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You are in the middle of litigation and wonder, “how did I get here?” You think back over the contentious project meetings, the unresolved change orders, the delays and disputes and so on and so on. What started out as an exciting adventure has become a costly embarrassment. By the time you are in the court room or seated before an arbitration panel, you know it’s too late and now understand the only real winners here are the legal teams and claims consultants. The project, which was the primary focus of your daily routine, is now a painful afterthought.

What did you do wrong? What could you have done to avoid these claims and controversies? Your legal counsel might suggest a stronger, owner centric contract. Your claims consultant might advise you to paper the file with more of those self-serving documents, which only beget more self-serving documents. These are just one side of the argument, not the global solution. It is said that contracts are only for when something goes wrong. I think not. The contract also can be the road map to success. Let’s use the contract to memorialize the relationship of the parties, to appropriately allocate risks and rewards and to establish the organizational structure of a functional project team. Strong lines of communication, management of mutual expectations and respectful relationships go a long way to avoid the court room.

Project delivery approaches such as Construction Management (CM), Design-Build (D-B), Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) and Collaborative Project Delivery (CPD), offer various team and organizational advantages and disadvantages, the discussions of which is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say, the common element of success among these project delivery approaches is the project team organization. Inherent in both IPD and CPD, and also applicable to other delivery approaches, is the establishment of a partnering, i.e., communications, structure comprised of hierarchical leadership teams: Executive Leadership Team (ELP), Project Leadership Team (PLT) and Project Delivery Team (PDT), all coached by an independent partnering facilitator. The ELT defines the mission, the PLT oversees the mission and the PDT delivers the mission. The mission is the common element and the glue that binds the common interests of each of the members of each of the teams. Each team is composed of members from each organization – owner, designers and contractors. There are bridge members who serve on two teams who form the direct link or bridge affording and facilitating direct communication up and down. The ELT’s mission statement assigns and allocates risk to the team members most able to control the risk and yield a favorable outcome. In true IPD, the team members mutually share the risks and rewards associated with achieving success. The team structure fosters prompt and direct communications. Issues, information and decisions flow, up and down, in a collaborative project centric fashion, never letting disputes fester and never becoming personal.

Using the leadership team approach changes the focus from the individual, self-serving documentation to project focused events dealing with issues and answers rather than indictments. It aligns the project team and resources to most effectively achieve the project mission. The project record becomes a compendium of collaborative documentation aimed at memorializing events, discussions, goals, targets and decisions in an objective non-prejudicial fashion.

While there is no one formula for success, it is well known and widely agreed that a proactive project team with clear and open lines of communications has the right tools to engage and solve any problem or dispute. The old adversarial relationships among the project team members should be a thing of the past … RIP!



MCS is a specialty consulting firm representing project owners with the develop and management of capital programs and the analyses and management of project claims and disputes. When you cannot settle for less, look to MCS!


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