THE USE OF PARTNERING IN THE FACILITIES DESIGN PROCESS:VIEWS OF A FEDERAL PROJECT OFFICER
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Partnering in my view is essential in today's business environment. While the concept of partnering is relatively new, much of what it entails has been part of the design process for many years. Partnering restructures and repackages some of the activities that have been in place, but, more importantly, it expands and focuses on the positive activities and enhances the process.
In the announcement of this symposium, the statement was made that the concept could, among other things, contribute to the application of Deming's “Total Quality Management” principles to Federal construction. In my opinion, that is exactly right. I view partnering as a TQM “tool.” Both partnering and TQM involve teamwork, customer focus, being process-sensitive, goal-driven, but, more importantly, it involves empowerment and trust as the centerpiece of conducting business. Like TQM, partnering involves cultural change in an organization and its customers.
The application of the partnering concept through the design of specific projects is an effective technique to gaining understanding and focusing the attention of those involved in the process on the common goal that will provide a successful project. The application of partnering on specific projects has to date involved spending approximately two days with the participants teambuilding and focusing on what the project requirements might be, what roles people play in satisfying those requirements, and what responsibilities each player has to ensure that the project will be successfully completed. Spending a full day in teambuilding and getting to know each other may not be feasible or affordable on small routine projects normally encountered in a Corps of Engineers district. It is essential, however, that the direction, commitment, and understanding embodied in the partnering concept be obtained for all projects. I will talk about this in a little more detail later, but we have done two things to facilitate partnering on a routine basis. We have a generic partnering package that is executed on specific projects by the project manager, and number two, we are “strategic” partnering with our major customers.
The partnering concept has been applied to a number of design projects by Savannah District. The three most prominent are:
Fort Bragg Hospital
Fort Jackson “BRAC”
Savannah Harbor Deepening
First, Fort Bragg Hospital—The project is currently at the 65 percent design stage and, thus far, has been very successful. There has been a lot of work on the part of everyone involved to bring us to this point. However, we all feel that the partnering approach has significantly improved the working relationships, the ability to get the job done with fewer changes, and the overall quality of the project has been improved. There are many aspects of this project that could make the difference between success and failure, but in this partnering experience, the one element that made the biggest difference in proceeding in a cooperative, constructive manner seemed to be when the architects and engineers agreed with the medical community that the purpose of this project is to “provide the highest possible quality care to the military community at Fort Bragg”—as opposed to the engineers and architects having a goal of building a facility, and then, the medical community operating that facility. It is a joint effort throughout the life cycle of our involvement to provide “quality health care.” That means, of course, that the designers and constructors must produce a quality facility in which to provide that care.
Fort Jackson “BRAC”—As with the hospital, there are many aspects of this project that could make the difference in success and failure. Design is complete and construction contracts have been awarded—both involved partnering. This is a $26 million project to provide working, living, and training facilities for a new Soldier Support Institute, which includes an NCO Academy and Schools for Finance and Accounting, Recruiting and Retention, and Adjutant General, which are moving from Fort Benjamin Harrison to Fort Jackson, SC. The design time for this project which would normally be 24 months was reduced to 11 months, counting our pre-design work. The construction time which would normally be 24 months was reduced to 17 months. With those short design and construction times, it would have been impossible to follow the “old” Corps procedures to complete and provide the facility to the User by the required BOD. The element that I believe brought all parties together in this case is the recognition that decisions must be made early, they must be unchanged, and all parties involved must do their part in order to ensure delivery of the facility on time. So far, this has been an excellent example of what can be accomplished with partnering.
Savannah Harbor Deepening—This is a civil works project. It is approximately $34 million in value and requires the deepening of Savannah Harbor approximately four feet for a distance of 31 miles. This project is quite unique in that it is being funded 100 percent up front by the partner, the Georgia Ports Authority, who will be reimbursed for the Federal share once funds are appropriated by Congress. Obviously, such an arrangement could not be accomplished without a good partnering relationship between the Corps of Engineers and the sponsor of the project. In order for Georgia Ports Authority to accommodate new and larger shipping lines, it was essential that this work be completed 27 months earlier than the Corps of Engineers
could normally deliver it, following the routine process of civil works authorization and appropriation of funding. Consequently, through partnering, a different approach was developed and is currently being executed; two of the three contracts to complete the work have been awarded and work is proceeding. We feel that this will again prove to be an outstanding success, primarily due to partnering.
