Welcome Construction Nation! On today’s Episode 3 of the Construction Dream Team Podcast, we are joined by Pete Davos, VP and Operations Manager for DeSilva Gates Construction. He has a fantastic case study of a project team that faced many challenges but managed to stay together and work through it all to project completion. Throughout the interview, Pete shares insights as to what happened and what he did as a leader in order to create a successful project.
The following show notes are transcribed from the in-person audio interview that took place between Sue Dyer and Pete Davos. Please subscribe to our free newsletter for new episodes publishing every Monday at 4 A.M. PST! You can also follow us on social media and your favorite podcasting platforms like iTunes or Stitcher! Visit ConstructionDreamTeam.com for more details.
Pete Davos Background & Bio
Pete went to San Jose State University as a Civil Engineering student. He worked for an architect and was in a student chapter involved with Associated General Contractors (AGC). Pete got a part-time job working at Piazza construction, finished his degree and began working full-time in the construction industry. He finished work with Piazza Construction after a year to begin a job at Oliver DeSilva which turned into DeSilva Gates Construction, where he has been for the past 35 years. Desilva Gates Construction primarily performs paving services in the state of California.
About The Construction Project That Spent $6 Million On Police
DeSilva Gates and Flat Iron Construction created a joint venture on a project on a stretch of Highway 101 to build a new 101 bypass with an intersection and freeway. This project had a million yards of roadway excavation, 15 bridge structures, and was 6 miles long. There were extensive environmental restrictions built into the contract. It was a large complex job meant to take four years.
The first thing we encountered in terms of adversity on the project was people actually living in the trees trying to prevent the clearing of the trees. Until the people living in the trees were removed, the project couldn’t start. CHP had to remove these individuals from the trees somewhat forcefully, but this interference caused delays on the project right off the bat. As soon as the people were cleared, the project ran into a series of problems with environmental protests over the next two years. People would chain themselves to equipment and lay down in front of trucks and equipment. We were forced to use CHP throughout the project’s life as security to guard the site from environmental protestors.
Needless to say, this was incredibly frustrating to the team involved and it impacted the project negatively because they couldn’t get enough momentum to build anything. Before we knew it, we were a year behind schedule. The normal things that constructors are used to dealing with were much different with these “eco-terrorists.” At one point, the protestors rushed the doors of the Caltrans office, damaged the door, and injured some of the staff there. The increased need for security around the site, equipment, and staff caused more struggles working on the job. We had to deal with protestors so often that we couldn’t even talk about the project. Protestors went so far as to camp in drill rigs. The focus of meetings over the first year wasn’t about the project, but about the protestors and issues going on.
How The Project Got Completed
DeSilva and Flat Iron Team had worked together in the past. We knew each other well, were familiar with how to work out problems together, and were well versed in partnering. We hired Sue Dyer as our partnering facilitator which helped us reset where our foundation was and refocus on where we were coming from, what our vision was, going to square one, and not getting ahead of ourselves. With the help of a facilitator and the two executive group’s commitment, the project managers began to stay on course and stay true to themselves – realigning with why they were there and what their goals were. They learned to take smaller pieces of the project to wrap their minds around rather than larger ones.
There were several processes used throughout the project that helped us stay on-task and working together effectively. We had monthly meetings to go over issues. When we identified a problem, we brainstormed together to come up with solutions to solve the problem and begin working it. We stayed committed and stuck to our commitments. The executive team would frequently revisit the vision and our achievements. We worked hard to convey this vision and our values to the core team and their staff who were dealing with the issues directly on a daily basis.
Eventually, we got to a point where we decided we weren’t going to worry about the money primarily but worry about the project. This helped us focus on the best solution for the project. Financial considerations were revisited two years later, but stressing about it in the moment was not particularly helpful because it shifted the conversation to money rather than teamwork. We decided to focus on the job, which was a hard thing to do, but money doesn’t actually solve a problem – teams do.
It was important to teach our staff that they were empowered. They were so overwhelmed and felt helpless, but we reinforced that they were empowered to make decisions. Team members didn’t always agree and we had to decide which disagreements needed to be elevated. When we focused on solving problems associated with the project, it became clear that the biggest disagreement was how to deal with the one year of delay. Things also got resolved by considering fair ways to handle disagreements and resolve issues.
By the second year, the team was working together positively and cohesively, finding itself empowered to solve problems. We did our best to do things in a fun manner and reinforce that the construction industry can be fun. Everyone was doing a great job and it helped us move past the hard times at the beginning of the project. A year was shaved off of the project by setting hard target dates, holding each other accountable, and ensuring deliverables did not go past dates set. We reached the conclusion of the job and had a huge team dinner and put together a book about the project with pictures.
What Role Did Partnering Play On Project Success?
Prior to this project, we had not heard much about partnering. We developed relationships with our clients and were client-driven. It’s hard to build a project of that intensity without a partnering facilitator to help you stay on course, who doesn’t take sides. Without that, the team would have been drug down further by the issues in the first year of the project and we probably would still be looking to go to court over $10+ million dollars in disputes. We ended up with a PFE and had 0 claims, nothing went to arbitration.
Partnering helped us focus on project success rather than financial worries, empowered the people closest to the issues, established a good executive team to steer the team below, and structured collaborative partnering was essential especially in the presence of conflicts. Having a partnering facilitator made it much easier to have difficult conversations.
One unique way Pete and his team utilized partnering was to get involved with other stakeholders and the environmentalists. This helped us avoid major issues with water board or official wildlife. Partnering is a way of thinking about relationships – the need to work together no matter what. With a good team working smart, good solutions are inevitable.
Resources For Listeners
The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive (affiliate link) – Patrick Lencioni
This is an easy read, not too technical about two executive companies where one fails and one keeps growing. This book will help you understand what separates extraordinary leaders from ordinary leaders. There are many good examples of how to lead your team.
Advice for Leaders from Pete Davos
Work with trusted partners to mutually create a vision for the project; a vision of what success looks like. Articulate it constantly and to the entire team. Partners need to passionately own their vision. Stay true to yourself and your convictions. Do not shy away from difficult conversations. Challenge yourself to do the best for yourself and for your team.
We hope you’ll join us next Monday for another exciting and informative episode of the Construction Dream Team Podcast! Dream teams don’t just happen, they are built one step at a time. You can’t have your dream until you build your team! Visit ConstructionDreamTeam.com for more episodes, show notes, and cool resources!