Attendee POV from Wisconsin Spring Workshop

Posted By: Sally Shumaker Education, Get Involved, Membership, News,

In all honesty, it could have simply been because I got out of my home office.

It could have been because I got to sit on a comfortable couch in a peaceful open lounge area all day, Milwaukee River in the background, sun shining through the ceiling-high windows, and no screens or backlight devices in my face.

It could have been because I got to see some colleagues I hadn't seen in a while, or because I was surrounded by good people who were there because they wanted to get better.

It could have been because I was face to face and learning from the most intelligent and jealousy-provoking trio I've met in quite some time (more on that in a bit).

It could have been that it was a well-timed break from the daily grind.

It could have been self gratitude for taking the opportunity to better myself personally and professionally, and for working through my anxiety leading up to the day and continuing to tell myself "you'll be happy you did" as I was mentally pumping myself up to spend an entire day with… people.

It could have been because of ALL of these things. 


No matter what the ingredients of the root cause, the outcome was obvious - I walked away motivated, mentally-stimulated, and hungry for more, and that energy felt amplified by others' similar responses.


The COAA Wisconsin Spring 2023 Workshop hosted at the HGA office in downtown Milwaukee was well attended with a whopping 80% of the crowd representing owners! Not only were we invited to spend the day in the most beautiful, open, and peaceful "office" space in downtown Milwaukee that I've ever been to, but we had the pleasure of meeting the dream team trio of Karen, Cory and Mark from Aurora Health Care - HGA - and CG Schmidt, respectively.


Maybe it really was the day dreamy environment with the backlighting of the sun giving our presenters a sort of angelic aura, but undeniably, their story, team, history, achievements, comradery, next-level understanding, partnership, trust, respect, and knowing what it takes to get stuff done, was something very special. I was incredibly sucked in, fan-girling, and… wanting to be a part of their marriage? It felt too good to be true! Everything about it, from their continuous innovation and strive for improved efficiency to the core mission and hard-to-forget owner-instilled cultural mantra, SPECS: Safe, patient-focused, efficient, cost-effective, sustainable. They were clearly all on the same page, and this was a team that had it figured out.


That Thursday, March 23rd became such a metaphorical spring day in my professional ecosystem, in that all sorts of exciting seeds were planted in my head for eventual germination. I was having conversations with my colleagues using terms and phrases that ignited fresh meaning, opportunity, and hope for the future in my mind: decision log, scorecard, A3's, choosing by advantage, OPR's (Owner Project Requirements), project dashboards, stoplight reports. We even giggled about how wild it felt to consider having our team take personality tests at one of our official, carefully scripted preconstruction meetings, but jokingly or not, we were talking about it for the first time --> seed planted.


My colleagues were excited too! It was as if an indirect subconscious wish was coming true when one of my agency partners who also attended told me "let us know if you ever want to try anything we learned today, we'd be on board and we're all for improving efficiency." This workshop gave us the platform to have that discussion --> steps towards improvement.


Plus, we were dished the secret recipe for the trio's success, and it wasn't what you'd expect - trust, unwavering expectations, and culture. What? Seriously? Not any of those tools we learned about that I just mentioned? Sometimes hard to wrap my engineer brain around, but when it comes down to it, project success really isn't about having the latest technology or the most organized spreadsheet, but it is all about the people and how well they are able to work together. And that isn't something that typically just happens, rather, it is a goal that is intentionally sought after and continuously improved upon. It is set, discussed, and kept at the forefront of every conversation. Karen truly demonstrated that part of why she is a "good owner" is her understanding and taking responsibility of the fact that it is on her to set that tone, make open collaboration, trust, and vulnerability a key goal for her team, hold everyone including herself accountable, and use that to steer the project ship towards its north star.


And perhaps my favorite mantra of the trio that evoked the ultimate "I want that" feeling was their commitment to "Finish as Friends". What an awesome, ego-checking environment that establishes, that they continuously recommit to throughout the life of a project, through the ups and downs… What a rewarding relationship that could be, and with that trust and commitment, the audience was clearly able to see the amazing things that can be accomplished.

When it comes down to it, isn't that what ultimately ballasts a majority of us in this industry, day in and day out, through the hard times, challenging projects, and bumps that feel like failure… is that inspiration? That knowing that we can be a part of something bigger than ourselves, something greater than ourselves?

I literally wrote it down during the morning session when I was absorbing every ounce of Cory's clear passion and excitement for how well his team performs, "This is the thing that is bigger than you that you are a part of." It was as if I had lost that passion, wonder, and excitement about the work I was doing because I was getting too bogged down and truthfully just drained by the challenging people. But listening to the dynamic trio speak, share, and teach with such passion and energy, reignited my flame and gave me the boost I needed to get back on track and refocus my perspective back to the big picture. I needed that more than I knew at the time, and going into the day, I had no expectation whatsoever, but it ended up being everything I needed and more.


Thank you COAA and COAA-WI for helping a fellow professional get out of her head and back on track. Thanks for being my network of support throughout my career. Thank you for building me back up and showing me how things could be. Thank you for reminding me of the bigger thing that I am a part of. I am thankful to feel this excitement once again.

Sally Shumaker, PE is a project manager and civil engineer with the Division of Facilities Development with the State of Wisconsin. She's an active member of the COAA Wisconsin Chapter.