Author Archives: Laticia King

Q&A: A Conversation with Gwen Glattes

Q&A with Gwen Glattes,  Director, Facilities and Real Estate Services/Construction Audit, University of Pennsylvania, and COAA Secretary/Treasurer

By Randy Pollock

One of the first people you meet at a COAA Owner Leadership Conference is almost always Gwen Glattes. At least that was my experience. She walks right up, introduces herself, welcomes you to the conference, and makes you feel immediately welcome – especially for first-time conference goers like myself in 2010. And at almost every conference since, she has been there, waving the flag and continuing to serve COAA in so many ways.

Compared to most COAA leaders and members, Gwen has had an untraditional career path. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, she attended Penn State for her B.A. and Saint Joseph’s University for her M.B.A. Early career stops included ENSR Corporation as a business manager, Henkels & McCoy as a financial analyst, the Philadelphia Food Network where she was CFO, to Johnson & Johnson in internal audit.

Then in early 2004 she joined the University of Pennsylvania as Director, Facilities and Real Estate (FRES)/ Construction Audit, where she has been ever since. In her role at Penn, she provides primary leadership for the FRES/Construction Audit function within the Office of Audit, Compliance and Privacy while supporting the vision and goals of the department.

“My career has been a blast!” she says. “ I’ve always worked on the financial side of the construction business but have changed perspective many times: First, working for a subcontractor, then construction managers, both on-site and in office, and finally for Owners. Working for Owners has provided me the opportunity to focus on contract compliance and financial controls.”

Since 2008, she has served as a director on the national board of COAA as Secretary/Treasurer.
We talked with Gwen recently about COAA and what it has meant to her and her career. She shared her thoughts and insights about what’s going on and what she does at Penn.

How long have you been a member of COAA and what prompted you to get involved?
I joined COAA in 2006, based on my manager’s suggestion. While I specialized in construction audit and had a background in related financial processes and controls, it was difficult for me to find an appropriate professional development path to continue to grow my skills.

I continued to stay involved with COAA because after my first conference, I realized professionals in the industry were talking about concepts I didn’t know (e.g. alternative delivery methods, 3- and 4D drawings), and I wanted to understand where the industry was heading. Ten years later those “new ideas” keep pushing the industry forward.

How has your involvement with COAA impacted you professionally and personally?
Professionally, I couldn’t have been more fortunate than to have had the opportunity to stay connected with COAA. I think there is a tendency to view an auditor as an “after the fact” project necessity, but the role can also to be used to identify internal tools that may need to be tweaked in order to incorporate the shifting industry.

The educational content that is provided at conferences and chapter meetings always challenges me to think about the impact on the Owner; specifically, what the Owner can do to be proactive to incorporate things like alternative project delivery methods, collaboration and changing technology. Personally, I have always enjoyed connecting with my COAA colleagues, as they have respected my day job and helped me dig deeper into industry topics that were not grasped at first pass.

What would you say is the biggest benefit of belonging to COAA?
Certainly one of the biggest benefits is the networking opportunity this organization provides. With the variety of Owners, projects, and delivery methods, no two projects will likely be the same; however, COAA members are always willing to share lessons learned or best practices to help others succeed.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for COAA and the industry in general?
As we all know, design and construction is a very fast-paced business, and because of this it can be difficult to find time for professional development, one of COAA’s strongest benefits. It is the ultimate “Catch-22”: too busy to explore how to do something different, but perhaps doing something different may actually be more effective.

What do you see as the role of COAA going forward; how do you see it evolving?
The growing number of Chapters and their corresponding events is making COAA much more accessible to Owners and their staff. COAA will continue to be an educational and knowledge-sharing platform for Owners and industry partners who want to see the industry evolve, and for those who are willing to share the successes and pitfalls encountered along the way. Change takes time, and not all institutions can embrace evolving project delivery methods fully, but the dialogue within the COAA community helps many identify achievable increments of change.

On trends in the construction of facilities for higher education
In terms of construction auditing, what are the most significant changes in the implementation of your projects at Penn? Which contract structures do you typically audit, and why?
The GMP structure is the typical focus for construction auditing due to the reimbursable cost nature of the contract. The focus of the audit is contract compliance, and while cost recovery opportunities may be identified, these are really just symptoms of internal controls not working as they should (for example: missing segregation of duties, lack of familiarity with contract, and ambiguous contract language).

How does Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) impact construction auditing?

Fundamentally, the approach is the same with regard to contract compliance. However, this now extends to multiple firms. IPD encourages the audit activity to begin earlier in the project and to continue for the duration. One of the fundamentals of IPD is cost transparency, so the sooner this can be confirmed the better.

On trends that are impacting the future of your organization
How does your background shape your understanding of the work Owners do?

My time at Penn and involvement with COAA have definitely given me an appreciation of the diverse and complex world that Owners navigate. It is important to balance the needs of the capital project while supporting the institution’s core mission. In addition, Owners have both internal and external clients, and satisfying both can be difficult and at times complicate the design and construction process.

With the proliferation of so many various technologies involved in every phase of the construction process, how essential is it that an Owner has a strong understanding of all those technologies and their applications? It is important that an Owner understand both the project delivery and the capital program management technology that are available. The Owner needs to have a strategy to incorporate technology into their internal operations, and this strategy must be incorporated into individual projects. However, due to the duration of some capital projects, technology on a specific project can actually drive the Owner to incorporate technology into their operations. For an Owner, increasing the use of technology will likely have ripple effects, such as staff training, contract modifications, or additional infrastructure in order to maximize the use of project specific technology (e.g. BIM to FIM).

On what you are doing now
Do you feel any need to emphasize “buying local/ regional”?
Engaging locally is a core component of the “Penn Compact,” issued by the president of the University of Pennsylvania. In support of this guiding principle, the University has an Economic Inclusion Committee which focuses on local procurement, human resources, and capital construction activity.

With respect to the construction activity, the subcommittee monitors inclusion for both workforce and subcontracted services, for projects in excess of a pre-determined threshold. Our construction managers and general contractors understand the importance of our program and continually strive to support our program.

What is your advice to the next generation of COAA Owners?

Being an Owner isn’t limited to the Project Manager track.
As capital projects become more collaborative, the Owner’s project team must collaborate as well. Change “in the field” requires internal coordination with finance, legal, and information technology.

About the Interviewer
Randy Pollock is a member of COAA’s national Editorial Committee since 2010 and Program Chair of the COAA- Texas Chapter. Randy can be reached at

Project Leadership Silver Award Profile: Western Michigan University’s Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine

On July 13, 2012, the Western Michigan University (WMU) embarked on a 345-day journey to transform an aging downtown building into a new and cutting-edge School of Medicine (SoM). In June 2014, that journey was realized with the completion of the Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine (W/Med), a state-of-the-art facility that now stands as a testament to project management excellence.

First conceived by University President Dr. John Dunn in 2007, the WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine project launched in 2010 with a donation of a $100 million towards its development, and MPI Research’s contribution of a 40-year old, eight-storey Pfizer building in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan. “To build this new school of medicine in a vacant research building in the center of the business district of Kalamazoo was a very critical strategic decision,” said Robert F. Pulito, President and Principal-in-Charge with The S/L/A/M Collaborative (SLAM), the project’s architects alongside Diekema Hamann. “Passing on the greenfield sites available on campus and selecting this site with an oversized 1980s former pharmaceutical facility required vision and the ability to accept and manage risk and this decision has had a profound impact on the economic vitality of the city.”


