Project Partnering – Tools & Resources

Two previous posts on project team partnering covered a failed project and the benefits of engaging a professional partnering consultant or facilitator on your project.  Facilitators can help improve project performance through communication training and eliminating unresolved issues that erode team cohesion.  In this post I would like to cover a resource that assist team members in dealing with conflicts or unresolved issues.

Conflicts arise when an individual or group perceives a difference in understanding in project guidance, communication, or directives.  This can impede performance and lead to breakdowns in team communication and execution.  One tool that can help a team maintain cohesion and keep the project progressing on schedule is a dispute resolution ladder.  It provides a structured communication process that allows unresolved issues to be elevated in a predictable and professional manner.

The dispute resolution ladder is relatively simple, but requires a deliberate team meeting to properly develop and finalize.  Teams I have assisted implementing a resolution ladders found it more effective for a facilitator to be a part of the process, it sped up the process.  In addition, I suggest the following five ground rules:

  1. Resolve disagreements at the lowest level.
  2. Exercise timely escalation of unresolved issues – i.e. follow the agreed upon time frames.
  3. No jumping levels of authority.
  4. Ignoring the problem is not acceptable.
  5. Don’t make you are not comfortable with.

I use the following basic guidelines assisting clients to build their resolution ladder:


Column headers can be changed to represent any of the key team members as needed.  The four-column format is used most frequently ensuring critical disciplines are included.  Several typical examples are:

  1. Project Owner and Prime Contractor (must have)
  2. Architect or design team members, or
  3. Key subcontractors, particularly those with significant contributions during the project.  If required they can be changed to meet changing needs over the project life cycle.





The number of rows, or levels, is completely up to the project team, but I recommend keeping the number of levels to minimum required for simplicity and clarity.  Typically four rows works well for most projects.

The “___ Days” boxes represent the acceptable duration a delay in consensus or unresolved issue is tolerated before the matter is escalated to the next level for resolution.  The goal is for the majority of issues to be handled at the lowest level possible.  In fact, some teams have included goals in their project scorecards to track the number of issues raised to the top two levels depicted.  This provides the team an opportunity to more effective identify where and which issues are causing the most friction on the project if needed.


The resolution ladder provides a predictable process for team mates to raise an issue when specific criteria are not met, as agreed upon by the team, or inconsistencies are identified.  It isn’t overly complicated; in past sessions I have assisted groups work through the development of the ladder in as little as an hour.  It is usually a helpful session because it encourages the group to test and validate their communication channels and protocols.  Invariably weaknesses are discovered and corrected.

Sample Resolution Ladder


HCA                       Head of Contracting Activity

KO                          Contracting Officer

COTR                     Contracting Officer Technical Representative

VP                          Vice President

Proj Ex                  Project Executive

PM                         Project Manager

Super                    Superintendent


Meet Carl Gouaux, Safety Manager —

Poised and trim, with close-cropped graying hair, Carl Gouaux, 51, has the bearing of a military man. He comes by it honestly, after 25 years in two branches of military aviation – Marines and Air Force. Gouaux flew helicopters in the Marine Corps and in the Air Force flew C-5 transports, one of the largest […]

via Meet Carl Gouaux, Safety Manager —

Joint Venture Project Teams and Knowledge Management

Mentoring PictureThe concept of knowledge management (KM) became formalized in the early 1990’s.  It captures an approach combining multiple disciplines to optimize the development, capture, sharing, and employing organizational knowledge.  Since then numerous government agencies, institutions, and companies have allocated resources to enhance their respective knowledge management practices.  In fact, there are several communities promoting KM practices and certification such as the Knowledge Management Institute.

What is KM

KM is employed by the federal government and the Department of Defense and private industry across a wide spectrum of activities.  On a more practical level it is an organization’s deliberate approach to establish effective staff processes to achieve and maintain the shared understanding to support decision making.  In addition, KM can assist organizations minimize “lost knowledge” through attrition of personnel with highly unique skills and help reduce duplication of knowledge across functional areas.

While there is no single definition of KM, the United States Air Force defines it as:

“…the integration of people and processes, enabled by technology to facilitate the exchange of operationally relevant information and expertise to increase organizational performance. This involves creating, organizing, applying, and transferring knowledge to facilitate situational understanding and decision making, which enables decision superiority.

