Finding Your Project Champion

If you’ve ever attended a P3 conference you’ve heard this before, “the most important ‘P’ in P3 is Partnership”. While that is very true, a strong, capable project champion from the university may well be next in importance, and there is a direct correlation between successful projects and partnerships with strong university project champions. So, you might ask yourself, what does a project champion look like and who fits that criteria at my institution?

At Capstone when we think of a project champion, the following characteristics come to mind: a strong and trusted leader, fair, accountable and holds others accountable, responsive, thoughtful, creative, unflappable, team player. If you could ‘build’ that perfect project champion, we think he/she would look a lot like Steve Krakoff. Capstone had the pleasure of partnering with Steve, former Vice President for Capital Planning and Campus Operations at Bowling Green State University, and his team to deliver a highly-successful series of projects in 2011. Steve unfortunately passed away in 2017 and left a lasting legacy at BGSU where he is dearly missed by his friends and colleagues.

Project Champion Characteristics and Responsibilities

Coordinating the Internal University Team

First, Steve was respected and trusted by his colleagues and team. From the onset, we worked with Steve and the team to establish goals for the project and to prioritize the same. From the beginning, he was steadfast in his direction that no matter what, the delivery schedule would not be compromised. With that, he held himself and his team accountable and was always fair and reasonable. He consistently worked to understand each perspective and then thoughtfully and expeditiously approached each challenge and decision. He also struck the right balance with his internal team. He and Sheri Stoll, BGSU Chief Financial Officer, formed an outstanding team. Steve and Sheri were always in lock-step and Steve always kept Sheri apprised and up to speed on items that required her attention. Sheri was always informed on the project details and any challenges that needed to be overcome. Additionally, she was always accessible to our team and provided great leadership to the project and BGSU.

I talked to Sheri as I was writing this article.  Sheri said, “Steve would agree with your statement that every campus project needs a champion.  However, he did not believe that a project champion was the sole, secret ingredient that allowed projects to be successful.  Rather it was the magic of the team chemistry that is created when a project champion chooses partners wisely that enables amazing outcomes to happen.”

Sheri went on to say, “I was always so impressed with the approach and time Steve invested in the selection process for outside partners we brought to campus to work with us.  In addition to all the requisite credentials and competencies which you’d expect, Steve taught me how important it was to find the right chemistry among the prospective team members and BGSU staff.  He believed that chemistry provided the creative tension that enables teams to deliver amazing results.”

Helping Meet Schedule and Project Objectives

As alluded to above, missing the August 2011 delivery date was not an option, period! Steve ensured that we were able to achieve challenging timelines by making sure that he and his team did not miss a deadline. If the project team needed a decision to keep the project moving, Steve would rally his troops, discuss the issue and promptly provide direction. While we had to make quick decisions to get from selection to construction commencement in less than 6 months, he never made them haphazardly. He relied on and trusted Capstone’s extensive experience and the experience of his team and consultants.  Perhaps sometimes rare among adults, Steve was not afraid to admit what he didn’t know. This gave him the ability to listen and learn from the design, construction and development professionals, recognizing that both parties of the P3 were aligned in our interests and dogged pursuit of a successful outcome. Steve, as a model project champion, was a great listener, thoughtful and was the embodiment of a ‘team player’.

Sheri further shared with me that, “In reality, Steve believed deeply in the need to find the right balance and mix of people, personalities, skill sets, visions, ability to deliver, and integrity in the teams he put together for our projects (big and small).  Inevitably, when we experienced difficulty in bringing a project to fruition or conclusion, it was rarely because a partner lacked a skillset or competency.  It nearly always came down to poor working relationships and bad chemistry among the team members.”

Summary of Capstone – Bowling Green State University P3

BGSU selected Capstone as its P3 partner in December 2009 for the development of two new residence halls providing 1,300 beds of first- and second-year housing on the campus. The project was BGSU’s first P3 and it ended up being one of the fastest ever delivered. In fact, we were selected and then had the buildings (over 353,000 SF total) designed, permitted, financed, built and occupied in less than 18 months! To add to the pressure of the schedule, about 10 months into our work for the residence hall project, BGSU asked Capstone if we could help them design and deliver a 17,000 SF dining hall that they were in the process of planning – and have it completed in tandem with the residence halls! Capstone took on the challenge and with the help of a committed design, construction and university project team less than 8 months after getting the dining request, we opened the new residence halls and dining hall on-time and in-budget in Fall 2011. The project went on to achieve the Merit award for Multifamily Executive’s 2012 Student Housing Project of the Year.

Download the BGSU P3 Case Study

Author: William Davis, EVP and Sr. Development Manager