Episode 46 – Building a Major-League Baseball Park with Chris Britton

Episode #46
Original Air Date: 11.21.2017

36 minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Chris Britton

Chris Britton describes how four competitors joined forces to tackle a time-constrained, highly-public construction project: $672M SunTrust Park. The new home of the Atlanta Braves, SunTrust Park stands as one of the fastest construction projects in Major League Baseball’s history.

Chris Britton, Division Manager at Brasfield & Gorrie, shares his lessons learned as he oversaw the project from groundbreaking to the ceremonial first pitch by baseball legend Hank Aaron. Andy & Bill ask Chris about the high and low moments of the project, including how he reacted when 60 days were erased from the schedule!

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"I think one thing that we did do and that helped us improve and all the rest of our partners improve as a company is when we put together our safety program and our safety plan for the job.  We took kind of the best from each one of the companies and assembled a job-specific safety program that was awesome."

- Chris Britton

"It’s important to stop and slow down just a little bit and celebrate the victories and celebrate the wins and pat the people on the back."

- Chris Britton

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NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  It’s our every-other-week opportunity to talk about what matters to you, whether your project is a multiyear, multimillion dollar venture, or a short-term undertaking with a small budget.  We want to give you some principles that will work for you wherever you find yourself on the spectrum.  And we do that by talking to people who, like you, find themselves taking the lead on projects big and small.

I’m your host, Nick Walker, and with me are a couple of guys who are always thinking big, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates.  Andy, today we’re going to get an insider’s view on a project that has already made a mark on America’s pastime.  We’re talking baseball.

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah, this is an interesting one for me, Nick.  It’s always interesting to see, get insight into a project that’s different than anything I’ve ever managed.  And so I’m thankful to have our guest, Chris Britton, today.  And, by the way, Happy Thanksgiving to our listeners.

NICK WALKER:  Well, let’s meet him.  Chris Britton is Division Manager at Brasfield and Gorrie, one of the largest privately held construction firms in the nation.  The company has built its reputation on a variety of types of projects, from commercial to educational, aerospace to governmental.  It’s a company that prides itself on giving back to the community.  Among the projects they’ve been involved in are the Georgia Aquarium Dolphin Expansion and Sea Lion Exhibit, the College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience, and the Emory Sports Medicine Complex.  One of its most recent projects was the two-and-a-half-year-long construction of the new home for the Atlanta Braves baseball team, SunTrust Park.  Chris, it’s a pleasure to have you here on Manage This.

CHRIS BRITTON:  It’s great to be here.

NICK WALKER:  Well, let me run through a few statistics on SunTrust Park; okay?  I’m sure you’re familiar with all these:  over one million square feet, 41,500 seats, 4,000 club seats, 32 premium suites totaling 144,000 square feet, three club lounges, four seating decks with 90-foot overhangs, 10 escalators, 14 elevators, and that’s not the half of it.  This was, in many observers’ eyes, at least a five-year project, maybe more.  It was finished in 29 months.

CHRIS BRITTON:  That’s correct.

NICK WALKER:  How did that happen?

CHRIS BRITTON:  It happens in 29 months with a lot of planning; right?  So early on in the process Mike Plant, the Atlanta Braves, they hired Populous as the Architect.  Populous has a number of consultants that are part of their project team.  We were brought onboard as the construction manager, and we’re actually – it wasn’t just Brasfield and Gorrie.  We formed a four-way joint venture which was American Builders 2017, which is Brasfield and Gorrie, Mortenson, Barton Malow, and New South.  We brought four different companies together to be able to build the job.  We got involved early on in the design process.

ANDY CROWE:  I want to ask you there, you brought four companies together.  But what was your company’s role?  What was Brasfield and Gorrie’s role in managing or working with those other companies?

CHRIS BRITTON:  Yeah, we were the managing partner, so we were in charge of the joint venture.

ANDY CROWE:  I guess that’s a fun place to be.  I’m a big fan of the model of one head to pat and one butt to kick.  So you were the one head, and the other end of the equation, as well.

