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Collaboration Chronicles

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The construction industry has made great strides in revolutionizing project-delivery processes — not by just utilizing the latest technology, but by adopting an open and collaborative approach that is much more dependent on working with one another to bring project goals to fruition. And, when project collaboration is successful, the construction team should not only celebrate, but share their methods with other industry colleagues. The Collaboration Chronicles is helping folks do just this by capturing and sharing the results from successful design and construction project collaborations.

Through a partnership, the AGC Public/Private Industry Advisory Council (PIAC), the AIA-AGC Joint Committee and the Construction Owners Association of America (COAA) aim to view construction projects through "the lens of collaboration" to highlight specific benefits that resulted from the team’s collaborative efforts.

The key issues addressed in The Collaboration Chronicles include the improved outcomes and value-adds collaboration brought to the project; factors that made collaboration unique; projects where collaboration contributed noticeably to the bottom line; delivery methods used; and the image of key players.

However, to understand the concept and evolution of The Collaboration Chronicles, it is first necessary to understand that it was the PIAC that got things started by shaping this initiative in 2013.

"The PIAC was established to provide a direct line of communication between private and public owners, designers and the AGC of America," Sue Klawans, vice chair of PIAC and senior vice president for Gilbane Building Company, a member of multiple AGC chapters, says. "The primary mission of PIAC is to promote dialogue with private and public owners involved in facility construction on issues including owner needs, market trends, industry best practices and legislation. Through PIAC, AGC’s goal is to foster a construction industry that is more responsive to owners' needs."

"PIAC meeting agendas included presentations on academic research and our own members’ case studies, and we were hearing some themes repeatedly," Klawans says. "For example, early innovators in integrated project delivery — such as Bill Seed — presented on the new face of project management, with a focus on the team rather than the individual. Researchers like Renee Cheng at the University of Minnesota presented on the relationship between high-performance building and a highperformance project team."

Klawans says the council soon realized how remarkable PIAC’s findings were and that there was a need not just to share the good stories, but to go further and share the how and the why. "What measurable outcomes are achieved by high-performing teams? And how did a team do something better? For an organization like AGC, focused on providing value to its membership, if we could better collect and share the stories, we would share knowledge and value effectively — a Lean concept!" Klawans says.

Some of PIAC’s findings include:
  • Capture learning and disseminate it so that others can put it into action themselves.
  • Begin to shape a set of metrics by letting each case study identify its own metrics (quantification of the value or business results of enhanced collaboration) and build from there. "It was important to our PIAC leader at the time, Mike Kenig, not to dictate metrics to those sharing their stories, but to see what they could articulate as metrics for their situation," Klawans says.
  • Showcase and honor great teams for their devotion to process, teamwork and excellence.
The initiative is in line with the tr-iparty memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in late 2015 by AGC, COAA and the American Institute of Architects (AlA) in an effort to improve project-based collaboration on design and construction projects.

Determining whether collaboration has truly impacted a project’s bottom line can run the gamut from almost too easy to challenging. 

"Some project teams can point to great measurements from the outset," Klawans says. "You hear about projects that cut five months off a 14-month schedule or saved $20 million on a $60 million project. Sometimes these results sound too good to be true, so it’s important to get teams to document what they did to support these results."

But for many projects, this is certainly not the case.

"Sometimes you know a team did a great job, but you can’t put your finger on how to quantify that," Klawans says. 

"When we were getting The Collaboration Chronicles up and running, I conducted interviews with several project teams on behalf of PIAC to help them find their stories. I have a new respect for journalists who develop probing questions, listen and ‘get the story.’ In most cases, it took a couple of hours of listening and questioning to identify the measureable outcomes. I call these ‘aha moments.’" She adds that it is rewarding when the project team realizes what they have accomplished. 

"For example, we had a project we completed for a life sciences client, and we found that the extensive collaboration and use of BIM and Lean techniques by the team — as well as their innovative approach to off-site construction (prefab) — resulted in a project delivered to the client at a 10-percent lower cost than several comparable projects," Klawans says. "That was a tremendous ‘aha moment.’ We never knew that until we started telling our story and turning over the rocks and looking at what the data was telling us. That was rewarding — not because it made a good Collaboration Chronicle — but because the whole team could really step back and appreciate what they accomplished."

A contract alone is not the sole determinant of success. Klawans notes that some people think that collaboration for results or high-performance teams can only be achieved on integrated project delivery projects, where multiple parties all sign one contract. 

"But The Collaboration Chronicles support what our PIAC and larger AGC members found — it’s not the contract type that dictates success, it’s the team makeup and behaviors. And that’s not surprising. We have so many excellent people among our AGC membership — often family-owned businesses — and they care deeply about delivering excellence: safety, quality, client satisfaction, schedule and budget performance." 

So, it’s no surprise that they can deliver, she adds. "But that effort and those results are often invisible," she says. "Awards like the AGC Alliant Build America Awards bring them into the open, but there are many other remarkable projects beyond those that win prestigious awards." 

AGC members who wish to submit a Collaboration Chronicle can do so at There, visitors will find a guide on how to conduct an interview of the team as well as a template to follow. Klawans and AGC of America’s Building Division director Sarah Gallegos are the points of contact for additional help.

"Sarah and I hold a periodic call to present with interested parties to show them how to go about it and encourage them to go for it," Klawans says. "Last year, we made a connection with the Alliant Build America Awards. We have so many AGC members submitting for these awards, and we wanted them to be aware that their efforts to make an award submission could serve two purposes and also create a Collaboration Chronicle.

As for where The Collaboration Chronicles are headed next, Klawans says her future vision is to take what they are learning, set new standards based on key performance indicators and build the next generation of project management training. 

"As we developed the AGC Building Division strategic plan, we referred to it this way: ‘Transform project team collaboration from an art to a science.’ Here at AGC, we have an even bigger pool of members’ experience to draw on — what the top performers do to collaborate and deliver projects can shape new, measurable standards for project delivery."

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