Partnering for improved project and service delivery

Steven P. Hansen, P.E., Director of Public Works, City of Liberty, Missouri; member, APWA/ACEC Steering Committee
Thomas J. Rottinghaus, P.E., Senior Project Manager, HNTB Corporation, Overland Park, Kansas

The importance of creating cohesive partnerships among various organizations, government agencies, and the private sector has long been recognized by APWA at the national level. The primary focus of these partnering efforts has been to encourage open and constructive communication for issues of common interest among entities.

In September 1993, APWA and the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) approved a Partnership Agreement for the purpose of improving "the quality and responsiveness of public infrastructure and services to the nation's local and state agencies and the public we serve." In order to accomplish this mission, goals and objectives were developed to form a framework for action and a guide for interaction at all levels of APWA and ACEC.

The following year the Kansas City Metro Chapter of APWA entered into a Partnering Agreement with the Consulting Engineers Council of Missouri (now ACEC of Missouri) and the Kansas Consulting Engineers (now ACEC of Kansas) to improve services to the public. By this action, the parties endorsed the national Partnering Agreement, setting in motion a collaborative effort among the three organizations. In 1998, partnering efforts were initiated among the organizations through the formation of a liaison committee.

It was not until 2002 that measurable progress began towards a true collaborative effort among the three. During this year, the liaison committee members began development of an overall partnering process, established in the form of a flow chart that included the following elements:

  • Identification of a common contact, preferably from one of the organizations. The primary responsibilities for the contact, or "engine," would be the establishment and coordination of periodic meetings and to keep the process in motion.

  • Appointment of a Steering Committee comprised in total of 12 members (two from ACEC of Missouri, two from ACEC of Kansas and eight from the KC Metro Chapter of APWA). The resulting mix created an equally represented public/private sector Steering Committee.

  • Review and update of the original Partnering Agreement by the Steering Committee in order to seek reapproval from the three organizations.

  • Execution of an initial Steering Committee meeting, led by a facilitator who would provide a presentation on the history and meaning of partnering and facilitate a discussion on how to solicit topics of mutual interest from the three organizations.

  • Solicitation of topics of mutual interest and concern from the membership of the three organizations, which would be ranked by the Steering Committee.

  • Assignment of subcommittees to review the topics and prepare reports. These reports would then be disseminated to the various organizations through newsletters, articles, seminars, education and training opportunities, or through brochures and informational materials.

  • Development and assignment of new topics as the various subcommittees complete their assignments.

In 2004, the ACEC of Kansas/APWA-KC Metro/ACEC of Missouri Partnering Committee was formed and began the process outlined previously. It was also during this time period that an updated Partnering Agreement was approved by the three organizations.

A listing of topics was solicited from members of the three organizations using newsletters and e-mails. From this process, 21 topics were identified and prioritized for review by the committee. From the prioritized topics listing, the top four were selected for review by the committee. In order of priority, the topics included Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) of professional services; quality in delivery of design services; risk allocation in design and construction; and improving utility coordination. Currently subcommittees are in place and are reviewing the top two topics with work to begin on the remaining two at a later time. Work that has been accomplished to date by this committee will establish a foundation for future cooperative efforts between these three organizations.

Partnering efforts can provide powerful tools for improvements to the working relationships among contractors, designers and client/owners. By working together, each organization is able to bring its respective knowledge and experience into resolving critical issues that can impact the effectiveness of project delivery and its ultimate cost. If maintained, these partnerships can also serve as strong coalitions providing positions and input on major national issues that can have an impact on the various organizations.

The principal objective behind these efforts is to avoid or at least minimize conflicts between the various parties involved in a project. When the parties act as a team with ground rules for conflict resolution established prior to the design/construction process, costly and time-consuming delays and even litigation can be prevented. Not only will the parties involved benefit from this process, but end users will benefit as well.

The work of the committee and subcommittees is ongoing. The end result of subcommittee work, once completed and implemented, will ultimately result in future projects of a higher quality, lower cost, completed more efficiently and involve less stress to the participants than in the past.

Steven P. Hansen can be reached at (816) 792-6000 or shansen@ci.liberty.mo.us; Thomas J. Rottinghaus can be reached at (913) 491-9333 or trottingha@hntb.com.