Ernie Tromposch: Enjoying the Best of Both Worlds

We asked Ernie Tromposch, Chair of our IRC Management Advisory Committee, what it was like, five years ago, to jump into the realm of academic research and fuzzy logic.

11 July 2014

This piece originally appeared in IRC KeyNotes Issue 1 in April 2012. To view the full issue, download the PDF or view on ISSUU.

We asked Ernie Tromposch, Chair of our IRC Management Advisory Committee, what it was like, five years ago, to jump into the realm of academic research and fuzzy logic.

Ernie appreciates life at high altitudes. He flew search and rescue for 23 years and still disappears into the clouds in one of his three planes each summer, headed for fishing, beautiful scenery, and interesting characters in the Yukon. A long-time director and past-president of the Construction Owners Association of Alberta (COAA), Ernie was in pursuit of academic research for the COAA's Best Practices Committee just at the time Dr. Simaan AbouRizk and Dr. Aminah Robinson Fayek approached the COAA to partner with the Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in Construction Engineering Management at the University of Alberta. Ernie volunteered to liaise with the IRC and headed off with Dr. Robinson Fayek on a flight of an altogether different sort.

Since that day, Ernie has participated in a number of projects between the COAA and the IRC that provided immediate benefits to the industrial construction industry - an industry performance benchmarking study, studies to reduce field rework and workforce absenteeism, and a study to improve supervisory training, plus the development of tools to support improved practices in these areas.

Ernie modestly describes himself as "just a guy who hangs out, takes away more than he brings, and feels privileged to be on the inside of academics, able to observe a different world." Nonetheless, he often speaks publicly for the IRC, and he co-authored a chapter for the book Clients Driving Innovation with Drs. Aminah Robinson Fayek and Jeff Rankin, entitled "Client Driven Performance Improvement Strategies for the Construction Industry: Development and Implementation Challenges."

A keen observer of two worlds - industry and academia - Ernie has noticed that the "good ones" dwelling in each share similar characteristics. They are open to people, make excellent listeners, embrace new ideas, and possess good humour. "Experts," Ernie says, "don't underestimate the knowledge that comes from people doing the work. They'll tell you what they know, but ask as many questions in return."

Ernie thinks Dr. Robinson Fayek's current IRC in Strategic Construction Modeling and Delivery will produce a much needed shift toward accepting change and development in industry practices, rather than merely following the rule-of-thumb, which is the way industry tends to do things now. "Throughout the world at the executive level," Ernie says, "often the complexity of mega-projects is not fully appreciated." These days, many still think changing the foundations of a multi-billion dollar project - by enlarging the scope, or by shortening timelines, midway through the project - is easy, just because it's big.

"Not so," Ernie says, "even little things can have a huge impact on the outcomes of a large project." He thinks Dr. Robinson Fayek's work identifying and analyzing the impact of different factors on project outcomes should prevent the kinds of construction disasters that have occurred in the past. He says, with the help of Dr. Robinson Fayek's research, "in five years, the Canadian construction sector will be able to work a bit smarter, not just harder." Meanwhile, flying high above the clouds, Ernie is, simply, enjoying the view.