The tenets of team-building, communication, and project collaboration took center ring this May during COAA’s 2016 Spring Owners Leadership Conference in Dallas, Texas.

The aptly named “Big Idea Roundup” set up camp at the Westin Galleria Dallas and gathered Owners, industry partners, and stakeholders from across North America to tackle important issues and discuss the nuts and bolts of team management.

conference2“We’ve focused on collaboration for the last few conferences, but wanted to hone in on team-building for this conference since it’s hard to collaborate without first assembling – and then nurturing and maintaining – a good team,“ says Howie Ferguson, COAA Conference Committee Chair from the University of Florida’s Facilities Planning & Construction Department. “I believe team building is especially important for many industries today, but maybe even more so for ours given the increasing complexity of the work, more specialization, a shrinking workforce, and technology that allows for great opportunities, but also seems to add to everyone’s stress level.”

The event opened with Information Exchange / Transition to Operations, a moderated forum led by Olympic Associates Company’s Eric Smith on improving the transition from construction to operations. It also featured case studies and lessons learned from COAA’s own Information Handoff Initiative.

Following a Chapter Best Practices Forum, the event leaped out of the gate with an introduction from COAA President Dean McCormick, who also emphasized the importance of job site collaboration.

conference4“Let’s face it, few if any of us are picking up the tools and doing any physical work. Putting together an effective team and providing the leadership necessary to make the team high- performing is the most important contribution an Owner can make in many cases,” he added after his presentation.

These ideas were explored further throughout the three-day event, from Brent Darnell’s Attracting and Retaining the Best Employees (read Darnell’s Simple Secrets to Building a Solid Team for more) to Jay Snyder’s What’s Important to the Millennial Generation, which shared insights from FMI’s Millennial survey.

“What I like to convey to audiences is that, while we have all had to deal with the stereotypical millennial, the data tells us that the stereotype is inaccurate,” says Snyder, who was joined on stage by Rachel Sommer (DPR Construction), Dustin Sommer (National Heritage Academies), and Matt Waguespack (Stantec Architecture). “The idea that, as a population, Millennials are willing to work harder for the company than other generations and that they want to take on tough challenges, is inspiring; and that specific insight from our study is surprising to most senior leaders. This study provides Owners with the wants and needs of Millennials as they seek employers and look to advance their career.”

conference3Adding his own expert perspective to the conference was Rex Miller with Go mindSHIFT LLC, who dissected the finer points of talent management in Team-Building as a Science. Speaking after the show, he emphasized, “When projects began to add up to 250 trades and 250 manufacturers, the lever to create effectiveness shifted from process to people. Remember that complexity requires people to align early and solve problems together, and one disengaged player can impede the entire project. We’ve all been there.”

Surely, from Team First, Then Project, presented by Brad Pollitt (University of Florida Health), Ben Bowman (Velocity Advisory Group), and Matt Webster (Charles Perry Partners Inc.); to Creating a High-performing Team: Techniques, Tools, and Processes to Enhance Project Outcomes led by Pam Neckar (Bostwick Design Partnership), there were no shortage of sessions for attendees to dig in to.

Case Studies These interactive discussions notwithstanding, conference attendees also had the opportunity to gain behind-the-scenes perspectives from a handful of recent projects.

“One of the many benefits of COAA and its conferences is the willingness of Owners and other stakeholders to share what they’ve done and learned – good and bad – and case studies are one of the most obvious ways of doing that,” says Ferguson, noting, “I’ve also noticed an increase in the number of presentations that have data or ‘analytics’ as either a means of supporting what’s being discussed or as a lesson learned; as in, ‘you can’t improve what you can’t measure’.”
Among the case studies that took COAA’s spotlight were those relating to the New Parkland Hotel, delivered by Joe Longo (Parkland Health and Hospital System) and Tina Larsen (Corgan); and the American Airlines Operations Center, shared by Palmina Whelan (American Airlines), Scott Breitkreutz (Holder Construction), and Mary Hart (Corgan).