So, in a nutshell three main components are:KM Picture

  • People – Organizational structure and departmental relationships
  • Processes – Decision/approval processes, functional lanes, client interaction
  • Tools – Information technology assets, content management, collaboration

Application of KM to a Construction Joint Venture Project Team

As projects have become more complex, integrated, and information intensive knowledge has become a critical resource to stay on schedule.  Standing up a joint venture project team adds to complexity of a project with a need to quickly form a cohesive team that operates and functions as smooth as possible.  In addition, each company brings its own distinct culture to the project which creates the opportunity for immediate friction and can add to the fog of project execution.  Therefore, it is important to plan and organize how the people, processes and tools will interact, before award.  Below I have included a few steps outlining an approach to apply KM on a large scale joint venture project.

Initial Planning

  • Identify organizational structure and relationships
  • Document information environment, requirements, and tools
  • Identify collaborative construct – daily, weekly, monthly rhythm of meetings
  • Document management protocols
  • Identify critical paths (for staff development and build up)
  • Establish a KM working group

Map and Analyze

  • Organizational Structure – What organization structure will support efficient prosecution of the project and support client relationships as well connectivity with each Joint Venture partners’ home organization.
  • Map and analyze core processes – Frequently Joint Venture teams are comprised of personnel with different backgrounds, levels of experience, and are unfamiliar to each other.
  • Document processes for repeatability – New staff will rotate on and off the project, create an environment that supports rapid integration of new personnel as the project changes.
  • Establish organization process measurement criteria


  • Train and orient staff personnel – encourage and enable knowledge sharing
  • Institutionalize processes across functional areas
  • Establish continuity (turn over) books prior to kick-off
  • Document staff processes and procedures

The establishment of mutually agreed upon processes and implementation of how the joint venture will stand-up, operate, and close down will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the new organization.  For some projects the establishment of the joint venture entails the generation of up to $1 billion of revenue over a three to four year time frame, more than some companies will see for years.  The small amount of time and money in comparison should be evidence of how worthwhile a little forward planning can be.

Project Team Partnering

Tower Crane 2A few months ago I posted an article about facilitating partnering meetings between owners and contractors.  In that article I provided an overview of facilitation and the benefits of engaging a facilitator.  This article discusses potential services and support a skilled facilitator can provide to project teams increasing productivity and collaboration.  In order to be authentic and trusted by the group, each facilitator adopts their unique style and methodology and adapts as required to lead highly productive sessions for the client(s).  I draw heavily from my military, aviation, and federal contracting background to work with my clients.

What Can a Facilitator Do For Your Next Project

Ideally the initial partnering session will occur shortly after notice to proceed, before any major issues have developed.  If not, any issues that arise can be more difficult to resolve.  A facilitator can assist in several areas before construction begins and can continue to add value to the team after construction begins.

The benefits of facilitation are numerous and often reflect the effort everyone (to include the facilitator) contributes to a successful outcome.  To claim any wins resulting from the facilitation effort it is necessary to develop reasonable metrics to monitor the team over time, otherwise it will be difficult to measure any tangible progress.  That said, several benefits include:

  1. More efficient / effective teams
  2. Better communication between owner – contractor
  3. Improved problem solving – the entire team owns problems
  4. Conflicts are resolved at the lowest possible level and those that can’t be resolved are escalated in accordance with the team’s escalation matrix.

VA MPP ImageFor some, a facilitator is just an added expense to the project, but based on my experience of having benefited from facilitation as a project manager and as facilitator the benefits gained far outweigh the direct cost.  Often schedule gains can be realized, trouble areas can be identified earlier, and costly delays can be mitigated.  These all lead to improved project delivery and can provide for a more enjoyable work environment for the whole team, owner and contractor.

Facilitator Neutrality

In general terms project team facilitation can be viewed as the process of an unbiased person helping a group identify, express, and solve problems, make decisions, and improve effectiveness.  Several key components of a group include how a group works together, the structure / composition of the team, and topic or subject the team is working on, i.e. the construction of a headquarters complex for the government client.

There are two, of many, factors that can influence the successful outcome of facilitation I would like mention.  First, it is important to select a facilitator that fits the group and is acceptable to all members of a group or team.  Second, the group members should be open to the concept of facilitation and participate in the sessions.  Without them the facilitation effort to move the team to a fully functioning group could move slower than desired.

Individual Subcontracting Reports (ISRs)

As a reminder, Other Than Small Businesses (OTSB) {also known as large businesses eSRS Home Page(LB)} are required to submit their Individual Subcontract Reports via the Electronic Subcontract Reporting System (eSRS) by 30 April 2015 (prime contractors and applicable large business first tier subcontractors).  Throughout the course of my blog I have posted several articles on the reporting requirements, you can review the following posts for further guidance:

For addition information you can visit the eSRS site for training guides and sample reports.

