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

Implement

  • 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.

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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 https://thenaca.org/2015-conference/information/.

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: http://www.state.gov/recovery/fastc/

Key project information available so far:

  • Solicitation documents were made available 5 Jan at fbo.gov
  • 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: http://www.wifcon.com/dodauth_15.htm. The pages are well organized for readers to select and review the sections most relevant to their interests.

2014 Year in Review

Tower Crane 2

Thanks to my blog readers during 2014 – your views and comments have helped shaped the content I post.  2014 marked the second full year of my blog and it tallied over 6100 views, almost triple the views registered during 2013.  The “Standard Form (SF) 1413 Statement and Acknowledgement Compliance Tips” post continues to be the most highly read of all time.

Throughout the year I posted a blend of original content, several blog articles from 2013, and reblogs from other sources such as Harvard Business Review.

Below is a consolidated list of articles from 2014:

Top Five Most Popular Blogs of 2014:

I look forward to continuing in 2015 with a continued focus on federal contracting and partnering.  In particular I will take a closer look at small business contracting issues and initiatives, Small Business Liaison Officer training, project team communication, partnering setting goals and achieving them, and project team communication and collaboration.

Happy New Year!

Construction Project Partnering – A Case Study in a Failed Project

VA MPP ImageIn mid-August I wrote an article highlighting the basics of construction team partnering/facilitation.  For this article I would like to spend time reviewing a recent court decision delivered from the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals – CBCA 3450 Kiewit-Turner, A Joint Venture (KT) v. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  Kiewit-Turner was contracted to build the VA’s regional medical facility in Aurora, CO.

This example is timely and relevant because it highlights how one party derailed an attempted partnering effort (the “blue ocean” meeting) without regard to the affect that act would have on a major construction project.  The decision was released on 9 December and will have an impact on future Department of Veterans Affairs’ projects.

Overview

Project background

A joint venture team was put on contract in January 2006 (there was a hiatus for two years) to design the medical campus.  K-T was put on contract 31 August 2010 for pre-construction services (analyze the design and give advice on the basis of which the owner can make design changes or procure additional funds) with an option to perform construction services as well.  Although the ultimate cost of construction is unknown at this time, the cost of construction at award was $582,840,000.  It is evident from reviewing the decision that the VA was ill-prepared to administer this type of contract and project of this magnitude.  It should be noted that Mr. Lynn (Jacobs Engineering – contracted to assist the VA) testified that the only way an early contractor involvement type contract will work is if there is true collaboration and trust between all parties.

Partnering

It is pertinent to start with a brief review of partnering and how other agencies approach partnering.  For example the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) partnering policy (NAVFACINST 11013.40A 28 December 2004) states that partnering requires the “…partnering mindset, full commitment of all the parties involved, and execution of a sound process”.  There are numerous other agencies at the federal and state level that include partnering as an integral component in their project delivery method.  The Virginia Department of Transportation Construction Division uses partnering to improve project delivery and maintains a list of active partnering consultants to engage as needed.

Mountain Climbing

Therefore, a basic assumption is that for partnering to work all sides must commit to the process and that all of the stakeholders will act with integrity and in accordance with the expected behaviors agreed upon during the initial partnering session.  In partnering sessions I have led members are strongly encouraged to swear/affirm an oath of commitment to partnering for the betterment of the project.

Case Study – Background Information

While the 18 page decision addresses several elements, I will focus on providing an objective review and analysis of the Findings of Fact pertaining to partnering.  The most recent decision is the culmination of eight days of testimony and a review of numerous documents that found the Department of Veterans Affairs in material breach of its contract with Kiewit-Turner.

Based on the information present in the decision released on 9 December 2014 the project did not engage any type of partnering until January 2013 – the “blue ocean” meeting.  However there was one attempt at an informal partnering session 9 November 2011 led by Mr. Lynn (Jacobs Engineering).  Mr. Lynn was successful in temporarily breaking an impasse only for the effort to fail in the coming months.

The blue ocean meeting was scheduled to occur over three days with the stated goal to “brainstorm” cost-cutting ideas.  More than 70 cost cutting ideas were raised valued at more than $400 million, all of which were classified as “easy/like acceptance”, “local approval only required”, or “undesirable but will live with”.  Despite an abundance of savings offered and declared acceptable the VA only accepted approximately $10 million of the cost cutting ideas.

Analysis and Summary

This project would have been (and could still be) a great candidate to engage a partnering consultant.  As highlighted in the case decision this project had multiple issues to contend with:

  • Severe leadership deficits
  • Multiple parties contracted with the VA responsible for some facet of the project
  • Severe budget limitations
  • Numerous delays (schedule and design documents)

In a normal situation and with cooperation of all concerned a skilled partnering consultant could have bridged the gaps noted above.  Partnering is not for the faint of heart, I believe it takes a significant amount of energy to work through problem sets faced by project teams.

  • I have found in working with project managers and executives it is possible to adapt an individual’s leadership style that is right for the situation. In many instances leadership is not a one size fits all skillset.  People and situations are unique to every project and require adaptation.
  • A third party partnering consultant brings impartiality to the table and the one individual all members can trust. I found this especially true as an Inspector General working with multiple agencies and service members to resolve issues.  The more diverse and complicated the stakeholders the more important an impartial facilitator becomes.
  • Since money is at the root of so many arguments the impartiality of the partnering consultant is critical. Most people are more willing to accept an agreement if they believe they had an equal bargaining position, even if they end up on the losing end.
  • Delays are a second cause for passions to run high on a project, no one wants to accept responsibility for the delay. Doing so means that party takes ownership of the delay and any remedies, even though multiple parties may have contributed to the delay.  A neutral partnering consultant can help the team get to the root cause and establish the group(s) responsible.  A  Harvard Business Review article “Making Dumb Group Smarter” on team decision making (Oct 2014) highlighted that groups not trained in collaborative, or team decision making actually make worse decisions as the project progresses.  This project reaffirms that position.

Although I am an advocate of partnering after reading this decision I can only conclude that any attempt at real partnering as staffed by the owner would have failed in the same manner as the VA failed in its attempt to manage the design and construction of the medical campus.  This case is replete with examples of the VA staff contradicting itself, reneging on commitments, and slow walking decisions.

If this project continues to go forward I can only hope that a partnering consultant is engaged to help the team carry this project across the finish line in the most expeditious and cost effective manner.