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Director’s Cut: COAA’s 2012 Fall Owners Leadership Conference in Orlando

Originally posted Tuesday, 15 January 201

Written by Chris Towery

In October, Owners from across the country gathered in Orlando, Florida, for COAA’s 2012 Fall Owners Leadership Conference. The three-day event was held at Loews Royal Pacific Resort, which is part of Universal Studios Orlando, so it was fitting that the conference’s theme was “From Casting to Closeout: Directing Project Success.” Owners and film directors indeed share a similar responsibility—they’re both responsible for setting the tone, communicating the vision, and inspiring the key actors in their respective projects—and the fall conference was specifically designed to hone these essential “directing” skills.

Session Highlights

The conference’s keynote presentation, “Buckle Up, It’s Going to Be Bumpy,” delivered on Thursday by FMI Corporation’s Managing Director Cynthia Paul, proved to be one of the event’s most popular. The session examined key economic and demographic trends that are driving the design and construction industry and offered advice on how Owners can position their organizations to take advantage of future growth. Paul’s engaging presentation not only got the conference off to an energetic start, but it also provided attendees with practical strategies they could use once they returned home—especially when it comes to bridging the generation gap.

“Cynthia’s presentation was excellent,” said John Zahor, Project Manager of Planning and Construction Services at lots of relevant information that you could take back with you and use on the job. In fact, we’re doing some hiring right now at UMBC, and I plan to share the information from her session with my team and supervisor. We tend to hire older people, but we’re learning that we’ll soon be dealing with Generation X and other younger groups. The session made me realize that with mostly Baby Boomers working for us right now, we’ll need to learn how to better communicate across generational lines.”

Like previous conferences, this one included several sessions dedicated to the latest cutting-edge developments in BIM and other construction-centered technology. While such technology offers amazing benefits and is one of the hottest trends in the industry right now, it’s also relatively new, so figuring out the best ways to implement it can often be a challenge. However, the conference’s sessions provided attendees with plenty of real-world examples of how Owners from leading organizations across the country are using the technology to achieve tangible results.

John McFarland, Director of Operations at The WorkingBuildings Companies, was one of the conference’s speakers and led the session “Commissioning as a Quality Control Process.” McFarland is frequently called to utilize BIM in his projects, so he found the sessions on BIM to be particularly useful: “We’re definitely being asked to get involved with the BIM process and contribute to it in different ways. Since the technology is fairly new, part of the process is figuring out how to make it work most effectively and determining the types of problems it can help solve. The many sessions where speakers talked about the different things they’ve experienced with BIM provided insightful ideas on how we can do this.”

One session that discussed such practical applications of BIM was “The Disney BIM Summit: A Collaboration Journey.” Speaker Mark Kohl, Director of Project Management for Walt Disney Imagineering, explained how Disney hosts quarterly BIM summits with key industry partners—architects, engineers, contractors, subs, etc.—to enhance collaboration among all parties. Ultimately, these summits have improved performance efficiencies and minimized material waste on many of Disney’s construction projects. Of course, like any Owner, Disney has faced several challenges along the way, and hearing Kohl explain how the world-famous company has dealt with these issues made the presentation even more meaningful.

“It was exciting to hear that Disney is in the same situation as we are with BIM,” said Rachel Prinkey, Project Manager at Penn State University. “To learn that an organization like Disney is dealing with some of the same challenges we are, made me feel better about my own situation.”

Riders on the Storm

Another BIM-related presentation that generated a lot of buzz at the conference was Kimon Onuma’s “Surfing the BIMStorm: Collaborating in the Cloud.” A BIMStorm is an interactive web-based platform that allows hundreds of users to collaborate in real time on design and construction projects using BIM and other technologies. During real projects, BIMStorms provide for remote collaboration over the course of the entire project. However, Onuma offered a compressed version of the process at the conference which focused on the construction of a medical clinic at a California community college.

Onuma, who runs Onuma, Inc., compiled a “Dream Team” of builders, architects, engineers, and Owners with prior BIMStorm experience to demonstrate the ways in which the platform can be used by a working team whose members are scattered around the globe. The BIMStorm demonstration started with the session on Wednesday and

Schedules and Mentors ran through Friday, at which point Onuma offered a recap presentation to summarize the progress the Dream Team had made. In addition to the presentation at the conference, the BIMStorm demo was also broadcast via a live webinar to Owners unable to attend the conference. The webinar proved to be especially valuable, as several Owners were unable to travel to Orlando because of another more destructive type of storm—Hurricane Sandy.

Outside of the presentations focused on BIM, other very popular sessions included “Construction Schedules: What Owners Need to Know” and “Strengthening Small Design and Construction Business Relationships Through an Owner-Driven Mentor-Protégé Initiative.” Led by George Baldwin, a principal with the Texas-based law firm Ford, Nassen, and Baldwin, the session on construction schedules examined some of the common pitfalls Owners should be aware of when managing a complex project’s timeline. Ultimately, the presentation empowered attendees with a solid understanding of exactly what to require in their schedules, what risks to assume, and how to best manage their risks.

