IPI Winners: Should Partnering be More Mainstream in the Industry?

Dear Construction Nation,

As many of you know, in the early 2000’s, I founded the International Partnering Institute as a charitable organization dedicated to spreading Collaborative Partnering to construction project leaders. Last week, I attended the International Partnering Institute’s 13th annual conference and awards ceremony. It was so great to watch the award-winning project team members get recognized for their awesome partnering efforts that really made a difference. These teams did extraordinary things:

  • Like building a $2 billion dollar terminal using two separate contractors both of whom worked together so completely as one team, that they wanted to also be recognized as one team, with one award. The partnering effort saved $38,000,000.
  • Or the administration building team that was really struggling. They used their partnering effort to turn around the project and resolve all the issues, got back on track and finished on time and budget. Partnering saved $15,000,000.
  • Or, how the building of a maintenance facility where the team worked together so well, they saved $5,5000,000.
  • Or, how a 6-year long airport modernization project finished 92 days ahead of schedule.

These were great team efforts that we know don’t happen on most projects. Each of the project teams that received an award did remarkable things using the partnering process. So, the question I always have in my mind is, why don’t more owners, contractors, designers, and CMs use the partnering process on their projects?

Since construction is 13% of the world’s GDP, and the McKinsey Institute estimates that if we could improve productivity in construction, we could save $1.6 trillion. I decided to ask some of these award winners, if they thought that partnering should be more mainstream in the construction industry. Here are their answers:

Owner: Construction is about bringing people of different cultures together, and that just doesn’t always happen naturally. Bringing partnering in to help groups work together, the output is going to be so much more powerful and effective.

CM: Yes, partnering should be more mainstream in the construction industry because, it is because of partnering that our projects have been successful, on budget, on schedule. Most importantly, there is a trust amongst the team, and we have fun. Even in the most difficult times, challenges, and discussions, we know we are all one team, and that we are striving for the exact same goals. Partnering is pretty much why this is happening. Partnering is the reason why we’ve been able to be successful. The more I work in the industry, and I see projects where we do not have partnering, I see the results are just not there. Yes, we need to make it more mainstream. East coast industry members, just have not quite gotten there yet. Please open your eyes and see what partnering can do. Talk to others, maybe use those in the west coast as an example. Come out and visit us and visit our partnering sessions. Today, those on the east coast should realize that when there is, massive trust and collaboration, people stay. Today so many people are quitting I hear about it on our east coast projects. I just have not seen that here in the west. We have less turnover.

Owner: Absolutely, partnering should be more mainstream. I’ve been in the industry for 38 years and as an architect, I’ve seen the need for it. I worked on a project a long time ago and we did a partnering session and pulled it all together and everyone began working together. San Francisco City and County has a robust program. On my first day there I was assigned to write the partnering specs. Our program is very successful. It is not touchy feely; it is about getting things done!

Contractor: Yes, there are many examples here at the ceremony of why it should be made more mainstream. Projects at SFO would be great examples.

CM: Yes, I believe it should be more mainstream because it promotes communication and collaboration. And anything that does that, just helps a project. It can invigorate the project and should absolutely be promoted.

Program Manager: I led a large program in Atlanta and partnering was very productive when it was proactive. It helps to prevent conflict. We are in the people business and partnering helps teams work together much more productively and much more quickly.

Owner: Partnering helped the team build a foundation of trust and that helped the team to resolve issues. This really turned the project around and allowed us to deliver the project on time and on schedule.

Contractor: In general partnering creates openness. But it can’t be forced. All parties need to agree. Otherwise, you get people who are not genuine in the process.

Owner: Partnering should be more mainstream. [It] brings issues up early on so executive staff can deal with the issues early on. Now having gone through this partnering experience, I can’t imagine doing a project without partnering at all levels, including subcontractors, the prime, designer, and the owner, at all levels. It allows the core team to make decisions quickly and to empower staff.

I was curious and asked this leader another question: Your Partnering was 100% virtual. How did you build such a strong team in this environment?
Part of our success was being our natural selves on camera. Most of us are from the generation that is used to using these tools. We were just ourselves. We all worked collaboratively. We expressed ourselves through memes and gifs as a way to express ourselves and get to know each other. We never felt disconnected, even in a virtual setting.

From these leader’s comments, it seems clear they believe that the industry needs to embrace Collaborative Partnering. So, for those of you that want to improve your partnering effort, or are contemplating taking a stab at starting a project partnering effort, I asked other winners, what they thought was a best practice for partnering projects? Here is what they had to share:

FacilitatorFrom my experience, start early and follow up frequently, and make sure the team is playing from the same set of music. Create an aligned set of goals and set up an Executive Team that’s in service to the team that is actually delivering the project in the field. And if everybody is in service to the goals and the crews in the field, you are going to have a very successful partnering effort.

Contractor: To make partnering work, check in regularly with the project team and make sure that the project team and the owner’s team are aligned in their expectations. Partnering is about trust and developing a relationship. Make sure there is trust, transparency, honesty, and integrity amongst all members. So, if at anytime you sense that you don’t have that in your team, it’s up to the leader(s) to make the moves to correct that. Integrity is a big part of partnering, and we must do what must be done, with integrity.

Contractor: It is always about the people. It really is about how people work together. When the owner believes in and is committed to partnering, it really makes a huge difference.

Owner: The best practice is open communication. Communication is key to success on a project at all levels of the team. We all need to be open to listening to people at all levels of the team.

Owner: Get all the project stakeholders together; and being able to have an open, honest conversation.

Owner: Best practice is the be honest. We had partnering sessions where we had real issues. Play Oprah Winfrey and get that honesty out and ask them the hard questions. Not until we did that did we get to the heart of the problems and start to create a successful program.

The keynote speaker was Ambassador William H. Moser, Director of Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, U.S. Department of State (OBO). I asked Ambassador Moser his thoughts about partnering, as OBO has a new, worldwide partnering program. Here is what he said:

“What I am going to say today [in my keynote], is really true. Diplomacy is partnering and partnering is diplomacy! We think that without having cooperative relationships and working through problems together in a collaborative fashion, you can’t achieve foreign policy goals, or construct a building that really serve America’s foreign policy.”

In talking about the need for an OBO partnering program, Ambassador Moser shared about a project team member who went to meet with a permitting agent. Each was from a different country. The disconnect between them, ended up costing the project (US Government) $16M dollars.

I also asked Stuart Seiden, Executive Director, International Partnering Institute, to share a bit about IPI. Here is what he said:

“We are here at the 2022 IPI Conference and Awards Ceremony. Today we gave out 18 awards to projects that excelled in design and construction – and had a great time doing it. That is what IPI does. We educate people and do research on Collaborative Partnering; to improve the efficiency of construction projects.”

I would like to end today by sharing my humble gratitude for the honor of a new IPI award that was created this year in my name – the Sue Dyer Innovation Award (Photo above provided by Jeff Rumans Photography). Three wonderful projects received this award for the innovations they developed as part of their partnering efforts. I can’t wait to see more project leaders and teams win this new award as they strive to create more innovative ways to make their projects better!!

In Trust and Gratitude,

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