As indicated previously, it is not possible to devote the time and money, that is, two or three days with a number of people involved, to conduct partnering sessions for teambuilding and getting to know each other on all projects designed by the Corps of Engineers. Consequently, we have searched for a means by which we could apply the partnering principles without a great deal of investment in that activity up front. Consequently, we have developed a “generic” approach to partnering to be applied to routine military projects. That approach is to have the project manager and all those involved in the pre-design conferences to, in addition to arriving at an agreement on the scope, schedule, and cost of projects, document that in the form of a partnering agreement that all of them sign, indicating a commitment that all involved will do their part in ensuring that those commitments are met. Recognizing that most projects will have some changes, the partnering agreement outlines the procedure to be followed in executing those changes. We do not have a lot of experience with this over a long period of time, and so, consequently, I am unable to say at this point how effective this approach will be. So far, we sense a new spirit of cooperation and a new commitment on the part of those involved in a project that will lead to improved quality and timeliness.
Another feature that we are implementing in Savannah District is what we call “strategic” partnering. That involves a two-day partnering session with our major military customers, primarily focusing around the Directorate of Public Work (DPW), Directorate of Engineering and Housing (DEH), or the Base Civil Engineer (BCE). The intent is to develop good, close relationships between individuals in Savannah District who routinely deal with their counterparts in the DPW/DEH/BCE communities. At this point, we have completed the partnering session with Fort Bragg. We have scheduled sessions with Fort Benning and Fort Jackson. The effort at Fort Bragg was very successful in pointing out areas where both parties need to improve. One of the major results of the Fort Bragg partnering is how we accomplish reimbursable work for military customers. This has been an issue we have addressed for a number of years. The partnering activity helped us focus on more of what the customer (DEH/BCE) wants. We feel strategic partnering is essential at this point, recognizing the changes in the way that Corps of Engineers districts will perform work, the developing competitiveness between Government agencies, and the fact that the DEH/BCE will be in a much better position to obtain work from sources other than the Corps of Engineers district designated to support them. So, our approach is somewhat self-centered, but it is being done in a very professional way that is honestly looking for a more cost-effective method of doing work and supporting our customers. Two major benefits of such a session are: (1) We learn what the individuals are really unhappy about. Some situations can be corrected with minor adjustments and greatly improve working relations and mutual trust. And, (2) all concerned learn of the
constraints and difficulties faced by the other organization, which allows people to work together with a greater degree of tolerance.
We have made significant progress in partnering during the construction phase and are now experiencing the benefits. We are at the beginning of partnering in the design phase. In order for partnering to really be effective, we must continue to improve the process so that we have fully-integrated, life cycle partnering. We could move in that direction by having the construction contractor involved during the design phase so that the “product delivery team” is fully defined, the designer can design in improvements offered by the construction contractor, the construction contractor gains ownership of the design product, and the whole team develops a sense of trust that should minimize problems during construction and provide the owner with a higher quality product. In the Fort Jackson BRAC project, we attempted to get the construction contractor identified by the time the design was 35 percent complete. We were unable to do that, primarily because of the procurement laws and regulations. Consequently, we have two partnering actions that are executed at the beginning of the design, and again, at the beginning of construction. We have done the best we can to integrate those two on the BRAC projects at Forts Jackson and Bragg, and because we have excellent construction contractors, we've had an excellent AE contractor, and the partnership has been very effective during the design phase, we have been able to make that transition. Hopefully, one day our procurement processes will allow us to employ the most effective means of having construction expertise involved during the design process. After all, there is nothing like having ownership to a decision that's been made on how is the best way to accomplish a task when it comes to executing that task. Therefore, our efforts in the future will be to integrate partnering over life cycle of the project.