CHRIS BRITTON:  That’s right, that’s right.  So back to the question.  So we got involved early on in the design process of the project.  And Populous, they actually had a pretty big challenge ahead of them because they had a very short period of time to be able to design the project.  And as soon as they started putting those conceptual designs together, we had to start putting costs together on it.  And as those drawings went from conceptual all the way up through CDs, which really never happen till we’re almost done with the job, we were constantly providing feedback to the owner on this is what it costs; this is how we’re going to have to build it; here’s the schedule; this is when we need to start.  So all that stuff was done early on in the process.

NICK WALKER:  You mentioned Mike Plant.  We had him, from the Atlanta Braves, on an earlier podcast.  And one of the things he told us, he says this project was tougher than he thought it would be.  Would you agree with that?

CHRIS BRITTON:  Well, construction’s not an easy industry to work in.  The public, the uneducated public may go and think that you just go out there, and it’s just a matter of assemble a bunch of blocks.  But it’s not an exact science.  There are issues that you run into.  There are challenges.  There are problems.  There are a number of challenges that you have to overcome when you go through the construction process.

And when you’re trying to do it in a timeframe, from what I’ve heard and understand what Mike has explained is the timeframe from the start of design to the completion of the construction was one of the fastest that this thing’s ever been done.  And when you do something that fast, you’re going to run into challenges that you just need to overcome throughout the process.

BILL YATES:  I think of what I saw as I was just commuting back and forth and seeing the construction take place.  And I think of all the cranes.  First of all I thought, okay, where did all these come from?  These cranes are massive.  And I’m seeing like a dozen of them at one time.  And now I’m hearing you explain this was really a group of four different companies that are together.  There’s so much coordination that had to take place, both physically in terms of things like, okay, where do we put materials, where do we stage things, what happens in what order, and these cranes.  But then you’ve got to communicate, not just with your team, your organization, but you’ve got these others, as well.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Yes.  So I’m going to hit that in two points; right?  So when we first established the joint venture – and we established the joint venture just to chase the project.  So we chased it as American Builders 2017.  When we assembled our team, we put the people from each one of the organizations together, and we put them in the spot where they would be the most successful.  So we didn’t take and say the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing piece is going to be run by one company; and the structure, the concrete, and the steel’s going to be done by another company.

What we did is we took the people from each one of the organizations and just kind of peppered them throughout our organizational chart and then put the people in charge of those different elements where it made sense.  And that allowed everybody to be able to become the most effective in constructing the job and be successful.  It also broke down walls so there weren’t any silos that existed with the company.  And Mark Granger, who was our operations director on the job, was probably the biggest proponent of this.  When he went into a meeting and people asked him, say who do you work for, he didn’t say Brasfield and Gorrie.  He said, “I work for American Builders 2017.”

BILL YATES:  Oh, wow.

CHRIS BRITTON:  And we set that persona right at the beginning of the job.  So it wasn’t just Brasfield and Gorrie out there doing the job.  It was our entire team, which was American Builders 2017.

BILL YATES:  And I imagine you probably had some brilliant strategy for team building, like you all got baseball caps and shirts that said “American Builders 2017” or “We’re in this together.”  How did you guys, practically, what did you guys do to come together?

CHRIS BRITTON:  Yeah.  So it was difficult at first; right?  We’ve got four different companies.  Mortenson’s out in the Midwest.  They’re out in Minneapolis.  New South’s a lot like us.  They’re right here in the South.  Bart Malow is based out of Michigan.  So you’ve got a lot of different people coming together, a lot of different cultures; right?

So we had several team-building exercises.  We’d go out to lunch.  The Braves were nice enough to allow us to use their logo, so a Christmas present was a big Arctic mug that had the American Builders logo on one side and the Atlanta Braves “A” on the other side.  We’d do safety lunches.  We had evening events.  We had Sarah, she was like the organizer of the Thursday night events.  So about once a month we’d go out to a restaurant or something along those lines.  Everybody would go out to eat, kind of hang out together.

Not everybody could make it.  We had a pretty good-sized team.  But it allowed that interaction of people to establish deeper relationships with one another, not just you’re seeing each other at work.  You actually get to know the person as a person.  Even went to a football game together, a college football game together, which was interesting, yeah.

BILL YATES:  Oh, very cool.  Now, did I read right?  Are you a Florida Gator?

CHRIS BRITTON:  I am.

