Originally posted Monday, 19 May 2014

Written by Chris Towery

This past October, COAA held its 2013 Fall Owners Leadership Conference in beautiful Southern California. The three-day event was held at the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines, which offered stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the historic Torrey Pines Golf Course.

A Recap of COAA’s 2014 Fall Owners Leadership Conference in La Jolla

This past October, COAA held its 2013 Fall Owners Leadership Conference in beautiful Southern California. The three-day event was held at the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines, which offered stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the historic Torrey Pines Golf Course. With such close proximity to one of the world’s most legendary golf courses, it’s no wonder the conference’s theme “Driving Project Success” boasted a golfing metaphor, and the event’s numerous presentations and sessions were specifically designed to help Owners maximize their drive on future projects.

Working Together

A key part of any successful project is getting all of the parties involved to work together as a team, rather than as adversaries. With this in mind, COAA devoted Wednesday afternoon’s presentations to the subject of collaboration. With three sessions and an open forum on this topic, the presentations covered collaboration from all angles, including fostering a sense of teamwork in places where Owners face certain constraints—corporate policies, state statutes, or federal law—which can make collaboration challenging. To this end, the conference showed that a project’s partnerships can be strengthened even when outside factors prevent Owners from using more progressive delivery methods.

“One takeaway for enhancing collaboration is simply to have the construction staff on-site prior to the start of a project,” said Raymond McKeeman, Facilities and Projects Manager for the West Goshen Township in Pennsylvania. “That way, everyone is working in one area, so there’s no isolation, which provides for better teamwork and allows for a quicker reaction to field issues before they impact the schedule/budget.”

Wednesday’s presentations discussed ways in which Owners can not only be more collaborative with outside parties, such as design and construction, but also within one’s own organization. This idea of “looking inward” was particularly valuable for attendee Barry Miller, Senior Project Manager with the State of Idaho’s Division of Public Works.

“I came away from Wednesday’s sessions thinking about how little time we spend in focused collaboration within our own organization and what the benefits would be if we just succeeded in working well together internally,” said Miller.

Sustainability First

Sustainability is always a hot topic at COAA’s national conferences, and this was especially true this time around. With the conference held in a state that boasts some of the nation’s most progressive environmental policies, COAA brought in several of California’s top Owners to discuss the ways in which their organizations are making major strides in sustainability. With sessions on Thursday and Friday covering such impressive achievements as the University of California at San Diego’s creation of the world’s first carbon neutral laboratory facility, California Institute of Technology’s evolution into a leading sustainable institution, and UCSD’s continuous commissioning program, attendees were offered a wide array of strategies for increasing their environmental efficiency as well as enhancing their bottom line.

In the session “Zero to 100%: Caltech’s Journey into Sustainable Design,” California Institute of Technology’s Ken Hargreaves discussed how he helped the school evolve from an institution that viewed sustainability as an afterthought to one that now requires LEED Gold for all new construction projects. Hargreaves was able to get the school to agree to fund green projects by demonstrating the numerous financial benefits of sustainable design and aligning his proposals with the institute’s core values.

“Caltech achieved great success,” said McKeeman. “The push for sustainability at the school involved a very thorough collection of data, which was used as a basis for moving toward enhanced sustainability. The Owner really knew his audience and was able to win them over with concrete evidence of sustainability’s many benefits.”

Going LEAN

Another popular session at the conference, “LEAN Construction, Pull Planning and Collaboration,” discussed how the San Diego Community College District used the principles of LEAN construction and collaboration to execute more than $1.6 billion in capital improvement projects between 2007 and 2013. By incorporating LEAN practices, Pull Planning, and IPD, the district was able to greatly increase efficiency and provide significant value to each of its projects.

“Sometimes we become so focused on getting the project done that we fail to see opportunities for improvement,” said Miller. “This presentation demonstrated that LEAN construction practices can dramatically reduce waste and increase productivity.”

Lester Felder, a project manager for the University of Texas at Austin, agreed with Miller and noted that the session provided him with some valuable insights he can take back to his organization: “I really liked the session on LEAN construction. It offered some useful ‘lessons learned’ and provided ways for general contractors to coach their subcontractors into using better and more efficient practices on the construction site.”

Awarding Excellence

During the conference’s catered lunch on Thursday, COAA presented their annual Project Leadership Awards (PLA), which recognizes Owners from across the nation that demonstrate superior leadership in capital construction projects. Every year, the PLA winners establish new benchmarks for excellence that all Owners can aspire to achieve within their own organizations.

For 2013, two Owners were honored with Project Leadership Awards. The year’s gold award went to Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare for the Methodist Olive Branch Hospital project, and the silver was presented to the University of Washington for the Odegaard Undergraduate Library renovation. For more details on these award-winning projects, the Methodist Olive Branch Hospital is profiled in this issue starting on page 6, and the Odegaard Library renovation will be profiled in the Fall/Winter 2014 issue.

Real-World Experience

One of the most important benefits of COAA’s Leadership Conferences is the incredible opportunity they provide Owners to meet and develop relationships with others in the industry. While the presentations offer attendees a good overview of many different topics, the networking that’s available at the events gives them a chance to meet other professionals who’ve dealt first-hand with these issues. Such connections can prove to be an invaluable resource that you simply cannot find anywhere else.

“The leadership conferences always offer real-world examples of the latest innovative practices going on in today’s industry,” said Felder. “Having the opportunity to walk up to a presenter or colleague and ask them a specific question about a process or they lessons they’ve learned is tremendously valuable. Whenever I attend one of these national conferences, I always come away with something new.”
For those members unable to make it to the fall conference, the presentations are available on COAA’s website, www.coaa.org. To access these files, log in, select “Members Only Content” and then “Archives.” While you’re there, don’t forget to reserve your spot at the Spring 2014 Owners Leadership Conference, which will be held May 14-16 in Houston.