JOC Contracting is
a Relationship Business
Carl E. DeVilbiss, PE1
Lesson Number One: Don’t Assume!
I facilitated my
first JOC Partnering session
13 years ago, I was intrigued with the prospects of
JOC as a contract vehicle.
Never once have I entered a room where everyone said
“I got what I expected.” But did everyone involved
know what was expected? The need for clear and
expressed expectations begins in the early planning
stages of any JOC program. There is a big difference
between a clearly stated, well-communicated objective
and an unexpressed expectation. All parties to a JOC
need to take the time to carefully discuss and share their
expectations of the working relationship. Ask questions
like “What exactly are we trying to achieve with this
contract?” “Should a JOC Delivery Order be the same
price as equivalent work done by lump sum bid?” “What
is the project delivery process? Is it clearly modeled and
communicated to all parties?” “Who is doing what? Are
all roles and responsibilities clearly defined and does
everyone understand them?” “What does success look
like to all of us together?”
My experience as a structural designer, subcontractor,
general contractor, construction manager, and owner’s
agent, plus my training in buying design and
construction services for the U.S. Navy as a Navy
Reserve Civil Engineer Corps officer was a perfect fit.
JOC made sense to me then. It makes sense to me now.
JOC allows you to build a long-term relationship that
expedites project development within a pre-determined
pricing process. The customer and contractor work
together to develop project scopes and then agree upon a
fair and reasonable price. From my perspective, it is a
very effective way to perform repair, renovation, and
minor construction work.
Lesson Number Two: JOC is a
Program, not a Project.
But it takes work to make it work. As one JOC
Partnering workshop grew into another, and then into
several dozen, I saw clear patterns of issues that
challenged success across all types of customers. None
of them involved primarily technical aspects of
construction. The issues that surfaced in my JOC
Partnering workshops were invariably relationshipbased. Trust was the “biggie.” One battle cry was “You
bid a low coefficient, so you’re padding your estimates
to make up for it.” Another oft-heard question was “We
have a Unit Price Book, so why do you wait for
subcontractor bids?” Then there was “The contract says
ten days for proposals, but you take longer.” Invariably
these misunderstandings were based on unclear or
unexpressed expectations, miscommunication, and/or an
inability or unwillingness to resolve conflict.
By the very nature of JOC, some Delivery Orders will be
“winners” and some will be “losers” for both the
customer and the contractor. It is very important to
recognize the need to evaluate the overall program, not
simply specific projects. The customer is buying from a
JOC contractor much more than just the direct and
indirect costs of putting a project’s work in place.
Additional services include incidental design, value
engineering, scope development and control, alternatives
evaluation, constructability review, emergency response,
and many others. It is a mistake to try to evaluate the
cost effectiveness of JOC by scrutinizing specific
projects instead of stepping back and looking at the
global relationship to see the total value of all that is
It became very apparent to me that JOC is a Relationship
Business. I’d like to share a few lessons I’ve learned that
will help any Relationship Business find the path to
Lesson Number Three: Tell the truth.
Construction is a complex challenge fraught with
unexpected conditions. In all parties’ parts, it is
President, Aegis Building Concepts, Inc., Nashville, TN. firstname.lastname@example.org, (615) 604-0929, www.aegisbc.com.
inevitable that glitches will occur that will impede
progress. Everyone wants to please others who rely upon
their performance, so there is a tendency to tell people
what they want to hear. Please recognize that any
misrepresentation about a problem leads to doubt and
suspicion about other issues. Good partners working in
productive relationships tell each other what is going on.
Be clear in expressing expectations. But when things
don’t go as expected, be courageous, communicate the
problem, and work together to deal with it to avoid the
perception of deception.
actually fear of
loss. People tend
to be driven more
by a concern for
negative consequences than by a
desire to take advantage of someone
and by staying
focused on build-ing trust through honesty, it is pos-sible
to cultivate faith in one another and in the process of
cooperation. When one party has a concern, address it
openly and have faith in the other party that you can
work together to achieve a win/win outcome. Commit
yourselves to one another and then have faith – in
yourself, in your partner, and in the process.
Lesson Number Four: Help each other.
There is a tendency in all kinds of relationships to
believe that the other party is “supposed” to know what
you need. Yet people are different and organizations are
different. What worked well with one customer or
contractor, may not work well with another. Just as with
expectations, it is most productive to take time to share
with each other what you need in order to be able to
perform your part most effectively. The most common
issue that comes to mind is a clear, mutually agreed
upon Scope of Work (SOW) for a Delivery Order. Both
the customer and contractor have certain specific needs
in order for the SOW to be clear. Take time to identify
those needs to each other so that you can work together
to get them all met.
And the Winner Is: Everyone!
Job Order Contracting is much more than construction, it
is relationship business. By entering into a JOC,
customers are looking for solutions to problems.
Generally, they are seeking to expedite project delivery,
lessen administrative overhead, and satisfy facility users
more effectively. Construction work will get done one
way or another. The beauty of JOC is that it provides a
structure within which to cultivate a long-term win/win
relationship for suitable projects. Yet as with any longterm relationship, it doesn’t happen spontaneously. All
parties can and must work together to develop and
nurture effective relationships that serve the best
interests of all. In essence, you work together to produce
the same kind of high quality outcomes in the
relationship that you strive to achieve with the technical
work of construction. A 19th century industrialist named
John Ruskin said it well:
Lesson Number Five: Deal with
Unresolved conflicts build stress and challenge trust.
Senior managers in all organizations involved in a JOC
need to make a commitment to confront and deal with all
issues or conflicts quickly. Because of the long-term
nature of the relationship and the multiple project nature
of the work, unresolved conflict has a compounding
effect. Any issue not dealt with today will affect work
tomorrow and every day thereafter until it is resolved.
What I have found to be the most productive approach is
to take time on the front end to agree upon a consensus
Conflict Resolution Process. Actually write down a stepby-step process for dealing with issues and putting them
to bed. And then use the process religiously.
“Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of
high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and
skillful execution. It represents the wise choice of many
We all have alternatives in the way we interact and
conduct our relationships. In JOC contracting, it is
prudent to choose alternatives that encourage productive,
mutually supportive relationships that result in win/win
Lesson Number Six: Have Faith!
This may sound trite to some, but it is important. Over
time, I have found that what often looks like greed is