BILL YATES:  So how did you go…

CHRIS BRITTON:  And we lost that game.

BILL YATES:  Okay.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Yeah, Tennessee came back and beat us.  So, but it was fun nonetheless.

BILL YATES:  Just wanted to bring up a painful memory.  I’m glad I could do that for you, Chris.

CHRIS BRITTON:  There’s a few of them.

NICK WALKER:  Let me ask a basic question here.  How do you build a stadium?  I mean, where do you start?

CHRIS BRITTON:  So we were talking a little bit earlier about meshing the design with the construction; right?  Those things kind of went hand in hand.  So during the design process, you actually start from a preconstruction element, figuring the job out; right?  And it’s just whether it’s a $500 million ballpark, $350 million aquarium, or even just a $4 million office building, it’s all parts and pieces.  So you break it down to the simplest level that you can, and you do your quantity takeoff; right?  And then you assemble costs associated with it.

ANDY CROWE:  And you’re talking more about raw materials at this point; correct?

CHRIS BRITTON:  Correct, correct, correct.  So everything is just based on quantity.  And then you get your subcontractors plugged in and involved.  And then, like I said earlier, you go and you plan the job; right?  So you plan the job.  You build it on paper before you actually get out there and start assembling.  And then when you get to actually put the shovel in the ground, that’s when you start to execute your plan.

NICK WALKER:  And we’re talking about a situation where you’re thinking about so many different parts to this, and you’re thinking about people.  You’re thinking about fans and what they’re going to see.  What do you have to think like?  Do you have to think like a baseball player?  Do you have to think like a fan?  Do you have to – what do you have to think like?

CHRIS BRITTON:  You do in some sense.  Usually that piece is what gives you the motivation.  I’ve grown up a Braves fan, so I’ve been a Braves fan all my life, growing up in South Florida and watching the spring training down in West Palm Beach.  So you have that kind of drive that pushes you.  But when you think about it, building the project, you’re literally thinking at it from a construction mindset.  So you’re thinking in the terms of concrete and steel, not necessarily what the fan experience is going to be.  That’s what the architect does.

Now, as we go through the process and are putting together our plan on paper, you start to notice things that may impact that; right?  The handrail locations may impact vision, from being able to see from your seats.  So there are things that do come about from that standpoint.  One particular piece that did happen was, early on in the process, the Braves had what they called “Iron Mike.”  It was a pitching machine that they wanted down on the bottom level.  And I don’t know if you guys have ever been through a tour of SunTrust Park.  But down on the field level you’ve got a full batting tunnel.  There’s pitching tunnels.  You’ve got – the Braves can actually practice.

BILL YATES:  Right.

ANDY CROWE:  You can watch the players warm up.

CHRIS BRITTON:  You can watch the players warm up.  That’s exactly right.  If you’re in the Delta Club and SunTrust Club, you can actually watch the players practice before the game.  But that piece of equipment needed to get into the facility, and it needed to be designed in a fashion so that it could physically get there after it was built.  Well, there were some changes that had to be made on the fly during the process, saying, hey, look, they’ve got to get “Iron Mike” down there into those pitching tunnels.  What do we need to do with the structure in order to get it there?  And so there were some modifications that had to be made on the fly in order to do that.

ANDY CROWE:  Chris, I’ve got a question for you.  As you look at any project, one of the really important components is communicating – communicating with your partners, with your stakeholders, with your clients.  Tell me a little bit about your strategy when it came to communication on this project.  What kind of communication do you favor?  Any particular philosophy that drives you?

CHRIS BRITTON:  You’re exactly right.  Communication is absolutely paramount on any construction project.  When you’re dealing with, whether it’s a smaller job or a large job, it just gets embellished, the bigger the project is.  So communication.  And that was pretty much my job as the project director is I was kind of the main communicator or the main liaison with the owners and the owner’s rep, which is the Braves and JLL as the owner’s rep.  That was what my sole purpose really was to do was to make sure that the communication was going back and forth.  And our weeks were packed with meetings to facilitate that communication.

BILL YATES:  And how did you figure out what communication method or type was going to work best with those key stakeholders?  I remember, for instance, I remember Mike Plant talking about being an email machine.  He sounds like he likes email.  But how do you figure out early on, okay, here’s some of my key stakeholders.  What do you prefer?