A team was then formed under construction manager Walbridge to convert the 330,000 sq. ft. facility into a modern SoM named after medical technology pioneer Dr. Homer Stryker.

“[W/Med] was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop a new medical school and design a new facility to best meet the needs of the innovative, contemporary medical degree program curriculum,” said Hal B. Jenson, W/Med’s Founding Dean. “The resulting campus plan and facility supports the medical school’s current mission to educate and inspire lifelong learners to be exceptional clinicians, leaders, educators, and researchers of tomorrow; as well as the vision to be distinguished as a leader among medical schools through community collaboration in medical education, patient care, research, and service.”

Construction on the facility began in July 2012 under the direction of Owner Peter Strazdas, WMU’s Associate Vice President of the Facilities Management Department. It entailed demolishing 60 percent of the existing structure interior, including its lower, first, second, and third floors, which were renovated to incorporate more natural lighting, updated environments, and new common spaces.

“The new facility includes a regional simulation center that responds to curriculum and professional development needs and incorporates classrooms, lecture halls, and informal learning spaces with access to technology. Featuring a three- story atrium that connects the main building to a new three-story cone-shaped addition, a 22,000-square-foot medical simulation laboratory, and a grand seven- story stairway, the new SoM has become a standout facility in WMU’s portfolio.” Moreover, the success of the project has inspired new rounds of donor participation, allowing the new school to begin the fit-out of an additional 100,000 sq. ft. of shelled laboratory space several years ahead of schedule.

“This will allow the school to build their research program into an important component of all medical school programs,” explains Pulito.

Excellence by Design

awardpicconst2The design of W/Med was informed by three design principals: to be Learner-centered and patient- and family-oriented, discovery-driven, and globally-engaged. With this in mind, the team worked to not only meet that vision, but bring one of the region’s most modern medical education facilities online within a tight timeline and budget.
The team’s secondary goal, however, was to produce a functional Level 500 BIM model of the new facility for integration into the University’s TMA system, an advanced computerized maintenance management system. Produced under Strazdas’s direction, the BIM model introduced a powerful tool that aided the team during construction of the building’s addition and produced a resource that will assist the school in facilities management and possible expansions in years to come.

“Strazdas’s approach, along with WMU’s engagement, generated energy among all team members. His leadership allowed and encouraged everyone’s participation and enabled creative solutions that maintained design intent and economy while mitigating scheduling effects,” says Pulito, adding, “His decision to proceed with a design assist approach to the MEP [mechanical, electrical, and plumbing] systems enabled the design team to work collaboratively with MEP subcontractors to investigate the existing systems and determine the optimal integration of existing systems and equipment with new. This critical decision resulted in substantial savings on the MEP systems.”

SLAM was further empowered by Strazdas to discard any of the university’s previous facility design standards that did not add value to the current project, regardless of any bureaucracy issues that would arise. The team also benefitted from quarterly high- level executive meetings with the [Architect / Engineer] A/E and construction manager to go over design and construction progress, identify obstacles, and keep the team accountable to completion.

There were many critical milestone events the project had to meet. The most important was achieving Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) accreditation, which allowed the school to interview and select new students and begin classes. Submitting and achieving LCME accreditation required careful coordination with the design and construction of the facility, making it imperative that the User Group make timely decisions in order to achieve a successful submission and project delivery.

awardpic-constTo that end, Strazdas facilitated a monthly meeting with his project manager, the design team, and the User Group’s key decision makers to make sure their progress on design decisions was being met and that the project schedule was in alignment with the critical requirements for LCME submission and accreditation process.
In addition to ensuring the required shutdowns occurred on-time and without any incidents for the building’s neighbors, every milestone date was met. This resulted in a successful accreditation process and project delivery, thereby inspiring confidence within the donor community and helping WMU exceed its funding goals.

Cost Management
A number of measures were taken to make the best use of the project’s $60 million budget. They included:

• Hiring the architect, engineer, and construction manager at the beginning of the project, allowing Walbridge to work with SLAM to provide all of the budgeting within a manner that was consistent with the construction schedule.

• Following a design-assist guaranteed- maximum-price project delivery method that Walbridge was able to use with mechanical and electrical subcontractors.

• Implementing shared-savings incentives for subcontractors, which resulted in a savings of $2.5 million that was returned to WMU’s project budget.

• Holding weekly meetings to assess site conditions, and providing rapid-responses and resolutions to unanticipated conditions as a result of working with the renovation of a complex research facility with little available documentation.

• Involving the A/E in the discussion, which meant issues were quickly resolved and incorporated into change orders on a monthly basis, thereby removing any uncertainty on what change items were to be implemented or not into the construction and keeping real time costs tracked against the budget.

Overall Success
awardwindowsThanks to these efforts and the team’s “design-assist” approach, the W/Med team succeeded in transforming the building and site into a new medical facility on time and 4 percent below budget.

“WMU’s conduct and constructive behavior created a productive and collaborative environment that facilitated the success of the project and helped to establish benchmarks of design and importance for the University. The building was delivered under budget and on schedule, has distinguished the new SoM, and helped WMU fulfill its obligation to revitalize the downtown business district and advance Kalamazoo’s medical community,” reports Pulito.

Matt Pulick, Senior Project Manager with Walbridge adds: “[Strazdas’s] enthusiasm to create a culture of partnership among SLAM, Walbridge, and his team at WMU were crucial in delivering an award-winning medical school to the university. The WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine is a landmark in downtown Kalamazoo, and I’m honored to have worked with WMU in making it possible.”

Project Complexity
Challenge: Design and construct a new ground-up medical school with limited and ever-evolving faculty in two years.
Solution: Establish a modified integrated design and delivery process (IPD) that accommodated change throughout the design and construction process while maintaining the budget and schedule.

Challenge: Deliver a state-of-the-art Medical School for under $275 sq. ft.
Solution: Allow the construction manager to establish a design-assist guaranteed-maximum-price project delivery method with mechanical and electrical subcontractors. Also, negotiate with neighbor facilities to share cooling, steam, and power utilities, eliminating the need for a central utility plant.

Challenge: Develop quality documentation minimizing field coordination issues and ensuring quality installation for an existing building with minimal documentation.
Solution: Document the facility in BIM, scan existing conditions, and input it into the model. Also, contract the design team to manage the model throughout construction and to develop the coordination drawings for the subcontractors, resulting in the virtual elimination of all coordination changes due to field coordination.

Challenge: Achieving the unique geometry for two multi-tiered, team-based learning halls in the built form was the most challenging aspect of the project. Virtually no straight walls we used. Instead, radial walls and curves were utilized through this addition.
Solution: Achieving proposed truncated cone and elliptical shaping with BIM, utilizing the model to generate the fabrication drawings and laser scanning the installation on a continuous basis to ensure the accuracy of the addition’s foundation and structure, which was critical to the proper installation of its skin and build out.

Challenge: Tying into the existing structural system for the new atrium on the north end of the building, constructed in a space between the new addition and existing building.
Solution: As issues arose, documentation was gathered in the form of photographs and measurements that were shared instantly with SLAM’s offices in Connecticut and Atlanta.

