ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - October 2000


Issue Highlight — In Praise of C-SPAN
- Peter Block explains how supporting and viewing more media like C-SPAN, free of interpretation and corporate meddling, could provide an answer to the commercialized, unintellectual broadcasting that captures most of our attention.

Getting The Moose On The Table

Using Partnering Sessions to Lay a Foundation For Success

When we sit down to a team meeting we all have one common goal: to complete the project at hand. Yet how many hours do we waste with trivial arguments that really have nothing to do with the topic? When was the last time you sat in that uncomfortable chair and thought, "I have so many other things I should be doing right now?"
  To keep his massive development projects on time and within budget, Rick Krochalis, director of Seattle's Department of Design, Construction and Land Use, uses the concept of partnering sessions. Just a few hours of preliminary discussions can save days when conflicts arise later in the project. Krochalis describes how candid conversations establish a commitment to the completion of the job as well as to mutual respect.
  Read on to see how partnering sessions can set a precedence for your company and remind everyone what they are really working toward.

 Surprise has been a frequent reaction when Rick Krochalis proposes a partnering session to launch the complex projects for permitting activity, which his City of Seattle department oversees. He is, after all, a bureaucrat. But a 20-year career as a Navy civil engineer taught him the value of clear definitions and strong relationships as the best foundation for successful projects.

  The projects Krochalis oversees have been key components in Seattle's growing economy and infrastructure. They include the Seattle Symphony Orchestra's Benaroya Concert Hall; a sizeable capital improvement project for the Seattle Public Schools; the implosion of the new Seattle Center Coliseum; the implosion of the Kingdome, Seattle's former sports stadium; and the construction of a regional transportation system, Sound Transit.

  As director of Seattle's Department of Design, Construction and Land Use since 1992, Krochalis has been a proponent of thinking that goes well beyond the expected governmental bureaucracy. A lot of people were surprised by his innovations: "They don't think a regulatory department would be able to involve other city departments. But wait a minute! Our department is approving your permits. We're sending inspectors out on a daily basis. Why wouldn't we be part of that? The city has an equity position."

Can't We All Just Get Along?

 Krochalis borrowed from models established by the Associated General Contractors and the Army Corps of Engineers. "They found, in a construction setting, contractors, owners and architects all arguing and not constructing the building right. We established structured partnering sessions of those entities very early on, sometimes before we even mobilized our forces."

  By having such conversations about the project's goals, Krochalis points out, everyone gets better results. "What contractor doesn't want to finish on time and on budget? It means he'll probably make more money. The owner is pleased, and the architect, working with the team, sees his building built in a good fashion."

  The concept is really a simple one: The key players are assembled in advance of the project's initiation. "Before any of the controversies are flying, you sit down and have a candid conversation determining the real drivers of the project, the goals. We can actually examine how we are going to work together. We talk about how we are going to resolve conflict. It gives us a framework for decision protocols throughout the project."

  In fact, Krochalis says, such structured partnering sessions typically forestall problems that can delay or derail major projects. "You can get the moose on the table that no one talks about," he jokes. "Maybe the architect thinks the contractor has a bad reputation. Maybe the contractor thinks the architect's drawings aren't just right. Maybe the owner's worried about something else. If you get those ideas out and let people address them upfront, all of a sudden you're talking."

Time Saver

  Sometimes it's hard to get busy people to commit to the one- or two-day session required to hammer out a partnering agreement. But Krochalis says the time saved over the course of the project is more than worth it.

  "When you get into the heat of the moment, what partnering will let you step back and say, 'Wait a minute. What was our commitment to partnering? We were supposed to work this out at the most responsible level.'

  "This actually happened in the school district case," he recalls. "I got a call from my law department saying, 'Gee, the school district attorney just talked to me about this.' I said, 'That's funny. They never raised this particular issue or tried to solve it with staff. That was our commitment to the partnering.'

  "So I called my counterpart at the school district and said, 'Hey, about this issue: You never raised your concerns with my staff. You didn't call me. We signed this partnering commitment that we were going to do this.'

  "You could tell on the phone that he kind of took a step back. He said, 'You know, you're right. I'll call my lawyer. Don't have your lawyer respond. Let's see if we can work this out.' And we ultimately did."

  Krochalis points with pride to the fact that the $350 million school district project, about two-thirds completed in mid-2000, is on time and most of the controversial issues have been worked out. Partnering, he adds, doesn't eliminate controversy, "but it gives you a way to talk about it."

The Partnering Agreement

 Simple, straightforward agreements are drafted by an outside facilitator with no stake in the project. All of the parties involved in the conversation sign the agreement. For instance, the single-page document crafted before work began on the Seattle Symphony's concert hall opens with: "We the Benaroya Hall Team are committed to build a World Class Concert Hall," and then lists seven key goals:

     • Build a cultural landmark that helps revitalize downtown
     • Meet cost and schedule objectives
     •Communicate and stay focused on the acoustic and other unique requirements
        of the project
     • Work together and mutually promote individ ual, company and team success
     • Provide a pleasant, safe and secure access to the facility and public transit
     • Provide an accident-free work environment
     •Create a garden of remembrance that is an appropriate memorial

 Krochalis recalls how their conversations in 1996 included the project's acoustical engineer, who had worked on many major projects including New York City's Lincoln Center. As work proceeded, "he was out making changes and saying this has got to acoustically be the best. Of course, the contractor could have a little tally sheet to argue about the costs, but he heard early on in the partnering session how important acoustics were, especially when we were building over a bus tunnel that generated lots of vibrations.

  All these design parameters took some attention to detail, but they understood that, because it was discussed in the partnering session how important it was to the symphony."
Getting everyone involved in hammering out the agreement to sign on, literally, is how Krochalis concludes partnering sessions. The symphony hall agreement features the signatures of more than 20 individuals. He says, "Pretty much it means that we treat each other with mutual respect. That's pretty basic. But everyone, including the key players, has signed on the bottom and you kind of remember it."

Proven Track Record

  Once organizations have experienced Krochalis' model for partnering, they see the value in the process. "The school district is a good example of that," he notes. "They're putting forth another project next spring, and they've already said, 'Oh, we want to do another partnering session.' We found it so rewarding and so positive when we can talk about the next set of challenges, the next set of buildings."

  Krochalis' success speaks for itself in his record of working with projects that remain on track and within budget. This model can be extrapolated to projects outside Krochalis' usual arena of construction. He offers several words of wisdom to guarantee that partnership's succeed.

  "Be clear about what your goals are. Convene the right people-not everyone in the whole organization, but the leadership and some of the people who will actually be doing the work. Get a little bit of a vertical slice through the organizations. Once you've made that commitment, it's not hollow words. It really means something."

October 2000 News for a Change Homepage

 In This Issue...
Love 'Em and Lead 'Em
Getting The Moose On The Table
Is Zen Your Cup Of Tea?
A Mariner's Tale

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change
Heard on the Street

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