Partnering Begins With Commitment

(Part One of a Five Part Series)

I recently found myself reviewing a list of the hundreds of Partnered projects I have facilitated over the past 23 years.  They range from small pavement preservation jobs under $1 million to large, complex design-build projects worth over $400 million.  Regardless of the size and value, they all have a few things in common.  Success still depends upon the relationships between the people involved and application of the 4 “C’s” and 1 “T” of Partnering:

Key Elements of Partnering

  • Commitment
  • Communication
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Continuous Evaluation and Improvement
  • Trust


You know you’ve built a good working relationship when the people on the project team are all focused on what is in the best interest of the project, not what is in their own personal best interest.  You hear them using the word “we” much more often than the words “you” or “I.”  “What do we need to do to solve this problem?”  “How can we get this work completed in less time?”  “Who do we need to involve to make sure we are all in agreement on our plan of action?”

Building those relationships, however, also depends upon applying the elements listed above, which form the foundation of successful Partnerships.  This first installment of a five-part series focuses on the first “C” – Commitment

Partnering begins with making a Commitment.  First, the primary partners – Owner and Contractor – commit to using the Partnering process as a way to conduct business together, with the top leaders of each organization openly declaring this to their departments and staff.  Many agencies, e.g., the Arizona, California and Utah Departments of Transportation, have formally stated that “Partnering is our way of doing business.”  They back this up through written Covenants of Good Faith and Fair Dealing and by building the process into their Standard Specifications and operating procedures.

Contractors are also adding Partnering as their preferred way to do business with their clients and support the process through written policies and including Partnering activities in their operating budgets.

Making this commitment at the top is vital, but Commitment also extends all the way down to the project team members.  They commit to help each other achieve the project goals, to resolve issues fairly, to keep one another informed, and to treat one another with respect.  Over the years, I’ve watched committed Owners and Contractors remove team members who were not abiding by these principles.  Unfortunately, I’ve also seen projects falter because some team members were not truly committed to Partnering.

I once heard an agency construction engineer openly state that he enjoyed putting the “squeeze” on contractors because he thought they were making too much profit.  As you would expect, this resulted in frequent conflicts between the engineer and the contractor, which led to formal complaints and eventually to legal claims.  Because the agency was committed to the Partnering process, that engineer was removed from the project and offered early retirement.  On the flip-side, a contractor once informed me that he never bids a project to make a profit.  He said he made his profit through change orders and claims.  Because many of those change orders were unwarranted and the claims were unsubstantiated, owners had to spend many hours in legal proceedings that usually resulted in decisions favoring the owner.  The good news is that contractor is no longer in business. Unfortunately much time and money was wasted on non-value added activity. Clearly, those individuals were not committed to the principles of Partnering and their projects were not successful.

On the other hand, I’ve been fortunate over the years to see many more examples of teams that were truly committed to the process and to each other.  The evidence usually appears very early in the project – often at the Partnering workshop.  A few examples:

  • Contractors bringing key subcontractor and supplier representatives to the workshop and encouraging them to participate in the process
  • Field team members from the Owner and Contractor agreeing on communication and decision-making protocols that will be used on a daily basis to prevent conflicts.  Examples include joint safety meetings, daily agreements on quantities, and collaborative scheduling to assure adequate resource allocation.
  • Project teams committing to conduct monthly Partnering evaluations, take action on the feedback and reconvene at least quarterly to review their progress, recognize achievements, make process improvements and plan for the future
  • Agreements at the beginning to minimize the need for change orders and resolve all issues without resorting to litigation.

In successful projects, those early commitments turn into daily actions. When problems arise, the team rallies together to quickly find solutions that meet the needs of the project and one another.  The more issues that are resolved together, the more committed they become to each other’s success.  The mantra becomes, “Don’t worry, we can figure this out.”

“At the moment of commitment, the entire universe conspires to assist you.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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