CHRIS BRITTON:  So we had a process set in place.  On Mondays we had our staff meeting, so that was our internal meetings that we had amongst our team; right?  So, and that was where we went through all of our issues.  We had a big action item log that we tracked everything on.  Tuesdays we had our safety and our subcontractor meetings.  So we started the morning off with a big, group-wide entire jobsite safety meeting.  And then that rolled right into meeting with all the subcontractors and taking the information from our staff meeting and running it through the subcontractors and revising the schedule.

On Wednesdays was primarily the day that we reserved for communicating with the architect and the owner.  So we have what we called our OAC, our Owner/Architect/Contractors meetings.  And we would it all of those topics that we needed to get elevated to the architect, whether it’s RFI submittals, whatever those processes are, the challenges that we’re facing on the job with the owner, and hit all those issues on Wednesdays.  And that left Thursday and Friday for us to actually start planning for the very next week.  And then all that information from those meetings gets disseminated out to all the parties that are involved on the project.

BILL YATES:  So that Wednesday meeting, what did that look like?  Was that a face-to-face meeting with a bunch of people in a room?

CHRIS BRITTON:  It was a face-to-face meeting.  We actually met right across the street, where the Braves had their preview center set up.

BILL YATES:  Right.

CHRIS BRITTON:  There’s a large conference room in there.  And so we would go in, we as the contractor, American Builders; JLL, the owner’s rep; the architect; oftentimes the architect’s consultants.  And keep in mind we had that meeting, then we had one that immediately followed that dealt with the rest of the construction that was taking place in the Battery.  Beyond that Owners/Architects meeting, we had executive meetings that were set up once a month where we met directly with Mike Plant.  That wasn’t to say that Mike or one of his guys wouldn’t sit in the owners meetings because that did happen from time to time.  But this was a smaller crowd where it was just us, JLL, Mike, and the architect.  And then that’s where we would talk about the big issues or the big discussions.

ANDY CROWE:  And you get to be in all of these meetings; right?

CHRIS BRITTON:  Yes.

NICK WALKER:  Get to be.

BILL YATES:  Point of privilege.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Well, I’ll tell you this.  The owners meetings, absolutely.  Not all the subcontractors meetings.

ANDY CROWE:  Okay.

CHRIS BRITTON:  So Mark, the operations director, he kind of ran that piece.  So I’m the lucky guy that gets to sit here and talk into a microphone with you guys.

BILL YATES:  Right.

CHRIS BRITTON:  But that just happens to be because of the title that I fulfilled and the job that I fulfilled.  The guys who really get the credit for building the job are all the other people that were on our team.  Right?  So between our operations director and all the superintendents, they ran those subcontractors meetings.  They’re the guys that really built the job.  I was just a communicator.  So they’re really the guys that get all the credit.  It’s all their blood, sweat, and tears that got poured into the project is why I’m such a big success.

ANDY CROWE:  But being coordinator-in-chief shouldn’t be overlooked.  I mean, a lot of times that is the most successful project managers out there are the ones that create a system and organize and keep that system fine-tuned, and sometimes just run interference and get obstacles out of the way.  I mean, sometimes that’s the most important job a project manager can do is not the planning, and it is simply keeping all the plates spinning and just making sure all the obstacles are out of the way.

CHRIS BRITTON:  You’re exactly right.  And having a good team that supports you in that role makes your job a whole lot easier.

BILL YATES:  One of the questions I want to ask you, Chris, again, when I kind of think back to the public scrutiny that was just revolving around this project, how did you guys handle that?  Because here you are trying to get your job done, and I just imagine some of the projects that I’ve led in the past.  What if I had sound bites on the radio news or on television or in print, forming different opinions on the project that I’ve got to lead successfully?  How did you guys, as a team, how did you all manage that scrutiny and that pressure?

ANDY CROWE:  And probably a gaggle of reporters trying to get a sneak peek.

BILL YATES:  Right, right.  Chris, Chris, just give me a minute.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Well, the answer to the question was easy if we were ever – if I personally was ever approached or were ever asked as we were under a nondisclosure agreement.  So that’s the give-all catch thing.

