Title: Co-Location of Grantee & Contractor Project Related Personnel
Phase(s): Pre-Preliminary Engineering
Date: May 2001
The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has embarked on the construction of fixed guideway transit systems to serve Salt Lake City and surrounding communities. The initial system consists of a 15 mile North/South Alignment located in the I-15/Main Street Corridor near the center of the Salt Lake City metropolitan area and is in operation. UTA is currently constructing a 2.3-mile East/West route, identified as the University Light Rail Project, connecting to the existing system in the downtown area at Main Street and extending to the Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah. Additionally, planning is underway to provide rail service to the communities of Ogden and Provo.
In the early stages of the University Light Rail project, UTA recognized that due to the tight schedule driven by the desire to open the system in time to support the 2002 Olympic Games and the number of stakeholders involved, the project would present some significant challenges in coordination. In response to the already apparent coordination challenges along the alignment, an evaluation was performed to determine ways to minimize coordination difficulties and enhance communication within and between the UTA, Design/Build Contractor (D/BC) and stakeholder organizations. Of the many suggestions offered, it was concluded that, potentially the most powerful way to minimize coordination difficulties within this group was to minimize the physical distance between the entities involved in the project. Theoretically, such action would create simplified lines of communication, foster team sprit, breakdown perceived barriers between the entities, accelerate resolution of issues and result in more efficient project execution.
The simplest way to accomplish this objective was to bring the entities together as much as possible through co-location. It was decided that the D/BC administrative and project control functions would be co-located in the UTA office facility along with key representatives from stakeholder organizations such as the City and State Department of Transportation. The same concept has been implemented for the engineering and construction functions with the contractor and grantee staff co-located and in close proximity to the administrative offices as possible. Through this means, the accessibility of the contractor to UTA management and stakeholders’ representatives creates an environment that promoted a more conducive atmosphere and closer communications than would ordinarily be obtained through a more traditional arrangement.
2. The Lesson
Co-location of as many of the project-related functions and participants as possible is of great benefit to effective communication during the execution of a project.
In practice, problems at all levels are generally addressed in scheduled and face to face impromptu meetings that result in accelerated resolution. The resulting teaming factor and related goodwill play an important role in the day to day function of the organization. The proximity and availability of all parties to respond rapidly greatly enhances the management and control of any given situation and promotes further teamwork in the organization. The increased level of oral communication has resulted in a reduced need for formal written communication with respect to potentially contentious issues, thereby reducing the administrative burden and avoiding costly claims. The co-location as described above has proven to be more effective than traditional arrangements in which project participants are located in physically separate facilities making communications more difficult, allowing the potential loss of project focus and contributing to a significant loss of effectiveness and efficiency.
On a cautionary note, those responsible for oversight of the project need to recognize that there is potential for functional participants involved in this type of co-located scenario to come under and be susceptible to pressure to minimize or at times forego critical procedural requirements. This pressure to be a "team player" can result in significant problems for the project organization. Project management, participants and those responsible for oversight must be vigilant with respect to this potential. To mitigate this potential, it is important that project policies and procedures are developed and utilized to train and guide staff in the performance of their duties. Additionally, the accepted procedures form the basis for routine management performance audits during all phases of the project execution.
Co-location can be a catalyst and a major factor contributing to the efficiency of the team interaction and coordination. It fosters a more informal atmosphere and the lowering of perceived barriers between organizations facilitating the free flow of information. It is more than partnering or other such programs, it is a philosophy of integration of project members into a cohesive goal oriented team that has access to each other more readily as a result of the proximity of each team player. It allows real time communications and contributes to accelerated escalation of problems/solutions. The members of the team must understand the philosophy of co-location and plan for it as is done for other elements of the project, or the greatest potential benefit will not be realized.
This concept is applicable to projects large and small in any technical concentration. Developing a cohesive team for project execution is critical to the success of the project whatever the size. Every effort should be made in each project to maximize the efficiency of communication and interface/coordination between the team members. One of the contributing factors to this end is minimizing the physical distance of team members to each other. Where possible, it is desirable to have all team members locate in contiguous office space. Where that is not possible due to the magnitude of the project or other factors, it is desirable to have all team members located in as close proximity as possible. There is a direct relationship between efficient communication and the physical distance between project team members.