The decision to renovate a vacant facility demonstrated WMU’s commitment to sustainable development, minimizing their carbon footprint, and to supporting the local community. Sustainable highlights of W/Med include:

  • Utilizing the central plant utilities from the neighboring corporation, eliminating the need for building a new central plant eliminating additional emissions. The additional load on the existing central plant helps it run more efficiently because it was designed to support a greater load then its current condition.
  • Working with high-performance, energy-efficient glass that allows for high levels of visibility while reducing the potential for summer overheating and winter heat loss.
  • Recycling more than 75 percent of the construction waste.
  • Inviting Habitat for Humanity to collect reusable materials.
  • Building Reuse (maintaining 55 percent of existing walls, floors, and roof.
  • Using all new mechanical systems with the latest in digital controls, variable speed drives, and occupancy sensors for dynamic adjustment to the heating and cooling. This eliminates the need for a setback schedule for maximizing energy efficiency.
  • Marble and granite that were removed to make way for the addition were reincorporated back into the project.
  • Locating the project within close proximity to a large variety of shops, restaurants, financial and medical services.
  • The updated building allows more daylight inside than ever before, contributing toward a goal for the renovated portion of the building being designed and constructed to achieve LEED Silver Certification.

Quality Management

The vertical integration of a single BIM model from design to construction and facilities management played a significant role in improving quality. A third-party commissioning agent was hired by Strazdas at the building design development stage to provide a comprehensive review of the design, submittals, installation, and system start-up. He also advocated and had the user group hire their facility manager (FM) early in the design phase and be actively engaged in the design review meetings, and regularly attended the weekly construction progress meetings and walked the project during construction.

Towards the project’s end, Strazdas successfully advocated and got the Facility Manager to have a desk in the construction manager’s construction office and worked with them to become fully immersed in the system start-up and commissioning process.

Evolution of a Design and Construction Department

Oregon Health and Science University’s (OHSU) Design and Construction department (known as DesCon) consists of a group of more than 40 individuals. Located in Portland, OHSU is an academic medical center with more than 14,000 employees. Spread over multiple campuses, OHSU provides the state’s most comprehensive healthcare services, along with educating the next generation of clinicians and researchers. This combination of healing, teaching, and discovery leads to amazing breakthroughs and innovations that revolutionize the healthcare industry. Complimenting the drive for constant innovation, DesCon employs project leads, certified safety professionals, registered architects, construction inspectors, and office-support services to deliver capital projects, which range from small-office reconfigures to ground-up new facilities.

Over the past four years, the DesCon department has gone through intense and dramatic change by enhancing nearly every aspect of its business practices, processes, and culture. Through persistent effort and application, the department has evolved into a highly driven, engaged, and dedicated team that’s truly determined to improve the design and construction industry. People often ask what our recipe for success is—the reality is it’s simply hard work, dedication, and focus.

When we talk about why we take pride in what we do, it’s quite simple: we’re changing the construction project delivery experience. Every person who has been involved with capital construction likely has a story about a project that cost more than anticipated, took longer than expected, and it didn’t quite come out the way it was planned. DesCon is dedicated to changing this experience.

In order to bring about such change, our department engaged in four key practices: driving leadership, investing in culture, developing project management skill sets, and building relationships.

Driving Leadership

Leadership can be defined simply as taking a group of people from point A to point B. At its core, leadership is very simple. However, you first have to define point B, or where you want to end up. For DesCon, we wanted to be one of the best capital construction departments in the country. When the four members of the DesCon Leadership Team set this vision over three years ago, it was received with mixed feelings. A few people agreed, many were skeptical, and others believed the goal was too far-fetched. We did not seek consensus when creating this vision; instead, the Leadership Team declared an ambitious goal and invited members of the department to join them in the journey.

With the vision set, the DesCon Leadership Team had to figure out what it would take to successfully move the group from point A to B, including getting those with a “wait and see” attitude to become fully engaged. We had to be intentional and direct by setting, holding, and reinforcing our course. The department recognized that the project leads must have a true sense of ownership in their work. Along with owning the project, persistence was crucial in theory and practice to ensure this new understanding would survive and be supported by an unwavering vision. The push for continuous improvement includes constantly changing processes and procedures in order to step away from the status quo.

Enhancing the process for executing RFPs, defining what is measured, and recognizing achievement are all crucial elements to maintaining this vision. Determining how client success criteria are captured before, during, and after the project is delivered enables the client to feel emotionally tied to both the process and end result, which ultimately creates a true relationship.

We had to seek feedback—internal and external—to allow us to continually compare our perception of reality to those around us. One specific approach in this regard was the creation of our Vendor Scorecard Program, which applies to all of our architects and contractors. Every quarter, a survey goes out to our vendors, internal DesCon staff, and key stakeholders within OHSU, and it solicits answers to questions about each vendor’s performance. We collate these responses and then add trending data from our PMIS system to compile a report. This report is then reviewed in a face-to-face meeting of DesCon’s leadership team and the vendor. We spend an hour discussing issues, the survey results, and any other topics brought forward by the participants.

This dedicated effort builds trust by promoting an environment where open feedback is encouraged to identify and review processes, procedures, people, and business practices that are not adding value. Investing in this process creates a solid foundation upon which trust can thrive and the “real” issues (often the most important but the hardest to talk about) are discussed in the open.

Leadership is difficult. Indeed, setting a vision while being intentional in all that you do can be a recipe for failing publicly. Possessing tenacity, knowing when to push/pull/steer, and celebrating with recognition are essential for retaining the vision. Staying true to the process is extremely rewarding.

Investing in Culture

The most significant aspect of a group of people is its culture. Culture is viewed three ways: the culture you think you have, the culture you actually have, and the culture people on the outside see. One of the biggest challenges we faced was aligning these three views. We set forth to define our culture with values of growth, education, recognition, and ownership.

Dedication to growth and education has become a staple in our department. Holding weekly one-hour, drop-in training sessions, with topics driven by the department (not management), empowers team members to take ownership of their professional development. These sessions are led by multiple parties, including department staff, leadership teams, outside departments, campus vendors, and even outside consultants. Over the last three years, these open sessions encouraged the staff to drop in and participate jointly with colleagues to continue growing and advancing the cultural values.

The outcome of these successful weekly trainings has prompted the leadership team to establish three core values and align those three values with corresponding behaviors. The three values are Relationships, Humility, and Results (see sidebar). As those three words are very large concepts, we crafted 3-4 sentences each that articulated what behaviors demonstrate those values in practice. The values are reinforced through recognition, incentives, and even in the hiring and on-boarding processes. In addition to immersing the entire department – including new hires – in cultural understanding, each member reads the book Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni within the first 30 days of their start date.

After reading the book, the employee gives a book report to the DesCon Director, which helps the employee retain key information. The book report also allows the employee to comment directly and with candor, and from there, the director relates the department’s key expectations and connects them with the book’s concepts on vulnerability. Since the department is essentially a professional services firm within a large organization, we connect very well to the three fears and twelve principles outlined in the book. Continually seeking reinforcement of the principles within the department sets a foundation to spread this knowledge outside of the department.

Culture is the most important and challenging aspect for any organization. By focusing on a culture of true vulnerability, candor, attitude, leadership, and adaptability, we’re able to truly collaborate. This communicates a willingness to genuinely improve and continuously adapt.

