I ran a small experiment in transparency this week.
I have a project that is now under construction. The team is organized around the comparatively conventional configuration of owner, architect and contractor.
Design of portions of the project is continuing. The project budget has certain resources allocated to certain portions of the project still under design and the construction contract has certain allowances allocated for others of those elements.
I felt that the time had come to make decisions on the items still in design in order to assure that they would be completed without affecting the project schedule. Since we also needed to update estimates on those portions of the project, I thought it would also be a good time to reflect on the allocations for all outstanding portions of the project in order to assure that the project contingency would be adequate. This also then meant it would be a good idea to get the contractor’s perception of items that he was seeing in the course of construction that might impact cost.
Rather than take a sequential approach, working with each party in the project individually and then coming to my own summary of the implications, I decided to invite each party to a meeting to discuss these items together. Certainly, transparency would be in everybody’s interests – The owner would get a good context to understand the context for necessary decisions, the architect would get good information affecting the final documentation for construction, and the contractor would get good information on emerging matters and be better prepared for those items in the sequencing and management of construction.
The meeting went very well. I acted as a “scribe” and elicited from each party the items that they were working on that needed further definition, and the contractor and an independent estimator offered perceptions of ballpark costs to enter into the project budget to help shape decisions. Each member of the team talked with each other, asked and answered questions, and assisted in the identification and scoping of the items.
As soon as the meeting ended, however, I was contacted individually by each member of the team. Each had something to say about the meeting that was not expressed either before or during the meeting. I was surprised by one of the voices who felt that this transparency was not a good thing because it gave ammunition to other parties for manipulation of the context. I was surprised by another voice who, instead of feeling good about having better information, used a tone that indicated a future aggressive posture against other members as their items became further developed.
Even though there have been significant moves and well-developed practices over the past half century to remove self-interest from the individual members of project teams, it is clear that the transparency that each party advocates and would benefit from is still something that is feared, or worst, manipulated for the individual gain that will, inevitably, result in lower satisfaction for all members of the team.