Subcontracting With The AbilityOne Program

Ability OneWhile reviewing small business booths at the recent Northern Virginia / DC Society of American Military Engineers Small Business Conference on 25 February I was reminded of the role the AbilityOne Program can play in maintaining a diverse small business subcontracting program.  Procuring goods and services through the program is mutually beneficial to all parties as it provides:

  • Meaningful work to visually impaired and disabled persons. The AbilityOne Program is the single largest employer of blind or severely disabled persons.  The program employs approximately 40,000 individuals through a network of 600 community based non-profit agencies.
  • Competition in subcontracting. Prospective buyers are assured of fair and reasonable prices.
  • Prime contractors can receive credit towards their small business goals for using the AbilityOne Program. The Defense Logistics Agency is continuously looking for innovative ways for prime contractors to engage the AbilityOne Program.  In addition, contractors may also support the AbilityOne Program by purchasing office or cleaning supplies from AbilityOne-authorized commercial distributors.
  • Some Federal agencies give favorable credit to offerors that formally commit to using the AbilityOne Program in their small business subcontracting plans.

The AbilityOne Program offers a variety of services for agencies and contractors to engage, such as:

  • Administrative Contact Centers
  • Contract Management Services
  • Document Management
  • Grounds Maintenance
  • Laundry
  • Secure Document Destruction
  • Secure Mail/Digital Document
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Total Facilities Management

The AbilityOne Product Manufacturing and Development includes:

  • Aircraft, Vehicle, and Electrical Equipment and Supplies
  • Clothing, Textiles, and Individual Equipment (safety vests and equipment)
  • Food Processing, Packaging, and Distribution
  • Medical and Dental Supplies
  • Office Supplies and Furnishings

The AbilityOne Program offers tremendous opportunities for individuals with disabilities, tax payers, and contractors alike.  I hope this short article has shed a little light on a valuable program.  If you would like more information lookup their website, call (800) 999-5963, or email.

Professional Associations

Maintaining an active membership in professional associations offers several benefits for individual members as well as companies.  For example, on 5 February 2014 I posted an article about small business programs offered by various professional associations. Corporate Training Class The programs can help increase a company’s competitive posture, improve or expand core offerings, or build stronger relationships with business partners.  For individuals professional associations offer cost effective continuing professional educations courses focused on specific and relevant topics encountered on a daily or weekly basis.

I maintain membership in several associations or industry groups such as Project Management Institute (PMI), Association of General Contractors (AGC), Society of American Military Engineers (SAME), and the National Association of Construction Auditors (NACA).  All are incredibly beneficial memberships, but I find the real value in their annual conferences.  Each conference provides a unique opportunity to spend one to three days of focused time on professional development and networking.  While I am a member of several associations I can really only attend one or two conferences per year which means selecting the one that will get me the most bang for my buck.  Most recently I attended the SAME Small Business Conference in Kansas City.  It was a great conference and I was able to reconnect with other federal contracting professionals.  However, of all of the conferences I have attended the past three NACA conferences have been the most valuable.  The depth of material and the diverse group of attendees has proven this is the most useful and economical for our profession.  Check out the conference details at

Foreign Affairs Security Training Center Project (FASTC)

Project Updatefireams_150_1

Contractors interested in pursuing the FASTC project, to be constructed at the Virginia National Guard Maneuver Training Center, Fort Pickett, VA, GSA has announced the availability of the Supplemental Draft Environment Impact Statement (EIS).  An electronic version of the statement and other valuable information related to the project can be viewed at:

Key project information available so far:

  • Solicitation documents were made available 5 Jan at
  • The SF 1442 posted indicates step 1 Request For Qualifications are due 4 Feb 2015, 12 PM EST. However this conflicts the 5 Feb 2015 date listed in other documents posted at FBO.
  • The Pre-proposal conference is scheduled for 21 January 2015 at 11:00 AM EST at The Strawbridge Building, Philadelphia, PA. Interested parties must email the Contracting Officer by cob 01/19/15 to confirm their attendance. Only prime contractors may attend this conference.
  • The Public Information Meeting regarding the EIS will held Monday, 26 January 2015 from 7-8 PM EST at the Blackstone Conference and Retreat Center, Blackstone, VA. There will be a 45 day review and comment period which runs from 9 Jan – 23 Feb 2015.  All comments are due by 23 Feb 2015.
  • RFIs for step one should be submitted to the Contracting Officer by 30 Jan 2015.  Responses will be posted to FBO via amendment(s).

FY 15 NDAA Analysis of Contracting Related Sections

Policy ManualFor a succinct summary and analysis of the Carl Levin and Howard P. ‘Buck’ McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 (P. L. 113-291) visit Where in Federal Contracting’s NDAA pages at: The pages are well organized for readers to select and review the sections most relevant to their interests.