in construction projects, for the traditional adversarial climate. Though having multiple beneficial results, partnering is a simple process; one which turns confrontation into cooperation.
In the late 1980s the Corps of Engineers started its partnering concept to reduce the litigation occurring on construction contracts. The Corps' Medical Facilities Office is now expanding the partnering concept to include the design process. Adversarial relationships are less prevalent in the design process. However, partnering still offers benefits to be gained. Through collaboration, the team can achieve a higher common goal than could be attained by any individual member of the partnership.
Through a team building process, respect, communication, and trust are fostered among team members, which provide the oil for a smooth working relationship. Partnering eliminates friction among team members, allowing everyone more time to concentrate on producing the best possible solution. Partnering provides an added emotional aspect to design. Commitment to the common objective of a quality project and ownership of that project by the A/E, the client, and eventually the construction contractor, is the goal of the entire team. The attitude of success is embodied in the partnering concept and allows those involved to overcome obstacles otherwise unattainable. Partnering is one of the most important ingredients in developing quality. This is largely because concentration is centered on the delivery of the
products, rather than issues that do not enhance the product value.
We have found tremendous benefits in our partnering effort during construction. As an example, in two recent million square feet projects, during the first year of construction, the facility being constructed using partnering reduced correspondence between the Government and the contractor, from around three thousand to three hundred pieces. In the same two projects, there was also a reduction in Requests For Information from the Contractor, from over one thousand to just ninety-two. This translates into more time to do a higher quality job. In addition, our records show that litigation during construction is almost zero. In construction, there is indisputable proof that partnering is a rousing success.
We are finding, from “hands-on” experience, that partnering is also a great tool for design. Partnering has some very important, powerful, and unique benefits, beyond the ones similar to those described during the construction phase.
Let's look at some general differences between construction and design partnering. The relationships during construction are much more adversarial in nature. As a result, a major goal is to avoid litigation and minimize disputes. There are generally fewer main groups involved. Though this can be disputed, the main players normally are on two sides, the owner or the government side and the contractor. Certainly the main groups are much more focused. They are dealing with known events —fixed elements. They are clearly implementing known and pretty well laid out solutions.
Design partnering, on the other hand, has an overall atmosphere more of that between a counselor and a client. The emphasis is directed toward gaining information and approvals. There are many main groups who have an equal say in the decisions. And much more importantly, design is dealing with unknowns. As opposed to implementing, the partnering team is creating solutions.
Who are these many main groups involved in design? On one side there are the client user (operator), the using installation (owner), and the design manager or agent (representing the operator/owner in managing the design requirements, schedule, and budget). On the other side, there are the design A/E, often joint venture partners, and many consultants. Each of these groups often is broken into many significant (and vocal) sub-groups.
As an example of the operator/owner area, our Air Force client has groups on each respective side, the Surgeon General (operator) and the Civil Engineer (owner/maintainer). Each has a second level of the organization (a regional office or a center) which has under them, a set of major commands, each having representatives at individual hospitals. On the Surgeon General side, the regional office has additional facility representatives (working specifically during design and construction) coordinating the process from a broader perspective. All have a direct interest, whether it be user functional, engineering aspects, or maintenance, and all have differing goals. Only through partnering, which focuses on a main project objective, is the synergy created, to produce a solution that satisfies all.
A major aspect of design partnering is that the players are working with unknowns. They are creating a solution. Under normal circumstances, the team members involved in the design process are never going along in “lock-step.” Events that would
normally occur sequentially must be considered concurrently. Commonly the architecture work is much further along in design, providing the basis for many of the other disciplines. Through partnering, disciplines that normally begin detailed design further along in the process, bring up anticipated problems early. This allows all disciplines to work on problems concurrently. It maximizes the possibilities and provides much better solutions.
Dealing with handling a building system access problem gives a good example of how partnering works in design. Here, the typical approach is generally, “whoever gets there first.” In other words, the first discipline to work on design places his items optimally, and the ones following try to do the same, but with the problem of having the earlier designer's items already there. The results are often a glorified mess of equipment, stuffed into too small a space, or at best most needs compromised in some way. With partnering on the other hand, all meet together at the start, establish each person's goals and work out a solution where all can have his/her needs met. The results are a coordinated multi-disciplinary integrated assembly and all are happy. In this case, the client has gained functional flexibility, the structural engineer has economical support, the architect has a functional aesthetic space, the mechanical engineer has adequate space for ducts and pipes, the electrical and communications engineers have adequate access for conduit and cabling, the installation has a space that is easy to maintain, and management has a design within cost and schedule. All are happy and more importantly all have become successful through the synergy of the team, which is now a tight enthusiastic group. Attitude was the thing which made the difference. All were wanting to cooperate to get a better, quality solution.
How do you do it? How does the process work in design? First, the players and the management group are identified. Preparation is also accomplished very early.
One of the main, if not most important, ingredients of the design partnering process is the workshop. The initial workshop is usually held on neutral ground utilizing a facilitator where all the partners in a particular project are gathered together. This takes place at the start of design. The purpose is mainly to discuss each partner 's individual interest in the project, so that they are clearly understood by all. Working for the first time as a new team, an overall concise goal for the project is developed; one upon which all the individual partners can agree. The resultant partnering agreement is not extensive, normally only a single paragraph, followed by a short list of around five or six overall goals. This agreement is especially significant in that it provides common goals for which all can strive.
Secondary, but no less important, the workshop offers an opportunity for everybody to get to know one another as individuals. This ultimately facilitates the trust and communication absolutely necessary in building the “Team.” It improves, almost guarantees, success for the project.
Finally, success is measured through periodic feedback. Design partnering is used throughout the entire design process.
Partnering provides a multitude of benefits not only for individual players, but more importantly for the team and project as a whole. The A/E's and Consultant's individual benefits lie mainly in the area of communications, timely approvals, and
better information flow. They gain improved design efficiency and coordination. Early awareness of problems and identification of design alternatives are also among these benefits. The client's and the installation's most important benefits include satisfying their functional and technical requirements. Their goals of obtaining an economical facility (in terms of operation and maintenance), one that is flexible (for future functional and technical changes), and one that meets their legal and safety requirements, are also benefits. The design agent partner benefits include achieving published standards and criteria, meeting the required schedule, and the ability to stay within the know budget.
Collective benefits for the entire group of partners, though more general in nature, often have a much more significant impact on the project. Uppermost is the climate for success, through which all share ownership of the project and much more is accomplished. Commitment to a common goal and efficiency in the design effort as well as provisions for long term relationships of the partners are also important benefits. All these contribute and combine with a spirit of excitement and collaboration, which provides one of the most important overall benefits, that of improved design quality.
What partnering translates into, is a mutual win-win-win-win-win situation, where all partners participate in success. It is this cooperative, enthusiastic, synergistic attitude which epitomizes partnering in design. A recent quote from one of our partners probably says it best, “everyone wants to do something extraordinary, because the job itself is extraordinary.” Partnering is definitely a tool for design.