BILL YATES:  Talk to my attorney.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Yeah, we’ve signed a nondisclosure agreement with the Braves.  You need to go directly to Mike Plant.  You need to go to the Braves, Beth Marshall, the Director of Public Relations.  You need to go talk to those people to get answers to those questions.  I’m not at liberty to say.

ANDY CROWE:  And Mike was out in the community a lot during those months when the project was being developed.  So he was very accessible.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  But then, practically, how did you guys handle that pressure?

CHRIS BRITTON:  Yeah, so again, a lot of communication.  I remember watching a football game on a Saturday afternoon, and Mike Plant called me on a Saturday afternoon.  I was watching football, and I stepped out and looked at my wife, and it’s like, “Mike’s calling me.  What’s wrong?”

ANDY CROWE:  What’s going on?

CHRIS BRITTON:  Stepped out and answered the phone because there was a lot of interest in the project.  There was a lot of – I don’t really know the right way to put this because we just wanted to build the job; right?  But there was a lot of things that were happening with City of Atlanta, then moving to Cobb,  the reporters’ open records requests and dealing with those kinds of things.  And anytime anything like that – I’d just pick up the phone and call Mike and say, “Hey, how do you guys want us to handle this?”

ANDY CROWE:  You know what, it’s beautiful to be buffered from that because going back to what we talked about earlier, somebody removing obstacles, that’s another thing is that good managers remove distractions, as well.  And so if somebody can keep you focused on the mission, and they can take care of some of these other things, that certainly helps.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that resonates with so many of the projects that I ran in the past.  And even the role that you’re playing as communicator, that was huge.  If I knew that I could focus on my job, and somebody else was going to manage those high-level meetings, the high-stakes meetings, and then somebody else would handle any public scrutiny, then, man, I just was freed up to do my job.  So that’s powerful.  You guys put team and roles together in a very strategic way.

ANDY CROWE:  So I’ve got another question for you, Chris, as I’m thinking about this.  You have an enormous project, a lot of people interested in the status.  Now, the beauty is you can see a lot of the status as you drive by.

BILL YATES:  Right.

ANDY CROWE:  So you can watch the stadium literally, quite literally, being constructed.  But how do you track and report status?  What are the things that you cared about as this project was progressing?

CHRIS BRITTON:  Well, one was making sure that you stayed on schedule; right?  And I guess this goes back to me being a young project manager and running the Georgia Aquarium, and Mr. Gorrie showed up out on the site, and he said, “Are you going to finish on time?”  And I said, “Absolutely.”  He said, “You know there’s 24 hours in the day.”  And I said, “Yes, sir, I do.”  So that’s probably the biggest thing is making sure that we’re going to make schedule.  Any kind of sports entertainment project, they’re all event-driven schedules.  And the Braves were going to play baseball at SunTrust Park in 2014.  It was going to happen.  So to go back to your question, that was the first thing that you had in your mind.  You were being driven by the schedule to make sure that you were going to be able to make the dates.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.  You have a big “miracle occurs here” date on the schedule, no question.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Exactly.  And then construction is not an exact science.  You’re going to have issues that pop up on the job.  And we had one that was a big concern in the project; and, I mean, it kind of threw us in a little bit of a tailspin.  It’s like, all right, we’ve got to figure out a way to recover from this.  And we pulled together as a team, communicated with Mike Plant, what was going on.  And we came up with a plan to be able to overcome it.

ANDY CROWE:  Did anything go smoother than anticipated from the construction side?

NICK WALKER:  Anything.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Well, I didn’t anticipate that question.  Yeah, there were times where things were just – were going great, during the excavation process, getting the shoring wall in place.  We’re working through the preconstruction.  You always have challenges with things being over budget, and you go through your value engineering, value analysis process to save money.  There are a lot of things that go good.  The things that always tend to stick in your mind are the challenges.

ANDY CROWE:  No question.  But one thing, you had a long stretch with good weather, so that was one risk event taken off the table.

CHRIS BRITTON:  We did.  We did.  We did.  And if it wasn’t for the good weather – I mentioned the big challenge that hit us.  What it was is we had bad soil; right?  We knew, we knew we had massive amounts of rock that we had to blast; and we actually crushed it and used it onsite.  But we had massive amounts of rock that we had to deal with.  We had that accounted for.  We knew that we had, where the home plate is, that that was on spread footings; and then on the outfield you had caissons that went down 93 feet.  So we knew we had those kinds of things from a soil standpoint.

