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Are you a pothole person?

April 16, 2014

I met last week with Toby Hunt, a Vice President at Hill International.

We had a long and lively conversation about the role and potential value of contract management and our shared experiences in working with many of the world’s largest corporations and Government buyers. Hill International was formed to assist with the resolution of disputes in the construction industry. It will be no surprise that this proved fertile ground for rapid growth and today, Hill has expanded its array of services and the range of industries it serves.

But rather like being a doctor, it ultimately becomes rather depressing to always be treating the symptoms of disease – and Irvin Richter, its founder, soon realized that “Hill could be more than a reactive resolver of disputes and could become a proactive solver of problems before they arise”. Toby gave a simple illustration of this when we were discussing the role and skills of the contract and commercial function and professionals. He observed: “If you were driving regularly along a completely darkened road that was full of potholes, would you prefer to be driven by someone who repeatedly stopped to repair the damage caused by the potholes, or someone equipped with night glasses who avoided the potholes?”

The data at IACCM supports the experience at Hill International. Many contracts, commercial and project organizations continue to see potholes as an opportunity. Their job is not to fix the road, nor to anticipate the problems, but rather to fix the consequences. Yet management impatience with this costly, inefficient approach is growing. Executives understand the impact it has on profitability, on customer and supplier satisfaction, on the quality and timeliness of outputs. Increasingly, they are seeking to develop ‘commercial competence’ and ‘contracting capability’. And one thing that is for sure is that they frequently do not turn to their ‘pothole people’ for solutions.

For me, Toby’s simple analogy represented an excellent source for reflection. Each of us should, on a regular basis, ask ourselves “Am I a pothole person?”

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