for better and for worse
by Carter Rohan
THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY PRESS praises partnering as a glowing universal remedy for current industry problems. The authors of these articles invariably note the absence of claims as the primary device for measuring success. Rarely do they discuss successful partnered projects that have experienced disputes and/or claims, primarily because the general stigma associated with a claim overshadows any achievements that a project may have experienced. it is common belief that a project cannot be deemed a success if it has experienced the foul proceedings of a claim.
Claims happen, to paraphrase a popular bumper sticker. It's how they're resolved that points up the value of partnering, even when conflicts arise.
Thinking Makes It So. Shakespeare observed that “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” He might have been writing about construction claims. A claim is viewed as an insult and carries a cloak of guilt for everyone involved. The contractor feels discomfort in filing the claim, but feels financially compelled to do so. The CM and A/E feel disbelief that a “partner” would resort to a claim. The owner feels violated. As a result, any mutual trust that existed erodes. Projects and partnering programs that experience claim activity acquire a blemish of weak performance, which may be unfounded.
Claims happen, even in the most well managed construction environments. As with many elements of partnering, our ideas about claims may need to change for us to recognize that they don't always spell failure.
Carter R. Rohan is an experienced construction management professional who has provided services for a wide range of project types over a 20-year career. He is currently a construction administrator for Parsons Brinckerhoff Tudor-Turner Associates.
Exhibit 1. Partnering transforms traditional psychological barriers into positive ideas.
Dispute Resolution Matrix
Exhibit 2. Here's a proven process by which problems are attacked for resolution.
Partnering requires a shake-up in traditional construction industry thinking. Key negative ideas associated with traditional thinking are challenged and transformed into positive ideas by a partnering program. As a result, psychological barriers are broken down and a new approach to project administration is generated. Exhibit 1 shows traditional ideas that are transformed by partnering.
The strength of a partnering program is tested but not necessarily destroyed by conflicts, disputes, or claims. Understanding proper measurement of the success of partnering requires a complete understanding of the theory of partnering.
In the construction industry partnering is merely a term used for a long-term commitment between parties involved in a construction project, usually the owner, contractor, CM and A/E, for a common goal of successfully completing the project. This requires the development of a relationship between the parties built on trust, dedication to common goals, and an understanding of each partner's expectations.
Partnering fosters a strong desire to contain costs when changes are necessary, and leads to a team approach in resolving any financial and time consequences. Partnering establishes communication across various levels, encourages decision- making and problem-solving at the lowest practical levels of authority, provides a framework for discussion and resolve, pro-motes cooperation, and creates a foundation for conflict resolution.
Partnering enhances the general working environment, and while the overall environment is better than for non-partnered projects, the achievement of the mutual goals depends highly on a strong commitment by the parties involved. Partners must jettison traditional attitudes of self-interest and exploitation, and resist the temptation to prey on the cooperation of other partners. By achieving this change in attitude, the stage for success is set. Even so, it does not preclude conflict.
A good partnering program plans for conflict by establishing a foundation for conflict resolution that includes a procedure for discussing and resolving disputes. An attempt should be made to resolve all conflicts or disputes at the lowest levels possible. If resolution cannot be achieved to the satisfaction of all partners at the same level, elevate the issue to the next higher level of authority, and continue to do so up to the highest level of authority established by the partnering agreement. Conflicts resolved at any level of the matrix are considered successful accomplishments and reinforce the assertion that projects can be partnered successfully, even with disputes or claims. An example of a Dispute Resolution Matrix structured by an agreement of the partners is shown in Exhibit 2.
Partners work to settle disputes before they get out of hand, so unnecessary expenditures for arbitration or litigation are avoided. Therefore, the proper measurement tools for determining partnering success should be the accomplishment of the mutual goals of the partners. This can be judged by the achievement of project benefits, which can include:
A reduction in the owner's expected cost for the project
Overall project costs coming in under budget
Completion within or close to scheduled target
Cost overruns held to a minimum
Contractor's profitability maintained for the project
Completion of the project with a good site safety record
A high standard of quality achieved
Project team morale maintained at a high level throughout the project.
THE DEGREE OF SUCCESS of partnering is dependent on the level of achievement of the benefits, not whether the project experienced conflicts, disputes, or even claims. Partnering is for better and for worse, and to the degree that it promotes “more better, less worse,” it can be considered a strategy for success.
FEBRUARY 1999 PM NETWORK