What we didn’t realize was that the geotechnical engineer during the process was going to start to evaluate the soil in and around where that pipeline was, and there was a pond.  If you remember, there was a pond there that we ended up getting rid of.  And the soil down deep was terrible.  So the remediation process that the geotechnical engineer mandated on us, we had to surcharge the site for 60 days.  So there were 60 days, 60 calendar days in the middle of your construction schedule that you had to account for and now overcome in order to make sure that the Braves were making that opening day.

BILL YATES:  Wow.

NICK WALKER:  Oh.

ANDY CROWE:  You referenced the Georgia Aquarium earlier, but I recall when that site was selected, they discovered such a nexus of utilities that hit right underneath that, that had to be relocated.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Yup.

ANDY CROWE:  And some of that had been accounted for.  Some of it was a complete surprise, which you’d think it would all be mapped out, but doesn’t always work that way.  So sometimes it’s the unknown unknowns that get us.

NICK WALKER:  It seems like, in a situation like this, that you sort of have a readymade built-in excuse for delaying the project or going over budget.  You can always point the finger at something.  But when you’ve got a deadline, a firm deadline, you can’t really point fingers.  You’ve got to just overcome it.  How do you go about that?

CHRIS BRITTON:  So, yeah.  So obviously when that mandate came down that we had to surcharge the site, we obviously notified everybody what was going on, and then we went into kind of a plan of attack.  So, okay, how do we get beyond this?  Because it simply was not acceptable.  And sure, you can lay down, throw your hand up and say, you know what, this is our excuse.  This is our get-out-of-jail-free card.  But in reality, that’s not what you do, especially with the relationships that we’ve developed with these guys.  So you come up with a plan.  We rescheduled the entire job, we resequenced the entire job, and we figured out a way to get things in place and still be able to make the opening date.

BILL YATES:  That’s the way to do it.  Chris, a follow-up question.  You mentioned some of these, like kind of your regular rhythm of meetings.  And maybe at the executive level, with Mike Plant specifically, you had the ability to make decisions up to a point.  And then you knew, okay, now I need to go to Mike on this one.  I need his approval, or I need him to run this by the executive team to figure out what we do with this.  How did you guys, upfront, at the beginning of the project, how did you guys kind of define that level of change requests and authorization, so you knew your rules of engagement with them?

CHRIS BRITTON:  Well, Mike had JLL as a program manager that worked for him.  So most of the stuff was all filtered through JLL.  So my communication was primarily with Mike Hall, with JLL, throughout the construction process.  It was only when you got to the bigger decisions, and that was kind of a decision that we would make together, saying this really needs to be elevated to Mike Plant, to get him to make the call on it.

BILL YATES:  Yup.

CHRIS BRITTON:  So I wouldn’t say that there was this laid-out plan that, if the change order exceeded a certain dollar amount, or if there was some sort of schedule implication deadline that it exceeded 10 days or whatever from a delay standpoint, it needs to go to Mike Plant.  I think it’s just the constant communication back and forth between us and the program manager, and then saying, yeah, these are the decisions that Mike needs to make.

BILL YATES:  And you had four entities, again, that were making up American Builders 2017.  So how did you guys – did everybody play fairly?

CHRIS BRITTON:  Oh, yes, yes.

BILL YATES:  Okay.

CHRIS BRITTON:  We had it.  We had it.  And this was the first joint venture that I’d ever been involved with.

BILL YATES:  How about that, yeah.

CHRIS BRITTON:  So I’d never been with – so I really didn’t know what to expect.  But when we got our team assembled, you’re a team; right?  So you establish those deep relationships, you come to count on each other, and that’s how you operate.  So, yeah.  I thought it was pretty amazing just how well the team clicked, especially coming from the different cultures.

BILL YATES:  Right.

CHRIS BRITTON:  So everybody played fair.  And then we had quarterly meetings where all the principals from each one of the companies would come together.  We’d give them a general update on what the status is of the project, and they would take that information back.  They would offer feedback.  Rob Taylor, my boss, was down there almost once a week, just continuously reviewing the job, challenging us to look at things different, encouraging us when he came down there.  And that kind of leadership, I mean, I’ll just be honest with you.  Without having him there from that leadership standpoint, I don’t think we would have been as successful as we were.

