Interview with Leonard “Lenny” Coleman, Associate, Whitman, Requardt and Associates, LLP
To build the world’s roads, bridges, railways and other infrastructure projects, the heavy civil sector has a huge responsibility on their shoulders. Not only does it require teams to execute in a timely and efficient manner to just maintain profitability on these megaprojects, but the general public is also dependent on the facilities and structures to serve their community. As an Associate for nationally-recognized engineering, architectural, construction management and environmental firm, Whitman, Requardt and Associates, LLP (WRA), Lenny Coleman, is familiar with the specific challenges in the heavy civil industry. Based out of the company’s Fredericksburg, Virginia office, we recently sat down with him to learn how his company has remained successful in this complicated sector of construction.
In the video below, Lenny shares what tools and strategies WRA utilizes to keep projects on time and budget.
In addition to the video, we’ve also included a longer transcript of our interview with Lenny, for this week’s “Behind the Build.” Read below to learn more about how he started in construction and what makes him feel successful at the end of a tough week.
How did you start working in construction?
I’ve been in the construction industry for about 14 years now. My grandfather was a contractor building homes, so I got a start early on. I was drawn to the heavy civil sector, and I started out in land development. Eventually, I made the transition to construction management.
As an Associate for WRA, how do you spend the majority of your time?
My company, WRA, works primarily in transportation–including railways, bridges, culverts and wastewater facilities. One of our main clients is the Virginia Department of Transportation and we do a lot of work for them in the state of Virginia.
As the associate for construction management services in Northern Virginia, I manage a group of inspectors, construction managers, engineers and also technical specialists on a multitude of projects. I spend the bulk of my time providing quality assurance (QA), management services on our design-build projects and leading and guiding our construction management team in addition to supporting our transportation design and utility design teams to deliver the quality that our clients need.
Why do you love construction?
I love being able to make something very tangible. Starting with a 2D drawing and building it into a fully functioning facility is something everyone can take pride in, from the laborer to the engineer to the construction manager to the inspector. Every time I go past a job I say to my son, “This is something that daddy worked on.” Seeing the glow in his eyes makes me love construction more. I take pride in delivering something that benefits the community.
What are some things that are uniquely challenging about highway construction?
One of the unique challenges in heavy civil and also in construction management is that we interface with everybody on the project team. We work with the engineer, the owner, contractors and the inspection team. It can be challenging to resolve everyone’s issues and deliver a quality roadway product that’s designed to last for 100 years.
Over and over again, one of the biggest time wastes we deal with is making sure that we have the right plans and that we’re referencing the correct information. For example, on several of our projects, we’ve noticed that we may have a set of plans as the inspection team, and the contractor has another set, while the designer and the owner have a different one. It goes back to the age-old saying that your biggest weakness is a lack of communication. We have to make sure that everyone is working off the same information and communicates we can save time.
How has PlanGrid impacted the way you interact with other project stakeholders?
With PlanGrid, we’ve improved our coordination efforts across the board. We’ve invited the owners into all of our PlanGrid projects, so they have instantaneous access into what we see in the field. Previously, we would get calls from our client saying “I want to see this photo,” or “I want to see what the contractor’s working on and what was this issue.” Now, clients don’t necessarily need to do that anymore, because they have that instant access to everything in PlanGrid.
One of the pre-construction methods that we’ve been tinkering with lately is getting our design team more on board with PlanGrid. Up until this point, we’ve primarily used the software on the construction management side. Nonetheless, our design team started to get interested when they saw emails from our PlanGrid accounts. We showed them how they could overlay drawings in PlanGrid to highlight a conflict.
Our initial introduction to PlanGrid was via a punch list. During post-construction, we’ve been utilizing that feature alone to get everyone on the same page for quality standards and to make sure that we’re tracking issues accurately. We took one project with over 300 punch list items and closed it out in 30 days. The previous contract without PlanGrid had over 600 items–it took us almost six months. The proof is in the numbers.
At the end of a long week of work, what makes you feel like you’ve been successful?
The one thing that I always look at to determine whether or not I’ve done my job well, is everybody on our jobsite going home safely. That’s first and foremost. I take real pride in when I leave my one particular jobsite in Fredericksburg, and I have to go through it to get home. I’m looking at everything under the moon–on the road and around the jobsite. If anything seems unsafe, whether it’s for my folks, the contractor or the public, I stop on the side of the road and I get the contractor’s attention. If at the end of the day, our team is going home safe, I feel like I’m doing a good job.