“One thing that I particularly enjoyed in the sessions was the different perspectives from the panels,” offered Ahmed Zakria, 2016 Albert E. Phillips Scholars recipient and conference attendee. “For example, when the panel was presenting American Airlines, they brought the construction manager, the Owner, and the architect to discuss. They didn’t only have one voice; instead, all of the key folks on the job were presenting.”

Bryan Bagley (Affiliated Engineers) was also on-hand to discuss recovery efforts following the massive flooding at the University of Texas Medical Branch after Hurricane Ike; as were Chuck Hardy (General Services Administration) and Renee Cheng (University of Minnesota) to deliver their experiences in Building the Perfect Team: GSA’s Collaborative Practice Case Studies.
As well, representatives from Penn State University returned to COAA’s conference to talk about their 2015 Gold COAA Project Leadership Award-winning project, the Health and Human Development Building. For more information, read the Gold Award profile in the Spring 2016 Owners Perspective issue.

A Balanced Schedule As always, the event allowed attendees to get up close to the industry’s newest technologies and systems through both its exhibitor hall and tech-savvy sessions such as Game On! Smart Owners Invest in Virtual Environments, with Michal Wojtak (Travis Noble) and Brian Nahas (Mortenson Construction); and What Do You Do with 13,890,000,000 Building Data Points with Peter “Chip” Pierpont (General Services Administration) and Shaun Klann (Intelligent Buidings).

Combined with in-depth discussions on project risk management, worker safety, and best practices for project closeouts – COAA’s conference provided a well-rounded and holistic view of project management.

Not to be forgotten, however, was the final – and always-popular – Owners’ Roundtable (aka the “Big Idea Roundup”). Led by futurist, author, and industry expert Rex Miller, the forum generated lessons learned and concerns taken from both the conference and Owners’ day-to-day experiences. “COAA has a unique style for their roundups. It serves to both recap the takeaways and highlights from the event but also serves as an open forum to share challenges and get input from others,” says Miller, adding, “It has a strong community feel to it, and reminds me a little of growing up listening to radio when people call in looking for advice and someone calls in with the advice.”

Key insights from the roundup included everything from the qualities of leadership to team dynamics and feedback for the conference itself. Looking back, Ferguson notes, “I thought it went well. I heard and overheard good feedback regarding the content and speakers, and we’re looking forward to reading all of the written evaluations to see what we can do even better next time.”

Albert E. Phillips Scholarships

COAA’s Albert E. Phillips Scholarships are awarded annually during its Spring conference for up to two college students who are interested in pursuing a career in the design and construction industry. Recipients are invited to attend the conference at no charge and receive complimentary hotel accommodations and airfare.

This year’s recipients included Curtis Ray Lucas (University of Houston, Construction Management) and Ahmed Zakria (New York University, Civil Engineering); both of whom took up COAA’s offer to join the event.

“I was very honored to be named one of the two Albert E. Phillips Scholars in 2016; it’s a tremendous opportunity and I am incredibly grateful for the Construction Owners Association of America for believing in me and investing in my dreams,” said Zakria, reflecting, “The conference was a great experience: the sessions, the people, the networking, the accommodations, the hosting state, and obviously the wonderful hospitality by Lucie Castro [COAA Member Services Manager] and her team.”

Curtis also followed up with COAA after the conference, saying, “It was humbling to know that the construction industry has been so incredibly willing and generous to assist me with my educational endeavors and guiding me to succeed. I forever will be grateful for the COAA community that was in Dallas that week.”

Making Connections

COAA conferences are as much about learning as they are about bringing Owners and their industry partners together.

“At COAA, we are very committed to creating an atmosphere at our conferences that fosters open communication and sharing of ideas,” says Dean McCormick. “Our members value this and most are willing to share their best ideas.”

This year’s event was no exception. It offered a number of networking breaks, receptions, and a tradeshow featuring the following exhibitors:

Bentley Systems
Bluebean Software
Broaddus & Associates
Faro Technologies
Fort Hill Associates
Lean Construction Institute
Massaro CM Services
PM Web
Procore Technologies, Inc.
RSMeans / The Gordian Group
Smith Seckman Reid
Structural Group
COAA Texas Chapter
Vaughn Construction