Collocation helps USACE build strong relationships with customers
December 9, 2011
WIESBADEN, Germany -- You can't just put people together and expect it to work … or can you?
In 2010, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District delivered a $1 billion program of more than 150 projects over 10 years on time and on budget. Its success was largely contributed to the collocation of members from the district, the local garrison and their German counterparts.
Today, that success has translated into a district business practice that does more than contribute to successful project deliveries.
"Collocation helps tremendously in getting face time with the customer and different team members," said Rosanna Alcantara, the district's U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach regional program manager. "Face time fosters positive relationships because team members are interacting with each other instead of their computers. People are more willing to respond and work with someone they see as interested in achieving the same project goals."
In addition, the program managers have a more intimate understanding of their customers' needs, said Rick Rieger, the district's U.S. Air Forces in Europe program manager.
"I know what's important to the Air Force and what their priorities are," he said. "We tend to be the hub of all the spokes of the wheel for our particular program -- the design, construction, contracts. We are the central point of communication. We're not communicating our own wishes. We're communicating the priorities of the customer."
Currently, the district has program managers imbedded with the U.S. Africa and European Commands, USAFE, U.S. Army Garrisons Ansbach and Grafenwoehr, and Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe -- all with different commanders and different priorities. Translating the combat commands' strategic objectives to the USACE project delivery team is an essential element of the program managers' duties, said Kornell Rancy, the district's AFRICOM program manager.
"We have firsthand knowledge on what the AFRICOM commander's intent is because we sit with his regional engineers and support staff," he said. "Both the district and customer benefit from the collocation because it exposes them [the customers] to our program and how we work."
In fact, the close proximity provides the setting for a bond that can't happen between a program manager in Wiesbaden and a customer in Turkey.
"We invariably become an advocate for our customer," Rieger said. "We respond quickly and if there are any issues, the customer knows they can come straight to us with their questions and concerns. We are in essence part of their team."
"We are considered part of their team and we are intimately involved with them," Rancy added. "We understand their needs, understand their processes, and we can easily translate their needs into USACE delivery."
It's a sentiment that Andy Spendlove, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr Directorate of Public Works director and former EBG chief, echoes.
"We don't see a distinction between Corps and DPW because we're all U.S. Army," he said. "We're all here for one goal and one purpose and that's how it works best and there's total trust between our organizations."
With the success of collocated partnerships, there has been an increase in requests for a USACE program manager to be embedded with Army directorates of public works and Air Force civil engineers.
"As an engineer, I understand there are lots of things that happen between the time we meet and the next time," said Don Sharrah, deputy base civil engineer with the 86th Civil Engineer Group at Ramstein Air Base. "We like to keep up with those details, be a part of those conversations, so we can streamline our office even more. We want the Air Force and USACE working together next to each other."
The program managers become a resource for information and even a way to tap into the district's pre-existing contracts, Sharrah said.
"We're tapping into your experience. We knew you had the expertise already on board and we didn't have to go through a learning curve," he said. "By utilizing in-house resources, we were able to get the work done quickly."
Additionally, communication is streamlined allowing decisions to be made faster, said Peter Barth, the district's Regional Program Manager in Grafenwoehr.
"If you write an email, how much information are you writing in that email and how much gets actually lost compared to direct verbal communication? Direct communication is much more efficient," he said. "It's even more important in a team with multiple cultural aspects. We work here together with the German Bauamt, we have U.S. colleagues, we have local national colleagues, and all that is simpler and easier and efficient if you have direct contact to your counterparts."
When time delays equal increases in cost, timely responses are crucial, especially in a time of budget limitations, according to Alcantara.
"I can easily stop in someone's office [from the garrison] to get timely responses on outstanding issues for the field office or for the project managers in Wiesbaden instead of having to go back and forth on emails," she said. "They can and do the same to me."
"We are someone the customer can look to for information immediately and to voice their concerns," Rancy added. "We are readily accessible to give updates on the status of projects and also to explain to them how our processes work."
Collocation is a practice the Europe District continues to evaluate and implement as programs need and budgets allow. Customers, including the Air Force, continue to sing praises on having a USACE employee embedded with them, Rieger said.
"Don't underestimate the benefits of having someone sitting right there with the customer," he said. "We are all working towards a common goal -- delivering quality products to our service members and their families stationed here."