An interview with groundbreaking Advanced Work Packaging (AWP) champion Eric Abbott of Rosendin Electric
The Concord team recently sat down with Eric Abbott of Rosendin Electric, an employee-owned EPC company that has served California and the United States Architectural, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry for more than 100 years. Eric is working with Concord to implement Advanced Work Packaging (AWP) principles at Rosendin, breaking new ground in the AEC sector and bringing AWP to commercial, data centers, high-density residential, health care, biotech and other major electrical projects.
In our recent interview, Eric talked about the challenges of customizing AWP to fit a new industry. We explored how the principles are transforming his organization and how people, both inside and outside, are responding to the change. We’ve edited our conversation for length and clarity.
VELOCITY MAGAZINE: Why did you initially decide to adopt Advanced Work Packaging (AWP) at Rosendin Electric?
ERIC ABBOTT: I think the foundational principles of AWP are very solid. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the Petrochemical Construction Industry or the Architectural, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) Industry, the primary tenets are universally applicable.
The path forward for AEC companies isn’t obvious, however. My first exposure to AWP was enlightening, but the processes and workflows were rigid, and struggled with the flexibility necessary to accommodate the unique challenges of the AEC industry. Concord however has been committed to understanding our industry and helping us apply the primary principles of AWP to a new sector.
VM: What are your biggest challenges in implementing AWP in the AEC industry?
EA: One of our biggest challenges is understanding that existing AWP systems provide top-down structure and discipline, and we’re often in a “managing up” or influencing role. Rosendin is primarily an electrical subcontractor and AWP is still new to the AEC industry, so we’ve had to set aside some of our current tendencies, taking what we call “extreme ownership” when planning our own Path of Construction (PoC).
We want to consistently bring our field leadership in earlier. We then use the project schedule, contract documents, and our construction experience to develop our initial Path of Construction (PoC). As we develop the PoC we will document questions using a Collaborative Action Log. Observations or items we can’t answer internally, we will strive to have some collaborative discussions with the construction management team.
We will try our best to use a “Predictability Curve” mentality which indicates the earlier you can answer questions or manage risk, the more influence you will have on project predictability in terms of overall cost, labor and schedule performance. There can sometimes be a culture in our industry that is more reactionary and less proactive when it comes to early risk management. We’re trying to influence the industry, to get back to foundational basics, really thinking things through early and developing a good plan that we can execute.
VM: Those can be tough conversations to have. How have these challenges impacted your relationships with Construction Management (CM) and other key players on your projects?
EA: For sure there is a huge people component. The key is we need to communicate in a truly collaborative manner and show that we are in a “seek to understand” mode. In addition, I believe more people are recognizing the successes in the petrochemical industry and are starting to acknowledge the benefits of an AWP approach both at a CM and at an Owner level. This is the foundational approach which will allow the construction industry to see the benefits of technology in a manner that other industries have.
VM: How has AWP improved your organization? What are the benefits you’ve seen?
EA: AWP provides a common language to start talking intelligently about the challenges inherent in the work we do. We talk about predictability thinking, and we look through things through the lens of predictability. We used to ask: “Did we make money? Did we execute?” Now we ask: “Did we make what we thought we were going to make? Did we execute the way we planned to execute?” It’s a paradigm shift.
We’re starting to kick some doors open, and we’re starting to have some discussions related to the ideology and philosophy of AWP.
VM: What internal challenges have you faced in adopting AWP?
EA: Change is difficult. Putting the “advanced” into Advanced Work Packaging introduces a shift in accountability. Our early, field-driven PoC drives accountability to earlier phases in the project pre-construction life cycle. At times, in the past, these early deliverables have been confusing or hard to identify in a timely manner. We have tended to measure labor hours almost exclusively. We are shifting to also measuring things that have a direct impact on labor performance.
VM: So, why do you stick with AWP, despite the challenges?
EA: First, for predictability — we want to do things better than we’re doing them now so that we can achieve more predictable outcomes. Second, for scalability — we are a larger contractor. We owe it to ourselves and our employees to develop a planning program that is not only scalable at a project level, is also scalable to support company growth. Finally, for personnel development — we want to develop the best people in the industry. Assigning people to work with a “good guy” as your sole method of development is no longer viable. AWP gives us a more formal, structured management program that we can train to, allowing our people to develop their skills and leadership capabilities. Caring about and investing in our people is essential.
VM: What AWP implementation tool has had the most impact in your organization?
EA: The project-specific RACI matrix. This is different from a generic roles and responsibilities matrix which can tend to have the “check the box” mentality. Building the project-specific matrices which align specific team members with a Responsible, Accountable, Contributor and/or Informed designation creates a lot of great conversations and really helps with transparency.
VM: What AWP role has had the most impact on your projects?
EA: We’re still early in the process of adopting AWP, but I would say investing in the Workface Planner (WFP) early in the project life cycle. Some may look at this as an additional cost, however this is truly an investment that provides great returns. If they’re introduced early, they have a more comprehensive understanding of the Path of Construction, giving them a fundamental understanding of how the project will be built. As a result, they can begin creating the folder structure and organization that will eventually contain all the pertinent installation information for the (IWP’s) Installation Work Packages or Final Activity Descriptions. This role can also support IWP status updates. In short, the more the WFP understands the PoC, the more the investment in that role will pay off through the lifecycle of the project.
VM: Are there any AWP concepts or tactics that have changed the way you think?
EA: The more formal version of constraint tracking has changed the way I think. We will now more frequently ask: “How many packages am I installing constraint-free?” If the number is high, that’s good; if it’s low, that’s not good. I’d love to see us get to the point where our weekly meetings include a “project health” status update on constraints. We can see this early and more factually, allowing us to effect some sort of change.
VM: What’s the next big AWP challenge you’ll be tackling at Rosendin?
EA: We want our Installation Work Packages (IWPs) to be measurable.
This means that once we have established our PoC to an IWP level, they will need to have labor hours allocated. This can create some up-front work which may not always be done to this level of detail currently. This is a shift from a historic tendency of monitoring labor performance using traditional “install rates”. In my mind, the budgeting of the IWPs helps our teams understand our project plan.
There are some technical and cultural challenges to overcome, however we’ll get there. For sure.