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Q&A with Bob Goodfellow

Bob Goodfellow Robert “Bob” Goodfellow is a Senior Vice President for Aldea Services LLC, and he is a licensed professional engineer in more than a dozen U.S. states. Goodfellow has 25 years of experience in the tunneling industry and he currently serves on the Executive Committee for the Underground Construction Association (UCA of SME). He is an acknowledged industry expert in risk management and is co-author of the tunnel industry guidelines for risk management on tunnel projects.

He was recently asked Bob about the development of the risk management guidelines, as well as the state of the practice in the United States.

Briefly describe your background in the tunnel industry. What do you find enticing or rewarding about the market?

My experience in the industry goes back over 25 years, beginning with Jubilee Line in London. I came to the United States 20 years ago to work on WMATA while I was with Dr. Sauer & Partners. After stints with URS and Black & Veatch, Aldea Services was born and alongside Paul Headland, and we have had a great six years! Aldea now works all over North America with offices in the United States and Canada. We have worked internationally as well, but mostly on an opportunistic basis. There is more than enough to do here!

I love working in the tunnel industry. The characters and people all around the business are great to work with and the fact that no two projects are alike really makes every job its own challenge and makes for an interesting career.

You co-authored the UCA’s “Guidelines for Improved Risk Management” with Joe O’Carroll. How was the book conceived? What were the challenges in compiling it?

My introduction to risk management was through a great mentor and friend, Terry Mellors, who was the chair of the committee and primary author of the British Tunnelling Society’s Joint Code of Practice, published in 2003. Talking with him was very instructive about the process but also the practical implementation of risk management practice into a project environment. Once the International Tunnelling Insurance Group’s Code of Practice was published in 2006, it became clear quite quickly that there was not a broad acceptance of the document in the United States.

The Underground Construction Association came out against the document in a strident way that I found slightly baffling (looking at the big picture, how can the tunnel industry be against management of risk?). ITIG was promoting individual countries to look at their own circumstances and write their own country-specific versions of the ITIG Code and this became the inspiration for Joe O’Carroll and I to undertake this venture.

We joke that our task was to translate the Code from English into American; and this truly was our task but there was more to it than that. In producing the Guidelines, we had to look at differences in contractual practice and procurement, noting that even the U.K. and international version placed the procurement chapter before the design chapter – a clear indication that the Codes were written with design-build in mind. Our biggest editorial challenge was to think through how to implement good, open risk management practices in a closed-book, hard-money, design-bid-build procurement process that is still the most common form in the United States. The final challenge before publication was our determination to get some consensus around the industry that this was the way we should proceed collectively with implementing risk management on projects. The comment and discussion period stretched over two years prior to publication but we finally obtained endorsements from ITA, ITIG and UCA for the Guidelines, which I think is very important.

How does the approach to risk management differ in the United States from other parts of the world? What does the U.S. do well? What areas can be improved?

I haven’t had extensive, first-hand involvement in international projects and procurement for a while, but from reading and anecdotal evidence, it appears that the bidder’s approach to risk and how they select means and methods to manage those risks gets more consideration during selection internationally than it does in the United States. Of course, during design-build procurement many things can be done to investigate approaches and examine the value of innovation and the owner agencies that have experience with underground work can make more informed decisions on these issues so perhaps this difference should not be surprising. Our challenge in the United States is to bring risk into the discussion in a more positive way. There is a school of thought that a risk register in the United States is simply a road map for those wishing to pursue a lawsuit or claim. The counter-argument that the risk register is also a means to discuss project issues and get to solutions that can reduce overall costs and the impact of those risks on third parties, providing overall project benefits, does not yet carry the same weight – but there are positive signs. Some owners are showing a progressive streak and my hope is that as more and more positive stories can be told of major project issues that were either avoided or substantially mitigated through good risk management and planning, the more acceptance risk management as an organized process will receive.

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I liken the state of play at the moment to the perceptions of safety in recent times. It was not very long ago when safety was considered to be an impediment to progress and seen as an additional cost and a burden to contractors. Now, there is not a major contractor that does not recognize a thorough and comprehensive approach to safety as providing an overall cost saving to their operation. I agree that risk workshops can be a time-consuming and, dare I say it, tedious component of site work, but there is no doubt in my mind that a well thought out and well planned risk mitigation plan helps save time and money on every project, increasing the profitability for the contractor and promoting delivery of a quality facility for the owner.

Risk management is just one component of a successful tunnel project. In your experience, what are the common bonds you see in successful projects?

The short answer here is experience and people. Experience in all aspects and all stages of the project is an important factor for successful jobs. Having good processes in place managed by experienced people can go a long way to achieving success; and good design has good consequences for construction (the opposite is also true).

But ultimately it is the people and their relationships that make or break a project. Good people can make bad documents work and there are no contract documents in the world that can overcome a poisonous relationship between people representing the contractual parties. Interestingly, project team alignment is always a factor on my risk registers – but the discussion over relationships is nearly impossible to have in a workshop environment. This type of risk and its impact can only be judged through impartial observation; and it can only be solved by executives on both sides (owner and contractor) maintaining their own relationship with a view to intervening if they think something must be changed at the project level.

Looking ahead, what do you see as the next big thing in tunneling? (New construction technology; Better contracting/management approaches; New drivers; emerging markets, etc.)

That is a really interesting question and the future is a fiendishly difficult thing to predict because we are all hostages of our own experiences. The next big thing might be a development that none of us expect. More easy to predict are developments in existing technology, such as better ways to process data. We are very good as an industry in collecting data (think data loggers of instrumentation or TBM data, or even the reams of paper that make up geotechnical data on a project). These data are ripe for processing and using to improve our construction processes, implement risk mitigation measures such as ground modification to protect adjacent structures or keep the public informed and supportive of our urban projects. Great software programs already exist that can post-process data and make it more easily accessible and useful, we just need to grow the owner’s awareness of what is possible and demand improvements to suit project needs. One completely new development currently underway is software that allows the risk register to be put into time and space – providing alerts to both contractor and owner that identified risks are either occurring or will soon occur so that established mitigation plans can be implemented. This really helps the risk register be more applicable to the project execution and to become the live document that it always aspires to be.

The wild card in our industry at the moment, if you want a “next big thing” prediction, is the development in equipment and construction methods that may (or may not!) come from SpaceX founder Elon Musk and his involvement in tunneling. The stated aim of reducing the cost of tunneling by 90% could either dramatically grow or completely destroy the tunnel industry as we know it. Can they achieve this goal of a 90% reduction in cost? If it proves possible, the increased potential for viable projects is incredible – but the current cost structure that exists in our industry will become obsolete and the knock-on effects are very difficult to contemplate. Maybe I need to create a risk register for that!

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