Caltrans and the Construction Industry Train Staff to Work as Partners and Projects Reap the Benefits
The Department launches upgraded Construction partnering seminars to improve productivity and reduce stress.
It’s easy to say the word “partnering,” but as anyone who has ever been in a relationship with another human being knows, it’s not that easy to do it.
Given the slightly, well, at times, adversarial relationship that Caltrans ends up having with its contractors, the Construction Division determined it was time to teach the two partners how to work together more effectively.
To that end, the Caltrans Construction Partnering Steering Committee (CCPSC), comprising the deputy district director of Construction from each Caltrans district/region and various contractors associations, decided to update the Department’s partnering program.
The CCPSC identified the following key lessons learned upon which updates to the Caltrans Partnering Program are based: Follow up and measure progress; train and empower the field staff; get stakeholders to participate and buy-in; partner at the strategic/program level; ensure decision making and risk management occurs; recognize and reward effort
New program improvements were communicated through a statewide training effort. The first six training sessions, taught by Caltrans Partnering Program Manager, Clare Singleton, and Sue Dyer of Org Metrics, were to train the trainers, including those from the contractor side and those from Caltrans. Armed with the new message, these instructor teams, each consisting of one contractor and one Caltrans engineer, went forth to deliver partnering training to Caltrans and contractor participants in every Caltrans district.
District 7 enthusiastically picked up the torch with the Construction Area Managers as trainers. Construction Area Manager and trainer Scott McKenzie said, "The district has held 20 class sessions, reaching 98 percent of our target for district employees." Class participants included project managers, foremen, lead workers, resident engineers, and many others involved in the construction process from both teams.
Some of the participants from industry have included large contractors such as Skanska, Flatiron, Griffith, and CC Myers. “We are encouraged with the level of participation and believe that our projects will reap the benefits of the renewed emphasis on partnering,” said Fekade Selassie Mesfin, Chief , Office Construction and Engineering Management and District Partnering Coordinator.
Since his appointment as new Construction Deputy, Roy Fisher attended every training session either to give the welcoming remarks, a summation, or award certificates. In fact, he was instructing one of the class sessions when he found out he had been chosen as the new deputy.
“I’ve been here so long (before partnering) and I can remember months of just arguing,” he said. “Some days it was so bad you didn’t want to go to work.” The main intent of the training was to set up mutual goals, with communication being the main one. “Our jobs are very difficult out there,” Fisher said. “The work windows, the traffic... If you have a good partner, at least you both have help.”
“One of our goals is to be able to resolve disputes at the lowest level,” McKenzie said. “We provide a ‘tool box’ and one of the tools is a resolution ladder that allows problems to be solved before they escalate out of control.”
Another tool is a new specification developed by the Department. It requires that professionally-facilitated partnering be implemented on all projects over $10 million to help increase the number of projects engaging in the process. For the first time, Caltrans has Partnering Facilitator Standards and Expectations and facilitator evaluations to improve consistency in implementation statewide. Although the concept of partnering has been around since the 1990s, the recent program improvements and training are helping to translate those concepts into actions and benefits on projects.
Partnering trainings are addressed at the beginning of a project. At the pre-construction meeting, the Resident Engineer and the contractor decide on a paid partnering facilitator and the location of where the kickoff partnering workshop will be held. Costs are split 50/50. In the project’s kickoff partnering workshop, parties develop a charter and identify common goals, key project issues, and risk management strategies.
The District 7 Construction Office Chiefs and contractor peers were so committed to the trainings that they even provided refreshments out of their own pockets. “It’s great that industry and Caltrans have worked together on this,” Fisher said. “And most of our guys really like the training and the whole partnering program.”
A study performed by the Construction Industry Institute determined that results of partnering are extremely positive, although there is still room for even greater improvement. A sample of those results includes a 10 percent reduction in Total Project Cost (TPC); a 25 percent increase in profitability; an 83 percent reduction in the number of claims and a 30 percent increase in job satisfaction.