Partnering builds framework for success

Published March 25, 2011
Jon Fentress leads a small group in identifying issues and solutions for a project in Qatar.

“WINCHESTER, Va. -- For the first time in almost ten years, representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Middle East District (MED) attended partnering sessions for several of its projects.

Partnering allows all stake holders in a project to sit down together and discuss progress and concerns, and to begin resolving any existing problems. With one session in Bahrain and two in Qatar, MED personnel, from both the headquarters and field offices, gathered a great deal of information and perspective from each project’s customer and contractor.

“The Corps prides itself on being a great partner,” said Roger Thomas, MED’s chief of Construction Operations Division. “We want to be part of a team working together to meet the customer’s expectations and help them achieve their mission.”

The first partnering session was held for the Waterfront Development project in Bahrain, currently in Phase II. MED brought experts from engineering, construction, contracting, project management and safety to the table, from both the headquarters and field office. The contractor’s team included similar expertise, including Contrack’s Chief Executive Officer Wahid Hakki. Customer and end-user representatives from the U.S. Navy also attended.

Lana Guess Thompson, the partnering facilitator, kicked things off by having those in attendance introduce themselves and encouraging leaders from each group to speak openly about why they were there and what they hoped to accomplish.

“This is Contrack’s ‘A’ team, and they have done a great job here,” said Thomas. “We have an excellent relationship with the contractor and customer in Bahrain, but we don’t want to neglect it simply because it is going well. We want to continue the success and this partnering session is a step in the right direction.”

“That’s our goal,” echoed Hakki. “We want to maintain the successful relationship we’ve had and continue project success.”

Thompson then separated the group into small teams assigned with identifying what works and does not work on a successful project. Other small-group exercises had teams made up of personnel from the various organizations list issues that have arisen or potentially could, and then determining appropriate actions on each one. She also incorporated exercises to help participants get to know each other and become comfortable speaking to the group. By the day’s end, all in attendance had provided input on some level and signed an official partnering agreement unique to the specific project.

“Nothing is accomplished without a team effort, and we have a great team,” concluded Mark Wittrock, MED’s area engineer who oversees the Bahrain project. “We are always working to improve. We have a great program, but are always looking for the best way to deliver the best product to our customer.”

Partnering sessions in Doha, Qatar, also led by Thompson and attended by a similar group of experts from each stakeholder, followed a similar format and produced positive results. They would identify risks, challenges and obstacles, prioritize items, and work on solutions in small diverse groups. Themes throughout the sessions included achieving effective communication, trust between partners, a safe project, and a project that is finished on time and within budget.

While there were some contentious moments during some sessions, there was never a lack of teamwork to find a resolution.

“It is good to talk about the elephant in the room, so that it can go away,” said Thompson.

“No project runs perfectly smooth. After 39 years, I’m still waiting for a project that has absolutely no issues,” said a laughing Thomas. “(These meetings) are about putting it all on the table and making the project work.

“It was a learning experience for the contractors, the customers, and the Corps,” said Thomas, “but we are building the framework for future success.”

Erick Barnes

Release no. 13-027