Developing Project Management Skill Sets

To develop project management skill sets, our department selects a project management philosophy, and focuses on learning its basics. In organizations around the country—from private to public, large to small—the range of skill sets, backgrounds, and experiences of people involved with delivering projects is tremendous. People from all walks of life manage projects, and since personalities have yet to be standardized, every project is delivered differently.

With this in mind, the focus is turned to acknowledging and then striving to balance both the art and science of project delivery. For example, within DesCon team members come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, such as architecture, construction management, interior design, and many more. We invest in training at the department and individual level to hone in on the strengths and value each member brings to the table. We provided formal training from CMAA and PMI, department-wide workshops for Lean tools including Target Value Design, and continue to seek value driven training opportunities including COAA OTI courses. When it comes to project delivery, these educational events allowed us to begin speaking the same language.

Our next step was to standardize DesCon’s method of project delivery. Incorporating good information, techniques, and approaches from the two methodologies, we found a way to establish the phases of a project and outline what we expect out of each phase. This leaves an open-ended forum for the particulars of project needs to determine “how” to accomplish the overall goal. This allows for a very agile breadth of delivery methods, including CMGC and IPD.

By having defined phases and outcomes and allowing the phases to blend, the project leads have the opportunity to determine how to achieve the goals of each phase, which demonstrates the balance of both flexible and rigid natures the methodology celebrates. The project team is given the power to find the best approach to accomplish the goals set for each unique scenario.

This process requires a large amount of trust and empowerment in your employees. Senior leaders often seek control by dictating procedure and intensely prescribing means and methods to achieve results. The opposite of this logic has proven true: state the desired outcome that addresses how each project will change the world, and trust the project’s leaders to deliver.

Building Relationships

Creating and maintaining relationships only strengthens the core mission of any department. To be successful within DesCon, one must be able to recognize the importance of keeping true to relationship proprietorship. Viewing the world as a place full of people who at their core are all trying to do the right thing is very challenging, especially at work. In the business environment, we’re often taught to position ourselves as the center of the universe, but the DesCon team seeks to make others successful.

One key aspect of making others successful is to dissolve the chain of command within the department. Moving to a vulnerability-based organization allows people to be open and honest with each other about themselves, their interactions, and their problems and concerns about others.

Imagine a workplace where all employees are free to question and constructively criticize each other, without fear of ramification or retribution. When the employees exercise this freedom, the typical response is, “That’s interesting—tell me more.” Fostering this type of environment is an achievable reality and one of the key elements in building successful relationships. This is also one of the most difficult aspects of driving culture.

Maintenance of relationships within the department is just as critical as the communication and interaction with outside entities. Every group that provides design and construction services within the organization can relate to internal challenges with IT, financial services, and facilities, among other issues. By recognizing these challenges and approaching them with enthusiasm, employees are provided with a basis to understand their view of the world.

This systematic and patient process slowly build’s trust and relationships, which impact our business in ways beyond what we could have imagined. Some of the parties involved took months—and in some cases, years—to develop even the smallest amount of trust. Every relationship must be constantly maintained in order to keep the relationship strong and healthy.

Results—And What’s Next

The results of this massive effort developed trust, clear direction, and cohesion of the leadership team. In once instance, the process empowered a project team to fully understand an internal client-prescribed solution, and this allowed the team to deliver that client a very different project solution that produced significant savings.

Empowerment through department initiatives as well as in individual projects produces amazing results due to superior employee engagement. It’s not enough to have great PMs; you need a great culture within your department to work hand in hand with great project leaders.

Inspiration of people and the organization creates an inspirational environment and energized culture. People’s accountability is held to the highest regard, which promotes ownership and excitement on a daily basis. Humility is a common value in our organization, and this compliments the drive to make the construction project delivery experience exceptional.

On the surface, it may seem like we have it all figured out, but the truth is, we tried many solutions, and most of them didn’t quite work the first time —only a few actually initially succeeded. Most often we find ourselves taking ideas, trying, and either adjusting or killing the idea and moving on to the next. We’ve found that a winning culture is created by successfully dealing with attempt after attempt, and being accepting if an idea doesn’t work as well as working on it until you find a solution that works.

The next step in our evolution involves building on the ideas and strategies put forth in Patrick Lencioni’s book The Advantage. We’ve put in the difficult work of defining why we exist, what we do, how we behave, and identifying the most important focus for our department’s leadership. The dedication of time, effort, and discipline to repeat these messages diligently connects performance with the success of projects and people. This will allow us to formally incorporate the department’s culture into each and every project, while recognizing how far we’ve come. The road to the ultimate goal is long, but the tenacity and perseverance of our team will only bolster the ever-evolving success of OHSU’s Design and Construction department.


Results: This person achieves results by influencing and inspiring people to deliver. Their focus is on the team objective, and they focus others toward that objective. This person freely provides recognition and praise for the results of others. They hold themselves and others accountable. They contribute to the success achieved by the team as a team. They are an integral part of the team collective, throughout the entire lifecycle of any project or effort.

Relationships: This person builds, maintains, and values healthy relationships in their professional interactions. They appreciate the power of making others successful. This person values the contributions that others make and recognizes them for their effort. They first seek to understand, before seeking to be understood. This person builds and maintains relationships within DesCon, OHSU, and outside of OHSU.

Humility: This person is more concerned about others than themselves. No task is beneath them. This person performs their work with confidence, balanced with seeking, utilizing and appreciating those around them. This person puts the work first, ahead of personal goals. They are a door at which criticism stops while being a window from which praise flows through to others.


About the Authors

Kyle Majchrowski is currently Director of Design and Construction at Oregon Health Science University, an academic medical center located in Portland, OR. Kyle continues his journey on learning, trying, and implementing collaborative project delivery.

Mike Buckiewicz is currently an Associate Project Manager in Design and Construction. He is a part of the Knight Cancer Research Building, a 300,000 square foot research facility being delivered in Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) methodology.


Start, Stop, and Continue: Texas chapter develops best practices for project delivery

Written by David J. Bammerlin and Randle Pollock

It’s a classic case of two steps forward and one step back for the construction industry—and it’s costing billions. The Texas Chapter of COAA recently instituted a surprisingly simple process to begin addressing abysmal industry productivity rates, with the hope of improving the project delivery process.

It’s well documented that construction productivity has declined over the past 50 years1. Waste in labor coordination and materials installation ranges between 25 to 50 percent2. Inadequate technology interoperability is costing up to $15.6 billion in losses per year3. Moreover, the Federal Facilities Commission estimated4 transactional costs to resolve construction claims and disputes to be around $4 to $12 billion annually. New tools and delivery methods, such as BIM and Integrated Project Delivery, can hopefully reverse the decline in construction productivity.

With the apparent advances in design and delivery, COAA Texas wanted to understand root causes behind the productivity decline. And with that knowledge, what are the opportunities for improvement? Chapter leaders used a basic method to start unraveling the current industry productivity challenges—and that involved asking all project stakeholders for input.


More than any other industry organization, COAA gathers feedback from all major entities involved in construction. Owners, developers, architects, engineers, contractors and even large sub-contractors and suppliers are actively involved in chapters across the country. COAA Texas recognized the value in this complete perspective as a way to better understand how the action of one entity impacts the entire project team.

