Multi-tiered Partnering

Hi Rob,

I am a Project Manager for a heavy civil contractor.  We just won a $55 million street resurfacing and curb ramp job through a major city corridor.  The owner has a partnering specification with a requirement for “Multi-tiered” partnering.  What is that and why should we do it?

- Tiers of Confusion

Dear Tiers,

Great question!  Multi-tiered Partnering involves dividing the project team into subgroups: Executive Level, Core Team Level, and Stakeholder Level (see graphic below). Each of these groups meet at regularly planned intervals and have different areas of focus to ensure that the project is successful. Creating the tiers of partnering helps teams made up of dozens of companies improve communication and create alignment to ensure that the final facility matches what the end-users want and need.

Imagine for a minute that you were starting up a new business and an investor came along who wanted to give you $50 million to launch it.  Do you think that they would leave you alone once they dropped the money with you? Probably not. Normally, you would have a group who would act as a Board of Directors to ensure that you were a good steward of that investment.

However, in construction, we take a brand new project team working on a multi-million dollar enterprise and leave them to their own devices in terms of how they function.  Multi-tiered workshops help organize the team so they have a steering group, and implementation group, and an end-user group.

Executive Level Partnering Workshops involve executive representatives from the Owner, Contractor and key Subcontractors or Specialty Contractors, who serve as a “project board of directors” to steer the project.  Typically the executive group is focused on enabling the project team to be successful.  They will keep an eye on the budget, the pacing of paperwork, and help ensure that the project team is working successfully together.  They will be looking out ahead of the team in terms of money flow and will be looking behind it to ensure they are resolving issues in a timely way.

An example of the type of issues that the Executive Level would solve relates to team dynamics.  Say for instance that the Project Manager from the contractor and the Resident Engineer get into constant arguments and hurt team momentum.  The Executive Team can look at the team member relationships and make tough decisions about what the team needs to ensure that they are successful. (See the article “Make a Change Now” for more ideas). Typically the Executive Team meets as a focused group every 90 days and representatives from this group participate in the Core Team session.

Core Team Partnering Workshops involve the central group responsible for the successful execution of the project as well as key individuals who are on the project throughout its duration.  This will include the field-level Project Managers (PMs) and Superintendents from the owner, contractor, design, subs, key third-parties and stakeholder groups, as well as Area Managers or Program Managers from the owner and contractor.  Representatives from Executive Level Partnering should also attend to ensure that the team is setting attainable goals and following through on its commitments.

The Core team will help establish the Charter goals, develop the issue resolution ladder and will focus the session on upcoming risks and issues for the next 30 to 90 days to ensure the project team can meet the project goals.  For a project this size they will typically meet quarterly or or perhaps more frequently to ensure they maintain momentum.

Stakeholder Level Partnering Workshops are a way to check in with the key project stakeholders and end-users.  These are usually reserved for large projects like yours.  For your project this could include the local transportation authority (funder), internal and external stakeholders who own, operate or maintain the new roadway and external stakeholders who can directly influence the project outcomes such as maintenance, facility operators, key suppliers, utilities, and internal units (e.g. hydrology, soils, traffic, etc.).  It may also include a local business leader or perhaps a community representative.

The objective is to allow key end-users to check in with the project team so they have a connection to the project.  It will be essential to choose representatives from the various stakeholder groups so a single special interest is not able to take-over the meeting or the construction program.  It is typical for the Stakeholder workshops to happen every 90 days or so.

Multi-tiered Partnering helps organize your project team so they can focus on their role and get support from the executive group.  The objective of the Executive Level is to steer the team and ensure that they can be set up for success.  The Core Level is focused on the next 30-90 days and the issues that will be emerging.  The Stakeholder team provides an opportunity for end-users and stakeholders to check in with the Core team to ensure that the project will be successful.

Below is a diagram on how Multi-tiered Partnering takes place. Your project will surely benefit from this Partnering best practice! As a member of IPI, you can always find resources pertaining to this and other best practices on our website in our Owner's Toolbox. Good luck on your project and give us a call if we can be of help! (925) 447-9100.