Both speakers for the session on strengthening business relationships hailed from the University of Florida. Miles Albertson, who is Associate Director of UF’s Facilities Planning & Construction Division and also a Past- President of COAA, teamed up with Faylene Welcome, UF’s Director of Small Business and Vendor Diversity Relations, to discuss the university’s Small Business Mentor-Protégé Initiative. This unique program helps small businesses expand their technical and business knowledge, so they can thrive in the highly competitive construction market. Currently in its fourth year, the initiative has proven highly successful and provided numerous benefits for everyone involved by promoting economic growth, expanding and diversifying the local design/construction vendor base, and enhancing competitiveness in the area’s subcontractor market. These stellar results have led to similar mentoring programs being adopted by other public institutions throughout Florida.

During the conference’s catered lunch on Thursday, COAA presented their annual Project Leadership Awards (PLA), which recognize Owners from across the nation that demonstrate superior leadership in their capital projects. Every year, the PLA winners establish important standards of excellence that all Owners can aspire to achieve within their organizations. These exemplary projects not only help individual Owners grow, they stimulate the overall industry as well.Awarding Excellence

“It’s good to see COAA providing awards for those people who are doing great things,” said Zahor. “As an industry, you can’t become better without that kind of thing.” For 2012, five different Owners were honored, including two gold awards, two silver awards, and one special award:

COAA Project Leadership Gold Awards

University of Texas at Arlington’s College Park Center Texas Children’s Hospital’s Pavilion for Women

COAAProject Leadership Silver Awards

Penn State Berks Campus’ Gaige Technology and Business Innovation Building Wexford Science & Technology’s Wake Forest Biotech Place

COAA Project Leadership Special Award

Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s (DART) Orange Line Light Rail Expansion The gold-award-winning Texas Children’s Hospital Pavilion for Women is profiled in this issue, starting on page 6. The other four award-winning projects will be profiled in each issue of Owner’s Perspective throughout 2013.

Expanded Education

New to the conference this fall was the launch of two new courses from COAA’s Owner Training Institute (OTI). The two courses, which covered Construction Manager at- Risk and Design-Bid-Build respectively, were offered on the Monday and Tuesday right before the conference. To provide a comprehensive perspective on project management, each course was led by three instructors, including an Owner, a designer/engineer, and a contractor. While the classes covered fundamental topics many industry veterans are quite familiar with, COAA designed the courses to provide something useful for all Owners, regardless of their experience level.

“COAA’s OTI courses provide valuable help to those new to the industry and assist our experienced leaders in updating their skills and capabilities,” said COAA President Ted Argyle.

These new educational offerings are part of a larger expansion of the OTI curriculum that will eventually include a dozen new educational classes for Owners. COAA is implementing this expansion over the next two years, with a full launch of the entire program in 2014 to coincide with COAA’s 20th Anniversary.

Meet and Mingle

One of the biggest benefits of COAA’s Leadership Conferences is the amazing opportunity they provide Owners to develop relationships with others in the industry. While the educational sessions provide attendees with a good overview of different topics, networking gives them the chance to meet other Owners who’ve already dealt first-hand with specific challenges. As a first-time attendee, Zahor was looking to learn more about Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), and the contacts he made were extremely valuable in that regard.

“While here, I’m hoping to gather some ideas about IPD that I can bring back to my organization,” said Zahor. “The sessions provide some of that, but the real way to do it is to make contacts with people I can follow up with down the road. In fact, I’ve already met several people experienced with IPD, so when I go back and try to implement it, I’ll be able to call them up and ask questions like, “Hey, I ran into this problem; how do I make it work?”

The networking opportunities aren’t limited to just attendees. As a speaker, McFarland found that his presentation provided a great way for him to engage with Owners and learn more about the real-world issues they’re dealing with in his area of expertise—commissioning: “The conference definitely provided a good opportunity to network and meet Owners, so you can talk about what’s going in their world. As a speaker, this was enhanced for me. My presentation on commissioning was like a big conversation—the Owners asked a lot of great questions, and they all seemed really engaged by the information. It was actually a lot of fun!”

Because COAA always tailors the conference sessions to cover the most pressing and timely topics, the speakers are often the best resources for networking. And when a presentation touches on the very same issue an Owner is facing in their current projects, this can feel like a major breakthrough.

“Right now, I’m working on a project with the exact same problem they discussed in the session ‘Transforming Mid- 20th Century Buildings for 21st Century Campuses Utilizing Advanced BIM Technology,’” said Prinkey. “They talked about using BIM to model the manufacturing of plywood millwork, and I actually have an RQ out right now for that very thing. After the presentation, I got business cards from people that I can call for help. Then, I went back to my hotel room, cut out the slides from the session, and emailed them to my team back home. I told them, ‘See, I’m not just vacationing in Orlando!’”

When asked how he thought the 2012 Fall Leadership Conference was received by attendees, COAA President Ted Argyle seemed to pick up on this same sense of excitement: “COAA conferences are always energetic, but this one seemed to have a special buzz that stimulated conversation and stayed with you when you returned home.”

For those members unable to make it to the fall conference, the presentations are available on COAA’s website, www.coaa.org. To access the files, log in, select “Members Only Content” and then “Archives.” While you’re online, don’t forget to make your reservation for the 2013 Spring Owners Leadership Conference, which will be held May 8-10 in Atlanta.