The chapter formulated a “START/STOP/CONTINUE” roundtable process to uncover specific productivity issues in the project continuum. The chapter kicked off the roundtables at the COAA Texas Winter Workshop in September 2014. The premise was to gather the major team players around one table to find out what actions should START happening during the project lifecycle to improve the process and outcomes, which ones were detrimental and should STOP occurring, and which actions were working well and should CONTINUE. All stakeholders shared their unfiltered input—the good, the bad, and the ugly—through a moderator.

David Bammerlin, Associate VP for Research and Education Facilities at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and COAA Texas Chapter President, was instrumental in outlining the process. “Every COAA member wants the same thing, which is a positive outcome for their part in a project,” said Bammerlin. “COAA is a place where we can have hard conversations, but still be friends. If we are talking about better project delivery, and a project stakeholder isn’t at the table, a perspective is missing. And that means a possible solution is also missing.”


Organizers planned a series of START/STOP/CONTINUE sessions over the course of two COAA Texas workshops. Input from the first roundtables laid the foundation for the seconds. Participants divided into groups of Owners, architects, and contractors to share their varying perspectives. More than glorified gripe sessions, moderators probed participants to articulate possible causes of adverse outcomes during the project lifecycle. Though the participants were divided by project role, several common issues emerged:


  • The Owner’s consultant selection process is not clearly defined
  • All major project parties are not involved early enough
  • Numerous project starts and stops increase changes and re-work
  • Team building
  • Lack of a collaborative environment does not foster trust
  • Key executives from all parties do not maintain involvement throughout the project
  • Cloaked communication of problems inhibits team problem solving
  • System integration
  • BIM is not used effectively between team members
  • Information sharing needs overall improvement
  • Data is not effectively transferred to Owner for O&M use at closeout

Architects and contractors shared one surprising concern: not everyone feels empowered to engage. This begged the question—is the client’s organization the main source of risk to project success?


The first roundtables were open-ended discussions to identify the issues. The second ones, at the COAA Texas Winter Workshop in February 2015, focused on possible solutions. Again, all key project roles were represented, but this time participants did not segregate by role. Instead, they self-selected from among four specific discussion topics pared down from the February workshop:

  • Coordination of review time among stakeholders
  • Fostering team collaboration in problem-solving
  • Improving the consultant selection process
  • Determining the process for updating the BIM model

Facilitators guided the discussion of each topic, with the task of distilling input into the top-three recommended actions to resolve the issue.


Facilitated by an Owner, participants were asked to provide suggestions targeted specifically at Owners. Their input provided a few key pieces of advice:

  • Conduct face-to-face, facilitated reviews of design deliverables with stakeholders, including the full design team and end user. A related recommendation suggested to obtain stakeholder-drawing approval at key milestones.
  • Educate stakeholders early about the review process and expectations, with a pre-established timeline and schedule for reviews.
  • Maintain continuity of reviewers and consistency in the review process.

Transparency was a common element of all comments shared. Contractors and the A/E team want to know who has final authority, how decisions will be made, and when major reviews must be completed. Ideally, this information would be shared with the full team at the same time.


Take-aways from this roundtable were directed at contractors and included:

  • Establish the rules of engagement at the project outset and recognize that how the first problem is addressed will set the tone. And keep in mind the acronym QTIP: Quit Taking It Personally.
  • Create a culture of trust in order to maintain transparency. Measure the success of the whole team rather than individually.
  • Embrace a collaborative environment, and empower team members at all levels to disclose concerns.

Participants had practical suggestions that would be easy to implement at any project phase, such as offering a potential solution when discussing a problem.


Typically, the selection process is the first official interaction between A/Es and Owners, and the A/Es offered one pointed suggestion for Owners:

  • Provide more details about the A/E selection process. How will selection criteria be weighted? What is the project scope and schedule? If there are multiple Owner stakeholders, whose goals matter most? What are the metrics for project success?

With ample details, A/E firms can be more selective about pursuing projects that align with their experience, and Owners will get a better pool of candidates.


BIM is now widely used, but many questions exist across project teams for its effective and integrated use. A/Es made several recommendations for contractors:

  • Information is king and the most important item to keep updated. Owners may be best to manage raw data, but the digital representation is better left with the contractor or architect.
  • Owners must provide clear contractual requirements. Even with clear requirements, the group felt a project “Technology Kick-Off” meeting would be beneficial for the entire team to get on the same page.
  • Though each team member purpose-builds the model for their specific needs, all stakeholders recognize that BIM has value in the delivery process and is therefore worthy of dedicated time to establish a process for maintaining one master model.

Models are starting to serve new needs for Owners’ operations and maintenance, prompting the idea that perhaps Owners should provide the one family to be used by the full team. All participants felt that BIM discussions too commonly are theory-based—they want an interactive workshop focused on the current possibilities and limitations within BIM.


New tools and delivery methods are available resources that can be leveraged by team members to improve construction productivity. However, a productive team is at the heart of an efficient project. Denton Wilson, Vice-President of Design & Construction at Methodist Health System, set out to not only improve Methodist’s delivery process, but to permanently change its culture. He leveraged collaboration to change the mindset of every participant on his projects.

“Every project participant had a vested interest in the project, so we started with the question of what would define common value,” said Wilson. “That helped to cultivate trust. And thankfully so, because I pushed members of the team completely out of their comfort zone. Our covenant was ‘Thou shall cross the line,’ which gave every person a voice AND accountability. It was painful at times, but I asked the team members to be invested in the project enough to grow, both professionally and personally.”

Wilson is the exception among Owners pushing team collaboration to the outer limits, and he admits there were successes and potholes in his process. Considerable “learning on the fly” occurred, but with it came new ideas to implement in the future. Outside of an active project, COAA Texas is the avenue to bring all project stakeholders together for candid discussion and idea sharing. Through programs like START/STOP/CONTINUE, all team members can share real pain points and brainstorm possible solutions rather than more “learning the hard way” on a project.

David J. Bammerlin, P.E., is the Associate VP for Research and Education Facilities at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. David is also a COAA Texas Chapter Past President. Randle Pollock is Science & Technology Director with HDR.






A Conversation with Stuart A. Adler

By Randle Pollock

Stuart Adler grew up in Atlanta and attended college at Georgia Tech, where he obtained both his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in architecture. Following this, he worked as a young architect for a number of local firms before joining Emory University as a senior project manager in 2000.

Sixteen years later, he is now serving as Emory’s director of Program Management in the Planning, Design & Construction Department of Campus Services. Here, he manages the coordination of a $100 million design and construction annual program and oversees the implementation of the campus Design & Construction Standards, construction contracts, and the construction cost audit program.

Adler has a particular interest in utilizing new technologies in the construction development and operations and maintenance phases. He also pursues opportunities to incorporate sustainable design principles into the development of the campus, noting proudly that, “Emory has been at the vanguard of sustainability for the last two decades.”

A registered architect and LEED accredited professional, Adler works to build strong relationships with all customers and stakeholders including Facilities Management personnel, successfully leads teams, and keeps in mind big picture objectives while resolving complex details. For example, since 2013 he has served as a director on the national board of COAA, and is also an instructor for its Owner Training Institute.

