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

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

Small Business Program Policies and Procedures Manual

Policy ManualIf your firm is a large business federal contractor does it have a small business program policy and procedures manual and an assigned small business liaison officer (SBLO)?

Two of my earlier posts dealt directly with the Establishment a Small Business Program and Small Business Utilization Surveillance and Reporting.  To continue the theme, this post deals directly with the content and benefits of a policy and procedures manual for a federal contractor’s small business program.  One of the central reasons for implementing a policy and procedures manual is to provide your federal contracting team with the guidance, knowledge and resources to lead and manage a successful program.  In addition, it can elevate your firm’s small business program from maintaining baseline compliance to a comprehensive small business program that establishes key performance indicators for those leading and working with your federal contracting team.  This is the first step in pursuit of being awarded the Dwight D. Eisenhower Award For Excellence – the SBA’s award for large prime contractors that have excelled in their utilization of small businesses as suppliers and subcontractors.

The main purpose of this post is to provide a few examples of the content that should be included in your firm’s manual and generate a few thoughts of what you think are relevant.  That said, this post is not a manual on the theory, structure, and format of drafting a policy and procedures manual.  (There are a number of great resources available to address those concerns.)  While many business share similar characteristics, such as business type, location, or market each firm is unique and must tailor the manual to fit its needs.

What should a policy and procedures manual for a small business program office contain?

  1. The CEO’s vision, intent, and policy letter articulating his or her intent. This will allow the team to operate effectively and efficiently with minimal supervision.
  2. The mission statement for the small business program.
  3. An organizational matrix and narrative outlining the small business team and its relationship to the company’s leadership and other departments. This is helpful because you may be asked to provide this during an audit.
  4. Federal subcontracting guidelines and definitions.
  5. A library of references, templates, and tools:
    1. Subcontracting plan templates for the various agencies
    2. Small business Self-certification forms
    3. Small business utilization tracking templates
    4. First tier large business subcontractor guidelines and notification letters
    5. Subcontracting plan review guidelines (to assist with the review of your first tier large business subcontractor subcontracting plans)
  6. A description of your firm’s ongoing small business outreach efforts. For example, what events, conferences, or functions centered on boosting small businesses does your firm participate in regularly.
  7. Guidelines for your firm’s participation in Mentor-Protégé Programs.
  8. Internal and external training programs on small business.


  1. The small business team will be able to operate more effectively and efficiently.
  2. Compliance efforts will be reduced.
  3. Streamlined integration with other departments.
  4. Potential gains in small business utilization.
  5. Stronger relationships with the small business community and potential long term strategic small business partners.



There are a number of styles and approaches available to help you develop a policies and procedures manual, but the first step along the journey is to identify what is needed.  The manual should be a living document that can mature as your company refines its processes.  In addition, through the process of drafting the manual you will identify and correct processes and procedures that need improvement.  I have drafted compliance guides for clients which turned out be an enlightening experience.  Particularly during the interview process, clients realize there are weaknesses in their program that can have a negative impact on their small business program.  When you are ready, you can tackle the completion of your firm’s federal contracting policies and procedures manual addressing the full spectrum of contracting matters.

Construction Project Team Partnering (Team Facilitation)


For the past 18 months I have been facilitating several project teams on medium and large complex healthcare construction projects in addition to providing other consulting services on projects around the country.  Over the next 12 months I will devote several posts on project team facilitation to share concepts, lessons learned, and resources for partnering.

In addition to writing about facilitation I will continue to post articles on government contracting with a special emphasis on compliance and small business topics.  Over the past year the top three articles are:

  • Standard Form 1413 Statement and Acknowledgement Form
  • Government Agency Small Business Mentor Protégé Programs
  • The Value of developing a FAR Matrix during proposal development

What is Facilitation

In my previous role as a military Inspector General and Joint Operations Planner, and consultant I have found facilitation very effective in helping military units and teams work through problems and increase efficiency, morale, and readiness.  Also, I carry some of my aircrew coordination training from the military in toolkit as a facilitator.  I believe the seven critical components of crew coordination carry over to project team facilitation, but four standout as particularly relevant based on my experience:Thunderbirds

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Adaptability/Flexibility
  • Situational Awareness

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.

Benefits of Facilitation

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 progress.  That said, several benefits include:

  • More efficient / effective teams
  • Better communication between owner – contractor
  • Improved problem solving – the entire team owns problems
  • 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.

For 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.

Standard Form (SF) 1413 Statement and Acknowledgement Compliance Tips


On 30 August 2013 I wrote an article describing submission requirements and compliance considerations for SF 1413s.  Since that time I have assisted a number of clients completing SF 1413s (for all tiers) and the post has had over a 1000 views, so I thought it is time to provide several additional tips.  As I mentioned in August, the SF 1413 is used by all executive agencies for all applicable subcontractors at all tiers to acknowledge they are aware of the required clauses stipulated in Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 52.222-11.  Unfortunately there is very little published guidance available to assist contractors in completing the form.  The good news is it isn’t a complex form and with a few helpful tips the process can be more easily understood.

Compliance Tips

In the example below “Prime Contractor, Inc.” is the prime contractor, “1st Tier Subcontractor” is a first tier subcontractor, and “XYZ Plumbing” is a second tier contractor under “1st Tier Subcontractor”.  As this example progresses, I will highlight how lower tier subs are added to the process.

  1.  The Prime Contractor always goes in block 4 and executes blocks 10a through 12.  The subcontractor, regardless of tier, signing and acknowledging intent to comply with the listed clauses “Part II – Acknowledgement of Subcontractor” goes in block 5.SF 1413_EXAMPLE_1st tier Sub - Part I Graphic
  2. The firm awarding the work to the Subcontractor in block 5 is listed in 7.a. – “Name of Awarding Firm”.  At this point in the process it is “Prime Contractor, Inc.
  3. Any lower tier subcontractors are added in block 14:SF 1413_EXAMPLE_1st tier Sub - Part II Graphic
  4. Lower tier subcontractors listed in block 14 must complete a SF 1413 Statement and Acknowledgement form.  It is with the lower tier subcontractors I see the most mistakes made.  The prime contractor remains listed in block 4, however the new lower tier subcontractor, XYZ Plumbing, is now list in block 5.  The subcontractor (1st Tier Subcontractor) awarding the contract to XYZ Plumbing is listed in block 7a:SF 1413_EXAMPLE_2nd tier sub part I_Graphic
  5. XYZ Plumbing completes blocks 15 – 17 and forwards the prime contractor to complete the process and submit to the contracting officer.  According to regulation, the SF 1413s are required to completed within 14 days of subcontract award.

SF 1413_EXAMPLE_2nd tier sub part II_Graphic


Several state level contracting offices, such as Arizona or Wisconsin, have published guidance on completing the form for their contracts.  In addition, the USACE Sacrmento District and the Fort Worth have published some guidance, but both documents are 12 and 14 years old, respectively.