IPD: What’s in it for the engineer?

Integrated project delivery (IPD) requires a team approach and buy-in from all players, including the architect, engineer, and contractor.


This article has been peer-reviewed.Learning objectives

  • Understand the steps of the integrated project delivery (IPD) process.
  • Learn about best practices for implementing IPD on a building project.
  • Understand the concepts of Lean construction.

The motivation behind the integrated project delivery (IPD) model is to align the interests of the owner, architect, engineer, and contractor to encourage the collaborative setting of priorities and provide a vehicle for organizational integration. The ultimate goal is to create high-performance buildings that meet the owner’s needs while working within the constraints of time and cost.

Engaging the entire team early facilitates a common understanding of project goals. The contractors are invested in the design from the outset, and the design team develops a respect for the budget. Committed to collaboration, the project will see fewer requests for information (RFIs) and change orders should be limited to those related to program changes. Schedule and budget are therefore controlled.

For the engineer, this can mean a more effective construction administration process, since engineering and coordination issues have been worked out with the subcontractors early in the process and time can be spent delivering greater value. This allows the engineers to focus on engineering as opposed to coordination and constructability issues, leading to a cleaner handover to those who will operate and work within the building.

IPD is first and foremost a project delivery method based on a contract in which the three major stakeholders—the owner, the designers, and the contractors—are bound together and committed to sharing the risks and rewards of positive and negative outcomes for the project as a whole. The central idea is that the owner is hiring a team to help solve their problem, and is committed to working as part of the team to determine which solutions will provide the greatest value.

Figure 1: Integrated project delivery relies on trust and collaboration between the owner, architect, engineers, and contractors. Courtesy: ArupSystems integration

The goal is to deliver a building that meets the owner’s needs. That requires building systems that are highly integrated. Process integration is a leading method to achieve systems integration. It can happen only by putting together an integrated organization. Facility operators and contractors must work alongside designers and with the owner from the outset. Information must be information must be combined and shared for a project team to operate in an integrated way.

The enablers of integration are simulation and visualization, such as what BIM tools provide, to predict which alternatives will deliver the best performance in light of the owner’s objectives. The owner’s objectives or targets must be measurable and are best expressed as metrics. The project team and processes can achieve breakthrough outcomes by working in multidisciplinary, cross-functional teams to develop solutions at the same time and pace under the direction of strong and decisive leadership. This way of working promotes and requires rapid feedback, which happens best when teams are co-located or come together to work shoulder-to-shoulder.

Deep collaboration emerges as people learn to trust each other by working as partners committed to achieving what is best for the project as a whole, rather than focusing exclusively on problems within their discipline or scope. In the end, the real value comes in producing exactly the physical product the owner needs safely, flawlessly, within their budget, and on time.

This requires Lean production management, which is true IPD. That said, many IPD project teams currently are only able to employ some, but not all, of these principles.

Where does IPD fit with Lean and Lean construction? IPD is a project delivery method, distinct from yet synergistic with Lean construction principles and methods. Lean is a completely different production system than traditional manufacturing and craft production. Outside of the construction industry, almost all consumer products and large made-to-order products such as airplanes and ships are manufactured using Lean production methods. Lean principles are also being applied to the delivery of services such as health care.

The goal of Lean is to change the way work is done to eliminate anything that does not contribute to value as defined by the customer. Lean production creates a flow for the transformation of information, services, and/or materials into a form most useful for the customer, whether that customer is an individual, group, or organization. The essential mechanism of Lean is “pull,” which is defined as providing something on the demand of the next customer to meet the needs of the end customer.

Lean requires a long-term concern for how various elements fit together to form a whole product, also known as systems thinking. It is not a cost-cutting or productivity improvement program. Lean thinking, methods, processes, and behaviors are learned. Once learned, they must be applied consistently and with discipline. There are two fundamental principles of Lean: respect for people and continuous improvement. Learning from experience is the basis of continuous improvement. The Lean view is that mistakes and failures are opportunities for learning, not causes of punishment.

Gregory Howell and Glenn Ballard, often considered the thought leaders of Lean construction, have long advocated that owners, architects, and contractors shift their focus from command and control management—focused on making each task more efficient—to engaging foremen and design leads, the “last planners” in planning work and identifying roadblocks. For some individuals and companies, this was a new vocabulary describing how they already worked. For most, however, it flew in the face of top-down planning management focused on making each step efficient in and of itself. Howell and Ballard’s advice to think in terms of system throughput, hand-offs, and eliminating variability didn’t make sense when they proposed it in the early 1990s.

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