Randle Pollock with Owner’s Perspective recently talked with Stuart recently about COAA and what it has meant to him and his career. He shared insights about what’s going on, what he is doing at Emory, and what he sees as the most impactful trends.


What are the biggest benefits to you of belonging to COAA?

COAA’s focus areas are very complementary to my job responsibilities and areas of interest. The conference session topics help me learn and grow as a professional, and networking with peers and associate members helps me identify the latest industry trends and opportunities to improve my department’s operation. And as an added bonus, I have made many friends through COAA.

What do you see as being the biggest challenges for COAA and the industry in general?

As institutions such as universities become more focused on efficiency and bottom-line value, it becomes more difficult for departments to provide the time and resources to invest in their staff’s professional growth. Attendees of COAA programs learn best practices within the industry and bring this knowledge back their institutions. The challenge is to provide compelling data that demonstrates that participation at COAA programs has a good return on investment.


Which delivery methods have you employed? Which do you most prefer?

For large capital projects, we typically use CM-at-Risk with a GMP. For small projects, we typically bid the work and contract with a lump-sum agreement. Each project is unique and we try to match the delivery method to each project so that we can realize maximum value for the university.

Do you employ Integrated Project Delivery (IPD)?

We do not use IPD. We have used IPD-like partnering techniques with an emphasis on teamwork among all parties, but we have never procured a project using IPD contracts or compensation practices. We want to maintain a high level of accountability from all parties and IPD does not lend itself to the accountability controls that we require.


What current trends are most impacting the future of your work at Emory University?

We have been constructing a steady stream of new buildings on campus for more than 20 years. The bookstore was even selling t-shirts jokingly claiming that the school mascot was the tower crane. Of course, during that time, we completed many more building renovations than new buildings, but they were not as high-profile as the new buildings.

Now, our focus is changing. Moving forward, we will be improving the efficiency and use of our current facilities, rather than building many new buildings. Changes in technology and practice of instruction and research are rapid. Adapting our existing facilities to meet those changes provides a better value and a more sustainable model. We will still construct new buildings, but our focus has shifted to adapting our current facility inventory to better meet the evolving needs of faculty, students, researchers, and other mission-critical members of our university.

With the proliferation of so many various technologies involved in every phase of the construction process, how essential is it that an Owner has a strong understanding of all those technologies and their applications?

The Owner’s project manager (PM) is like the conductor of the symphony. The conductor must be familiar with the instruments played by each musician, but the conductor does not need to be an expert at playing any of the instruments.

The same applies to the owner’s project manager; the PM must be familiar with all of the technologies used by the design and construction teams, but they do not need to be experts at using those technologies.


Sustainability initiatives are becoming increasingly mainstream. How has the push for sustainability affected your work at Emory?

Emory University has been at the vanguard of sustainability for the last two decades. We were early advocates and participants in USGBC and the LEED program, and we recently completed our Water Hub project which converts black water to reclaimed water. The facility converts up to 400,000 gallons every day and can reduce our domestic water usage by up to 40 percent.

Also, we are currently designing a new Campus Life Center with the aggressive energy usage goal of 29 EUI. The building is being designed so that it will be “net-zero ready.” We are aggressively implementing strategies to reduce the volume of material we send to landfills. These are just a few examples of how integral sustainability is to our culture.


In terms of project delivery or construction-contracting methods, what are the most significant changes in the implementation of your projects at Emory?

Most recently, we have been utilizing a variety of hybrids. For one project, we contracted with a CM for preconstruction services only. Then we used 90 percent construction documents to solicit GMP proposals from multiple construction managers.

Different delivery methods are beneficial for different projects. Since each project is unique, we try to select a method which will best meet the objectives for that project.

About the Interviewer

A member of COAA’s national Editorial Committee since 2010 and Program Chair of COAA Texas, Randy Pollock is Science + Technology Director for HDR ( Based in HDR’s Houston, TX office, Randy can be reached at 713-335-1949 and

Project Leadership Gold Award: The Pennsylvania State University’s Health and Human Development Building

Creating better collaboration, enhanced efficiency, and lower operating costs were but a few of the goals behind the development of Penn State’s new Health and Human Development Building (HHD).

Dedicated on October 2, 2015, the new facility unites a number of the college’s research centers under one roof, thereby fostering a greater partnership between these and the College’s academic departments.

HHD-Building_low resThe new facility was designed as the final phase of a two-phased expansion, which began with the construction of the Biobehavioral Health Building. Erecting the HHD building on the same site allowed crews to use the same laydown areas of the Biobehavioral Health Building construction project. This saved crews both time and resources, while allowing them to apply the lessons learned from the Biobehavioral Health Building to the HHD’s development while they were still fresh.

Located on the site of the University’s former Henderson South Building, the HHD building encompasses 95,000 sq. ft. of new construction and 39,000 sq. ft. of renovated space preserved from the existing building.

The HDD building was designed to complement the historic Henderson Mall and enhance the Town and Gown border of central campus while providing students and faculty with a new, state-of-the-art and energy-efficient asset. As such, HHD’s new construction consisted of building materials and similar roofing forms that helped blend the buildings together, an energy efficient façade, as well as eco-friendly building systems.

Modern Project Management

The success of the HHD project is owed in large part to Penn State’s use of collaboration principles and its integration of the latest technologies and systems. That is, while a fully Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) agreement was not possible due to funding source, the essentials of IPD were on full display throughout the build. Highlights included “Lessons Learned” workshops held prior to the project to capitalize on the lessons learned from the Biobehavioral Health Building; extensive discussions with area maintenance personnel and users; the inclusion of a collaboration trailer for all stakeholders, and the practice of pull planning.

Additionally, pre-submittal and installation meetings, the provision of enhanced construction administration services by the design team, and the streamlining of the project’s request for information were also effective tactics used to get the project off the ground.

Penn State’s adoption of advanced Building Information Modeling (BIM) practices was also instrumental to the project’s success. Teams used both Penn State Department of Architectural Engineering’s Icon Lab and a 3D immersive environment provided by the Penn State Applied Research Laboratory’s SEA Lab team for the design reviews. The team then implemented AutoCad BIM 360 throughout construction through building turn over. Moreover, techniques such as clash detection were practiced weekly with all primes and the design team.

GoldWinnerStairs“Penn State is a leader in BIM with an ultimate goal of integration with facilities management,” said Timothy R. Jones, Project Manager with Massaro CM Services. “The design team was tasked with delivering a fully-coordinated BIM model on bid day with traditional plans and specs. Our role through design was enhanced to facilitate BIM clash detection through design. The process, while new to many parties, resulted in a BIM model that reduced construction coordination by 50 percent and resulted in nearly zero field clashes in the new construction portion of the building.”

Other BIM highlights include the adoption of asset management and bar coding for all equipment, and the team’s approach in creating the Commons sculptural wall. The Commons sculptural wall form was designed by the architects utilizing Grasshopper/Rhino software and then transferred to a design-assist contractor for collaboration/joint completion of the Commons design. Support steel and framing models developed by the design-assist contractor were used to pre-fab steel and metal stud framing systems for the Commons forms.

Staying on Schedule

In construction, timing is key. To that end, Penn State’s project management team ensured the building’s design team, construction manager, contractors, and University personnel were equipped with all the best tools and resources to control the project schedule.

