Owners Guide to the Design and Construction Process – part 6

The Partnering Method: A Teamwork Approach for Large Construction Projects – $10 Million plus

What Is Partnering?

The Partnering concept is not a new way of doing business. It is going back to the way people used to do business when a person’s word was their bond and people accepted responsibility. Partnering is not a contract, but a recognition that every contract includes an implied covenant of good faith.

In traditional construction we have all witnessed the construction industry evolve into an adversarial, confrontational business with our energies misdirected away from our ultimate goal of constructing a quality product, on time and within budget. Often the different parties involved develop an adversarial, confrontational attitude in which everyone is working to stay out of litigation or preparing for it.

While the written contract establishes the legal relationships, the Partnering process attempts to establish working relationships among the parties through a mutually-developed, formal strategy of commitment and communication. It attempts to create an environment where trust and teamwork prevent disputes, foster a cooperative bond to everyone’s benefit, and facilitate the completion of a successful project.

For the most effective results, participants should conduct a Partnering workshop, ideally at the early stages of the contract. The sole agenda of the workshop is to establish and begin implementing the partnering process. This forum produces the opportunity to initiate the key elements of Partnering:

  • Commitment – Commitment to Partnering must come from top management. The jointly-developed Partnership charter is not a contract, but a symbol of commitment.
  • Equity – All participants’ interests are considered in creating mutual goals and there is commitment to satisfying each participant’s requirements for a successful project by utilizing win/win thinking.
  • Trust – Teamwork is not possible where there is cynicism about others’ motives. Through the development of personal relationships and communication about each participant’s risks and goals, there is better understanding. With understanding comes trust and with trust comes the possibility for a synergistic relationship.
  • Development of Mutual Goals/Objectives – At a Partnering workshop the participants identify all respective goals for the project in which their interests overlap. These jointly-developed and mutually agreed to goals may include achieving value engineering savings, meeting the financial goals of each party, limiting cost growth, limiting review periods for contract submittals, early completion, no lost time because of injuries, minimizing paperwork generated for the purpose of case building or posturing, no litigation, or other goals specific to the nature of the project.
  • Implementation – Participants together develop strategies for implementing their mutual goals and the mechanisms for solving problems.
  • Continuous Evaluation – In order to ensure implementation, the participants agree to a plan for periodic joint evaluation based on the mutually agreed to goals—to ensure the plan is proceeding as intended and that all participants are carrying their share of the load.
  • Timely Responsiveness – Timely communication and decision making not only save money, but also can keep a problem from growing into a dispute. In the Partnering workshop the participants develop mechanisms for encouraging rapid issue resolution, including the escalation of unresolved issues to the next level of management.

Partnering Benefits:

For all the participants of a project, Partnering is a high-leveraged effort. It will require increased staff and management time up front, but the benefits accrue in a more harmonious, less confrontational process, and at completion a successful project without litigation and claims.

The Partnering process empowers the project personnel of all participants with the freedom and authority to accept responsibility—to do their jobs by encouraging decision making and problem solving at the lowest possible level of authority. It encourages everyone to take pride in their efforts and tells them it’s okay to get along with each other.

Partnering is an opportunity for Public Sector Contracting, where the open competitive-bid process keeps the parties at arm’s length prior to award, to achieve some of the benefits of closer personal contact which are possible in negotiated or design-build contracts.

It is interesting to note that the following lists of benefits to the various participants confirm the mutuality of their individual interests.

Potential Problems:

Partnering requires that all participants “buy into” the concept. The concept is endangered if there is not true commitment.

Those conditioned in an adversarial environment may be uncomfortable with the perceived risk in trusting.

Giving lip-service to the term: treating the concept as a fad is not true commitment. For some, changing the myopic thinking that it is necessary to win every battle, every day, at the other participants’ expense will be very difficult. Win/win thinking is an essential element for success in this process.

Summary of the Partnering Method

We have all witnessed the construction industry evolve into an adversarial, confrontational business with our energies misdirected away from our ultimate goal of constructing a quality product, on time and within budget. Similar to Design/Build, Partnering changes mindsets. It helps all of us in the construction process redirect our energies and focus on the real issues associated with achieving our ultimate objective, building to exceed our customer’s expectations.