Why transportation partnerships sometimes fail and how we can prevent it happening


n today’s large, complex transportation development projects, partnerships and joint ventures are necessary to spread the risk of failure among multiple organizations and ideally bring the best of professionals and teams to a project to maximize returns. A successful partnership happens when the vision, mission and goals of two or more organizations align in such a way that liabilities and profits are shared, once successful outcomes are met. Too often we have seen that transportation business partnerships are defined by bringing firms together with complementary services or products only. In the tolling industry, this might be firms that provide a back office and roadside service or product offerings, to deliver toll collection systems. In services, this might be specialty services within the engineering or technology area, based on expertise and previous experience. However, even with the emergence of these strategic partnerships designed to provide the best teams to meet a project’s goals, we still see projects and initiatives fail, be inefficient or ineffective. Why does this happen? Among the most obvious factors is that many organizations use the same staff in every major pursuit, regardless of its type. Another factor is the lack of a compatible culture within two organizations at the start of the project, something which may continue for its duration. Values relating to how organizations treat their employees, value their customers and execute their missions must be aligned with partner organizations. While organizations with different products and services can provide a complete and preferred technical solution, if the people delivering these products and services are valued and treated differently by executive management, this often results in delays and other project delivery issues and turmoil.

So ask yourself these very simple questions when you are setting up a partnership: 1) Do the partner companies compete with our services? If so, how do we keep the project productive and not a competitive fight that distracts from the project mission and goals? 2) When issues arise, are leadership teams from all organizations committed from the proposal stage and throughout the operating period to identifying, addressing and resolving the issues as a team? 3) Do all organizations have the governance in place to handle staff (executive and project) to maintain the mission and value of this project when people leave? And is there a process to define when the partnership no longer works and should be dissolved, even before the end of the contract?

If you cannot commit to these three fundamental principles in partnerships, then maybe you are not ready to be in that partnership and should go find another partner or project to pursue.

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