Perhaps more importantly, Penn State committed to making timely decisions, recognizing their responsibility in maintaining the project schedule. The construction manager was instructed to develop and release multiple bid packages early for the project, resulting in a number of benefits:

A smooth start: Crews took advantage of existing laydowns areas for the Biobehavioral Health Building to begin construction.

Pre-qualified crew: Pre-qualifying critical contractors prior to the bid ensured that only the most qualified contractors would be considered, thereby reducing delays in the project award process.

Better control: Each prime of the project was controlled within each related set of scopes. Carefully considered division of work resulted in an improved schedule.

Implementing an open book policy when it came to addressing related costs was also a priority. Doing so generated a more fluid understanding of cost information, and contributed to a more collaborative review process. Changes in project cost and scope did not impact the overall project schedule.

Quality Control

HHD_College_Ave_low resA high degree of quality was maintained throughout the HDD project. This was achieved through the design solution’s ability to meet the program, the appropriateness of the building materials to relate to adjacent buildings, the durability of materials to ensure longevity, and the craftsmanship of construction to be certain the building passed the test of time.

Further quality control measures included:

  • Fostering a constant communication /feedback loop
  • Adopting a focus on “getting it right” through collaboration and shared knowledge
  • Conducting rigorous on-site quality control from delivery to installation
  • Being a good neighbor by coordination with public relations and campus events
  • Ensuring enhanced on-site representation during construction
  • Undergoing pre-installation quality control

Setting a Sustainability Benchmark

Penn State prides itself on being a role model for sustainability. In addition to receiving numerous environmental accolades and being part of numerous eco-friendly groups and associations, it is the largest university to sign on to the US Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge. Through this, it has pledged to reduce the energy use of 28 million sq. ft. of building areas by 20 percent over the next 10 years.

Naturally, then, sustainability was a core goal for the HHD initiative. As such, a number of sustainable goals were set and met upon the conclusion of the project.

Currently pursuing LEED Silver certification, the HHD building was built as a 100-year building using high-performance and superior quality materials. It is designed to achieve a minimum of 30 percent energy savings over ASHRAE 90.1 energy standard through the use of various eco-friendly systems, the installation of LED lighting for a majority of the lighting systems, and a large number of windows to facilitate natural ventilation and daylight.

Other green highlights include the implementation of rain gardens along College Avenue; the preservation of significant trees on the site; the adoption of möbius, Penn State’s waste management and composting program within the building; and the installation of low temp hot water systems allowing for future installation of solar hot water or geothermal technology as markets develop. Additionally, Penn State’s central production of steam and chilled water contributed to the overall efficiency of the building.

“Penn State’s vision is to embed sustainability as a fundamental value at the University through the development of sustainable literacy, solutions and leadership,” said Penn State in its project submission, adding, “As such, this building was designed to meet the University’s design standards which require a high degree of energy conservation, resource management, and systems performance.”

Built to Last

Aggressive schedules, budgets, and logistic complexities proved no match for the team behind the Health and Human Development Building. The project was completed on time and within 1 percent of the budget. Moreover, thanks to Penn State’s adherence to collaboration principles, its technologically savvy team, and air-tight project management, Penn State now enjoys a state-of-the art addition to its campus.

“This is an impressive addition to the campus that gives us the facilities we need to operate for years to come,” said Marianne W. Kuhns, Assistant to the Dean. “The quote from the Field of Dreams, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ reflects what this building has done for our college. We are recruiting outstanding faculty and students because they see the quality of our new buildings, and they know Penn State has made a commitment to and an investment in their future.”

Type of Project: Institutional (State owned higher education)
Delivery Method: CM agency / multiple prime public bid

Owner: The Pennsylvania State University
Design Professional: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
Construction Professional: Massaro Construction Management Services
Landscape Architects: Michael Vergason Landscape Architects Ltd.

Civil Engineers: Sweetland Engineering & Associates, Inc.
Structural Engineers: Silman
MEP Engineers: Bruce E. Brooks & Associates

Raising Owner IQs in Vegas: COAA’s 2015 Fall Owners Leadership Conference

It was bright lights, big ideas for attendees of COAA’s 2015 Fall Owners Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Held November 4-5, 2015 at the all-inclusive Green Valley Ranch Resort, the event welcomed Owners, COAA members, and industry stakeholders from across North America for two full days of industry insights, education, and networking.

This year’s conference invited attendees to “Raise Your Owner IQ” and dig deeper into the familiar themes of collaboration and communications. It also gave guests an opportunity to gain a front row perspective on the ideas, innovations, and issues facing today’s Owners.

This year, we really wanted Owners to think and to continue the ‘collaboration’ theme that’s run through the past 3 to 4 conferences,” says Howie Ferguson, COAA Conference Committee Chair from the University of Florida’s Facilities Planning & Construction Department. “Part of that was introducing the idea of ‘Pecha Kucha’, which is a rapid-fire, ‘cut-to-the-chase’ approach which we thought might have some applicability to our day jobs.”

No doubt, the themes of effective communication and partnerships were woven throughout the conference’s slate of expert panels, educational sessions, case studies, and interactive events. These kicked off in full on Day One with concurrent sessions featuring an in-depth look at modern practices in project management and procurement, led by Kenn Sullivan, Director, Arizona State University, Capital & Facilities; and Information Exchange / Transition to Operations, helmed by Mike Kenig, Vice Chairman, Holder Construction Company.

Owners that have invested the money and resources to have some kind of facility management / operations systems have to have the information about their assets in those systems if they are going to get the return on that investment,” said Kenig, recalling key takeaways from his morning presentation. “Having a process to collect and validate that data – aka the ‘handoff process’ – is essential.”

Kenig’s presentation took attendees through the ins and outs of building information modelling (BIM) platforms and the importance of smooth hand-offs. It included a moderated discussion on improving transitions to construction and operations, and the lessons learned from those who have participated in COAA’s own Information Handoff Initiative.

The biggest challenge when performing information exchanges is making sure the Owner knows what information they want and what format they want the data in. In addition, Owners might say that many of their design and construction partners today do not have the capability to collect this information, but I imagine that this issue is disappearing quickly as more and more contractors develop the capability to manage the data collection,” he noted.

Looking back on his turn on the COAA stage, Kenig adds, “This topic seems to continue to be of interest to Owners because it really addresses the idea that we can have a transition from design and construction to operations that can be efficient and improve Owners ability to maximize the return they get on their capital investments from day one.”


There were no shortage of insights to be taken away from COAA’s stage. Just some of the highlights included a discussion on the intricacies of facility design with Crate and Barrel’s John Mobes and Cameron McAllister Group’s Clark Davis in Is Perfection Possible? Managing Uncertainty and Expectations in Building Design and Construction; a talk about accelerating AEC automation with Lord Aeck Sargent’s Tony Aeck in Design & Construction Smack-Down; and the presentation, You Design & Build It, But They Live In It: Secrets to User Engagement, delivered by Owners Nancy Bayly and Dwight Raby with Emory University, and Carl Bergmann with the University of Georgia.

Surely, the values of collaboration and team-building were echoed by many of the event’s presenters. They were sentiments shared by many, including COAA chapter leadership teams in Chapter Best Practices Forum; industry experts in Trust But Verify: Cost Accountability As a Component of Collaboration; and facility reps in Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU)’s Pushing the Limits to Find Collaborative Partners.

