Partnering with Third Parties

Hi Rob, I am the PM for a heavy civil contractor. We are setting up falsework over transit lines. The vertical clearance on one side of the tracks is fine, but the other is not designed properly. I have had problems getting the third party transit systems to meet with us and we need their help. Got any ideas? - Railroaded

Dear Railroaded,

It sounds like you need a "Specialty Partnering Session"!

There is an old expression related to dispute resolution. "People do not argue with that which they help to create". When your project team has an issue with a railroad or with a regional rail authority, getting that third party involved can be crucial to your team's successful outcome.

Calling a Specialty Partnering Session

Step One: Fill the empty chairs
The success of any negotiation starts with making sure the right people show up. In other words, make sure to invite key decision-makers to a specialized meeting focused on the issue. For the I-238 project team, they discovered that the falsework for the Kent Street Bridges crossing over Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) tracks would not work as designed. This was a design-bid-build job, so they needed to gather representatives from Caltrans Construction, Caltrans Structures, Caltrans Design, Flatiron (the Contractor) and BART Design in order to come up with a working alternative.

Step Two: Use the schedule to guide the team
Redesigning bridge falsework is a technical problem that construction teams deal with all the time. That being said, it takes time to get key people in a room together and even more time to get a new design approved. Make sure to identify when the design problem will begin affecting the critical path of the project. This way, the team can prioritize the process around delivery dates and make commitments to a) develop design options, b) develop delivery dates and c) implement the new solution. Teams typically have a short window of time to insert a technical solution before it starts affecting the project schedule, so it is important to keep this in mind!

Step Three: Call the Specialty Partnering Session
When your team needs to resolve a technical issue and you need buy-in and commitment, you cannot just squeeze it into the agenda of your weekly project meeting. Call a Specialty Partnering Session (or a series of sessions) and personally invite your third party stakeholders to attend. If the I-238 project team tried to design the new falsework without representatives from Caltrans Structures, Caltrans Design and BART Design in the same room, the team would have added months to the project. Getting everyone in the room to co-create a solution ensures that people won't argue with what is created and approval will happen much more quickly.

Step Four: Finalize the negotiation
We have found the best practice is to focus on the "best technical solution" first. Only after the technical solution is resolved, should the team focus on the money. By separating the technical solution from dollars, your team can co-create the best and most economical solution and not muddy the waters by trying to negotiate the entire solution in a single sitting. This tends to bog down the process and rarely leads to the most elegant answer.

So how did the I-238 Widening and Rehab team resolve the issue?

Kent Bridges Crane PickThe I-238 team designed a falsework cover that integrated into the bridge girders themselves and the contractor re-sequenced the work. This new design not only protected the BART tracks and allowed enough vertical clearance, but also had a number of advantages:

  1. By pre-assembling the girders on the ground (rather than over the tracks two stories up), the work was safer
  2. This design took less "track-time" to construct and remove, which minimized impact to BART operations
  3. The pre-assembled girders required a more heavy-duty crane pick, but increased overall project efficiency, netting the project $150,000 in savings.

For a more in-depth explanation, download the Kent Bridge Success Story here.

The IPI AHA! Moments are an effort by the IPI Horizontal Construction Committee to identify key lessons learned and share them with the industry. Do you have a project AHA! Moment or Success Story you would like to share with the CollaborNation? Call (925) 447-9100 or email IPI at to share your story!