Engineer shares formula for success

Japan Engineer District
Published Aug. 23, 2019
Updated: Aug. 2, 2019

Since May 2014, the Yokota Resident Office (YRO), Japan Engineer District (JED), has been asking a simple question to our partners and stakeholders. “If you have a choice, would you still choose the USACE to execute your projects?”

I would love to tell you that the responses have always been positive, but in reality, that has not always the case. We have, in the past, received more negative comments than positive from the Air Force staff, including our closest partner, the 374th Civil Engineering Squadron.

Based on this feedback, YRO developed a partner-centric approach to construction management by focusing on our partners’ priorities for construction management services. We performed risk analysis on the quality triangle, which included quality, schedule and cost. We also asked other U.S. Army Corps of Engineer program managers and senior leadership their perspective on the quality triangle for Japan. The final conclusion is that quality issues are low risk due to the culture of quality in Japan’s construction industry, but cost and time growth risks are high.

With this information and real-time crowd sourcing with our partners, YRO developed the 5-1-5 approach to construction management. The 5-1-5 approach is based on managing construction projects with the maximum objectives of five percent cost and 15 percent time growth. Based on information from internal reviews from the beginning of 2018, USACE completed projects averaged 5.2 percent for cost growth and 33.1 percent for time growth. Moving from 33.1 percent to 10 percent was too much of a stretch goal so we decided to start with 15 percent for time growth. Five percent was selected since this is our normal contingency in construction.

We also recognized the additional challenge of delivering military construction projects in Japan. These challenges include the language barrier, different codes and standards, U.S. staff turnover at all levels, and the current construction labor shortages. All these attributes show the incredible complexity of delivering military construction projects to USACE and alliance partners.

The backbone of the 5-1-5 strategies are based on ideas from a book entitled Measure What Matters by John Doerr. The five percent cost and 15 percent time growth is the objective. The objective is further supported by key results. These key results include timely responses to requests for information, submittal review time, and contract modification duration. Our office has duration targets for each of these processes.

Using concepts from Doerr’s book, YRO called this technique managing by objectives and key results, or OKR. Our OKRs are monitored regularly, so problems can be recognized as early as possible. The data for the OKRs are already in the Resident Management System, so there is no additional inputs from the project teams.

To further improve our unity of effort, YRO developed three lines of effort for each project – internal project delivery team roles and responsibilities, stakeholder engagement and contract execution. These three lines of efforts are further broken down with tactical strategies for change management, schedule management, quality assurance, cost management, multinational team members, and stakeholder engagement to further improve efficiency and effectiveness. All these strategies may seem complex but in reality, after two or three projects, most projects follow the same systemic approach. Now, YRO is only fine tuning the systematic approach and educating our stakeholders and partners on the 5-1-5 approach.

The 5-1-5 strategy does not guarantee that the project delivery will meet our partners’ expectations, it merely provides a collaborative framework for increasing the probability of success. If a project is not progressing as planned, the built-in communication strategy from the 5-1-5 concept allows everyone to work together to improve the situation or minimize impacts to the end users.

By linking the 5-1-5 objectives with the pre-award strategies, it’s possible to build a long term collaborative relationship with our partners and the contractors to ultimately deliver the Yokota Construction Management Program within USACE’s five percent cost and 10 percent time growth metrics.

“I feel the critical component of any construction operation is building teams of equally invested partners,” said Col. Thomas J. Verell Jr., JED commander. “5-1-5 provides an objective that breaks organizational agendas and unites diverse organizations into a highly communicative execution team and binds all participants into delivering high-quality capability on time and in budget.”

This strategy has helped us deliver three military construction projects in calendar year 2019 under the 5-1-5 objective. Currently, one active military housing project is on track for the 5-1-5 for 2020.

YRO’s overall cost and time growth is currently tracking below USACE’s 2018 averages. More importantly, we are able to build a partnership with our stakeholders and to create a positive team synergy that is passed to future project teams. When projects are completed meeting the 5-1-5 objectives, our resident office recognizes the project team with a 5-1-5 sticker and later a plaque before they depart Japan. YRO has recognized JED staff, Air Force Special Operations Command personnel, Air Force Civil Engineering Center, and 374th CES engineers with the 5-1-5 sticker. Recognizing external team members symbolizes the strong partnership between JED, the Air Force and our Alliance and external partners.

Are you interested in working in an exciting and dynamic environment? Japan Engineer District is hiring a wide range of engineers, architects, construction and program managers to provide engineering solutions to a variety of partners that deliver positive impacts for today and tomorrow.

Benefits include living quarters allowance for eligible DoD civilian employees, post allowance, health insurance, professional and leadership development programs, and the opportunity to experience one of the richest cultures in the world. You can find our job openings at the USAJOBS website. Learn more about life in Japan Engineer District on our Facebook page and website to see if a career in Japan is right for you! To find out more information about JED please visit