BILL YATES:  That’s great.

NICK WALKER:  You mentioned some of the natural hindrances, some surprises that came up.  I’m wondering about manmade hindrances, manmade surprises, where maybe somebody comes to you, hey, I’ve got a better idea; or, if we do this differently, we could do this.  Were there any of those manmade surprises in this project?

CHRIS BRITTON:  I don’t know that I’d – “manmade” is an interesting term.  But I will tell you that, because the design timeframe was so condensed, there was a continuous process of design, and throughout the construction of the job.  So as Populous continued to develop the drawings, what the club spaces looked like, the Braves would have input; and so they would make changes to the job that were constantly being implemented.  So yes, there were.  And you monitor those like you do anything else.  You get what you want because you want to make sure that the client’s happy at the end of the day.

BILL YATES:  Right, right.

CHRIS BRITTON:  That he’s got what he wanted.  But at some point in time you can’t let that be the deciding factor, the determining factor that may delay the project.  So again, it comes to communication.

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah.  So let’s pick up on that idea.  You said you want the client to be happy at the end.  You’re kind of chasing the elusive butterfly of happiness toward the finish line here.  And as you’re going through that, I’m curious.  So eventually you get to take the victory lap and high-five everybody around the park.  But up until that point, you had to have some high points; you had to have some low points.  What would you characterize as maybe your lowest or most difficult point in this project?

CHRIS BRITTON:  The lowest point.  I guess time heals all wounds.  So now that we’re so far removed from the project, those tend to be diminished, and you tend to remember all the good stuff.  But I would say the most challenging part of the job is when we rescheduled the project; right?  We talked about the surcharge of the soil.  And that challenged our schedule.  So now we were having to make sure that we were staying on top of this revised plan that we put together, kind of on the fly, during construction.  What that did is there were times where we had our crews working double shifts.  They were working Saturdays.  They were working Sundays.  And that’s the field.  That’s the trade labor; right?  So they were grinding it out, and then the superintendents would rotate what would happen on a weekend.

So I would say the lowest point was probably the amount of hours that it demanded.  A job of this magnitude with this schedule, these types of deadlines can be very taxing and very stressful and very exhausting.  And at times you’re going to have to give something up to sacrifice that time.  So I would use Saturday as kind of like a catch-up day.  And you can only work so many Saturdays on top of your 12- to 14-hour days that you have during the week and keep your sanity.  And so something gives.  I mean, it puts stress on your family.  It puts stress on your health and those types of things.  So I would say that the lowest points were probably when we were in just the drive of getting the job done, and it was just demanding a tremendous amount of hours from everyone on our team.

BILL YATES:  That’s a theme that we’ve hit with project managers.  Certainly everyone in this room can relate to it.  And I remember we had a conversation with Dave Gibson.  He sat in that chair, Chris, and he was working on a project for the military and managing that program.  And there was such urgency to come up with a solution and get it out in the field.  And they were really burning it.  And it was – and I’m sure your team felt this.  At least you could see the end in sight, and you knew opening day, you knew who they would probably have on the mound throwing out that first pitch.  And you wanted to make sure that there was a mound there, so you kept everybody motivated.  And one of the things that we love about projects is there is a beginning and an end.  So you guys could see that and push on through it.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Yeah, that’s an interesting dynamic about construction is the job will always eventually get done.

BILL YATES:  Right.

CHRIS BRITTON:  And you talked about the first pitch.  And there is a best moment, too; right?

BILL YATES:  Okay.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Through all the meetings – and we had the County.  The County was there almost every week, meeting with us and walking the job.  And the Fire Marshal was doing inspections.  So when we got our CO, right, the day we got the final nod, with the Fire Marshal come walking through the tunnel doing the last inspection of an area that he’d walked through hundreds of times – hundreds of times – came through and gave us the thumbs-up and made the phone call to Jay Westbrook and said, “It’s okay to issue the CO.”  And I went around the corner, and my boss Rob was standing up there, and I gave him the thumbs-up.  And there was just like this feeling of euphoria.  So the Braves had already moved in, in that point in time.  They were already in their office component of the jobsite that they’d moved into in December.  So we took the CO up to Mike Plant.  We had a celebratory drink and then just – awesome.