Some of the most memorable accounts of industry collaboration were told in Collaboration Stories – Powered by Pecha Kucha. This PK-style session (each story was told with 20 slides at 20 seconds per slide) starred a group of Owners who took turns discussing how collaboration transformed their specific projects. Among them was Nicholas S. Ross with Disney Imagineering, who’s case study took audiences through the recent development of a high-tech Disney attraction.

Collaboration is how we push our projects forward. As complexity has increased over the past several years, it has put an even greater emphasis on working together to solve problems more efficiently. Without fluid communication between all studios, we would not be able to successfully deliver the quality product our guests love,” Ross explained to COAA’s Owner’s Perspective. Speaking to his turn at the podium, he notes, “The Pecha Kucha format allowed several of us to quickly share a situation where collaboration helped us through a difficult challenge.”

Ross said he enjoyed the opportunity listen in on other collaboration stories throughout the conference, adding, “It was valuable to hear the experiences of other teams in the industry, and to learn how they solved problems that seem to be universal to all in attendance.”


The best way to lead is by example; and this fall’s conference was overflowing with leaders who were eager to impart lessons from their most recent projects. Examples included case study presentations on Stanford University’s innovative new energy system; California Institute of Technology’s green revolving fund; the University of Michigan’s work to standardize construction safety practices; and the groundbreaking Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC).

Additional highlights included a discussion of design and construction industry standards care with Lynda Boomer (Michigan State University) and Jay Smith (Christman Company); and a look at achieving consistently high value results, as exemplified by Ventura County Medical Centre’s development of a new hospital wing using LEAN methods.

Certainly, there were ample opportunities for conference goers to acquire on-the-ground perspectives and become part of the event. Cumming Construction Management’s Lisa Sachs and MIG’s Daniel Iacofano led an industry role playing exercise with How Can I Raise Your EQ?, and The Lean Construction Institute (LCI)’s Lean Parade of Trades® Simulation split participants into teams for an interactive demonstration of the impact workflow variability has on the performance of construction trades and their successors.


In addition to its panels and case studies, COAA’s fall conference tackled several key issues facing today’s Owners. Among these included today’s skilled talent crisis, which Don Whyte with the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) picked apart in his Day Three presentation, The Workforce Shortage: Owners Must Just into the Fray.

Whyte’s morning session provided audience members with ideas for rebuilding the nation’s talent pool through better talent engagement and employee participation.

It is critical for Owners to take the lead on driving training and education, and the most effective and long-lasting changes in the industry are those that are supported and encouraged by the Owner community,” Whyte emphasized after the event. “To overcome our industry’s workforce challenges, Owners should require contractors to invest in training as a key criterion in both the prequalification and final selection of contractors – just as safety, quality, and schedule are considered.”

Whyte added he was thankful or the opportunity to share his insights with the Owner community, noting, “NCCER is always excited to have the opportunity to discuss the construction industry’s workforce issues with influential organizations like COAA. Owners who are educated about the political workforce issues facing our industry are better positioned to drive positive change that benefits both our current and future workforces.”


Interactive sessions and engaging panels weren’t the only events on offer at COAA’s Fall Conference. Throughout the industry meeting, attendees enjoyed a host of networking opportunities, including catered breakfasts and lunches, open-bar receptions, and tours of local attractions.

As proud as we usually are of the presenters and content, it’s the space between that often really makes for a good conference – but the two go hand-in-hand,” reflected Howie. “Thoughtful attendees are inspired to think by good presenters, which creates an electricity that spills into the breaks, meals, and other ‘gap’ times. From meeting folks who may have a better handle on something than you to simply learning that most of our challenges are shared by other Owners, the benefits are many.”

It helped that the conference was held in one of the Las Vegas region’s premier event and entertainment spaces. Located a short drive from the Las Vegas strip, Station Casinos’ Green Valley Ranch Resort treated attendees to luxurious accommodations, onsite entertainment, fine dining, and over 50,000 square feet of casino floor gaming. More importantly for COAA, it also provided over 65,000 square feet of state-of-the art conference space.

We are very proud of the Green Valley Ranch,” says Barbara Coffee, Director of Economic Development / Redevelopment with the City of Henderson, who was on hand to open the conference. “It’s one of the Station Casinos’ top-of-the-line properties and its just minutes from McCarran International airport. Everything is right there.”

What’s more, Coffee says having the conference in Henderson leant a symbolic importance to COAA’s themes of growth, collaboration, and economic development. “Coming out of a recession period, we’re starting to gain a lot of new activity, which we haven’t seen in a long time. So to have the construction Owners out here to see what’s happening in our region is a good thing and we’re happy about that.”


The Owners’ Roundtable is a popular staple at COAA’s bi-annual conferences, and this year was no exception. Before attendees packed their bags for home, Owners were invited to ask questions of their peers and event presenters.

The open forum launched with a thank-you from COAA to everyone who made it to the conference, as well as a send-off to outgoing COAA president Kevin Lewis.

One thing I would encourage you all to do is get involved,” Kevin told the crowd, noting, “Personally, I look forward to continue helping develop a sustainable workforce, and look forward to being involved for many more years with COAA.”

With a final goodbye, the room was open for the Roundtable. Over the course of an hour, Owners offered their personal experiences and spoke candidly about their most pressing concerns. Topics ranged from maximizing the team selection process; best practices when working with principals; the feasibility of adopting the BIM model; and the importance of raising the industry’s reputation to attract the next generation of skilled trades workers.

[What’s good about the Owners’ Roundtable] is it’s a chance for Owners and others to raise – or maybe re-raise – topics, ideas, issues, challenges, questions, or anything else on their mind in an unstructured forum that allows everyone else to chime in,” said Howie.

As any Owner can attest, playing in this industry takes skill, smarts, the right team, and a little luck. Thanks to COAA’s Fall Conference, Owners left with more tools and insights to lead the game.


COAA’s 2015 Fall Conference included an Exhibitor Hall featuring representatives from all facets of the industry. This served as the backdrop of the conference’s breaks and evening receptions, during which attendees were encouraged to browse the exhibitors and learn more about their products and services.

COAAs thanks the following exhibitors who shared their innovations and expertise with conference attendees:

City of Henderson
Info Tech, Inc.
Lean Construction Institute
Mortenson Construction
Structural Group
The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company
Autodesk, Inc.
Viewpoint Construction Software
Faro Technologies


Several COAA members took the spotlight during the conference’s Project Leadership Awards luncheon. Held on Day Two, the presentation honored both COAA’s Gold and Silver Project Leadership Award winners, which included:

Gold Project Leadership Award: The Pennsylvania State University for the Health and Human Development Building.

Silver Project Leadership Award: Western Michigan University (WMU) for the Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine.

“The two projects selected represent excellence in innovative project management concepts, fully collaborative team development and execution, overcoming obstacles, adaptive re-use of existing buildings and inherent complexity, adherence to challenging schedules, and exceeding the end user’s expectations while respecting sustainable practices. We can all learn something from their efforts,” said COAA Awards Committee member, Dave Cozier, Mount Carmel Health.

Read more about Penn State’s Health and Human Development Building project in Owners Perspective Fall 2016 , and look for a profile on Western Michigan University’s award-winning Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine in an upcoming edition.