BILL YATES:  Wow.

ANDY CROWE:  That’s outstanding.

BILL YATES:  That’s huge.

ANDY CROWE:  It’s a good moment to get there, and all the activity.  I have another question for you, Chris.  You learn things along the way.  And after having done this project, now suppose you’re transported back in time and handed this project again.  What lessons did you learn?  And specifically, what would you do differently if you had this to do over again?

CHRIS BRITTON:  So lessons learned.  Two things that come to mind.  One, I think one thing that we did do and that helped us improve and all the rest of our partners improve as a company is when we put together our safety program and our safety plan for the job.  We took kind of the best from each one of the companies and assembled a job-specific safety program that was awesome.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  It’s because, again, you had four organizations.  You had people of very different perspectives and processes.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Exactly.

BILL YATES:  So that’s great, yeah.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Exactly.  So that worked very well.  The other thing that I would do different is I would celebrate our wins and our victories a lot more along the way.  I mean, we had our topping out parties, and we adopted a charity along the way that we gave money to, that we raised money as a job team.

ANDY CROWE:  Which one was that?

CHRIS BRITTON:  Kids’ Chance.

ANDY CROWE:  Okay.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Kids’ Chance.  And it’s a charity that raises money and gives money to kids for scholarships, et cetera, that have had a parent that’s had a life-changing injury, jobsite injury, or a death.  And so it gives them scholarships to go to school.  And Courtney Turner, I remember having her out on the jobsite for a luncheon.  And you’ve got hundreds of construction workers, the biggest, baddest guys that you’ve ever seen on the face of the Earth, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience when she shared her story.  So pretty impactful.

But so we did things like that.  But when you’re going that hard, that fast on a project like that, you tend to kind of blow by the victories.  Like we got our first CO for Mike and the Braves to be able to move into the office building.  And then there was the next deadline was coming up, and then the next deadline.  And then you had to have the ballpark turned over.  And then the Battery stuff was getting turned over.  So I think it’s important to stop and slow down just a little bit and celebrate the victories and celebrate the wins and pat the people on the back.  And I think we probably could have done a better job of that.

ANDY CROWE:  The milestones, and not just the finish line.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Not just the finish line.

NICK WALKER:  Obviously that is a worthy cause, and you put a lot of energy into it, a lot of funds into that.  How can folks get in touch with Kids’ Chance if they’re interested in learning more about that organization?

CHRIS BRITTON:  Yes, absolutely.  So probably the best way to get in touch with them is going to the website, KidsChance.org, and just reaching out to them.  Anybody can partner with them.  It was just something that we felt we wanted to do.  And when you deal with people that are injured and hurt on jobsites, or people that are, heaven forbid, killed, it’s just a way for us to give back to the community.  And I would think that other contractors in the area, construction companies, would be interested in also partnering with them.  Phenomenal organization.

NICK WALKER:  Well, we are so thankful that Brasfield and Gorrie wants to give back to the community.  And we so thank you for being a part of Manage This today.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Well, thanks for having me.

NICK WALKER:  Hey, before you go, we’ve got a present for you, this Manage This coffee mug.  We wish we could put the Atlanta Braves logo on the back, but they haven’t allowed us to do that.  But the Manage This logo is a great one, and I hope you will use it and remember us fondly.

CHRIS BRITTON:  Well, thank you very much.  I love coffee, so it’ll go to good use.

NICK WALKER:  And Andy and Bill, as always, thank you for your guidance, your leadership.  We appreciate it.

We here at Manage This hope these podcasts reach you where you live.  And we know that a lot of us are living in that zone of wanting to keep current with our education and recertifications.  So we’re making it easy for you to earn PDUs, Professional Development Units, just for listening to this podcast.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com and select Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs and just click through the steps.

That’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in on December 5th for our next podcast.  In the meantime, you can visit us at Velociteach.com/managethis to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or to contact us.  And tweet us at @manage_this if you have any questions about our podcasts or about project management certifications.  We are here to serve you, to educate you, and to help you in any way we can.

That’s all for this episode.  Thanks for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

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