Reinforcing the engineer’s role in the IPD method

Integrated project delivery (IPD) requires a team approach and buy-in from all players, including the architect, engineer, contractor, and owner. The consulting engineer plays a significant role in the IPD process.
By Robert J. Garra Jr., PE October 17, 2018

Learning objectives

  • Understand the definition of integrated project delivery (IPD).
  • Learn about the role of the engineer in the process.
  • Learn how to successfully implement IPD in a project.

As more owners consider alternatives to traditional delivery methods, integrated project delivery (IPD) has emerged as an important option. IPD is a relatively new method, but it is becoming increasingly popular. Many projects are “IPD-ish,” where certain components of the process are implemented using traditional delivery methods. IPD with multiparty agreements also have been experienced, where the true value and incentives of the process are realized.

IPD is a process through which people, systems, business structures, and practices are joined together to optimize project results, increase efficiencies, reduce waste, and gain insights from all parties involved in the design, fabrication, and construction phases. The American Institute of Architects has developed a guide for how to implement the IPD method. The basic idea is to identify who or which team is best able to complete the task at hand, even if it means stepping outside traditional roles. Inherently, the process is built on continuous improvement and staying focused on achieving the project objectives outlined at the onset of the project.

Among the most important components of implementing IPD are the roles and behaviors of those involved on the team. There is a fundamental shift in mindset that needs to occur from all project team members. Instead of focusing solely on their siloed issues, they must focus on what is best for the project (see Figure 1). This means the entire team must be committed to engaging in the behaviors described below:

  • Collaboration. Change in mindset from individual contracts to a collective project.
  • Trust. Demonstrate reliability to build trust between all parties.
  • Commitment-based management. Focus on system and project performance, not just siloed performance.
  • Continuous improvement. Learn rapidly from outcomes that do not go as planned.

There typically are five phases in the IPD process, and the engineers are key players in each. The following are specific experiences that an engineer can expect to undergo during the IPD process. The phases, noted below, are subtly represented in these experiences:

  • Establishing goals and metrics.
  • Understanding elements of the design.
  • Taking time to refine.
  • Documenting the process.
  • Execution.

The team also needs to balance doing the right thing and doing it right. The IPD process is outcome-driven, consensus-based, multidisciplinary, and depends on shared accountability. To keep the project progressing forward in the manner described thus far, there are three groups that comprise the IPD management structure and help determine its success. Each partner is responsible for meeting the agreed-upon cost for the contract, with financial rewards based on total project results, not individual group results (see Figure 2).

  • The project management team (PMT) will act in a collaborative manner to provide management-level leadership during the design and construction process in a concerted effort to achieve the project’s objective. The PMT is responsible for managing the budget, schedule, and all administrative aspects of the project. The PMT, at a minimum, should include representatives from the owner, architect, engineer, and construction manager.
  • The senior management team (SMT) is tasked with resolving any matters referred to it by the PMT. The SMT is comprised of executive-level representatives from each party that signs the agreement.
  • Project-implementation teams (PITs) lead the execution of the work, spearhead innovation, and aim to drive waste out of the process. PITs include representatives from all members of the team. Common PITs include site, structure, interior, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and low-voltage.

It is crucial to have engineers as a part of each group, with at least one engineer per group, to ensure consistent communication is established early. Engineers will take on a leadership role to help define expected outcomes and establish success.

Role of the engineer in the process

Early integration of all parties is a key element to the success of the overall project. The timing of integration aids in building trust between all parties. The earlier the full team begins to work together, the sooner designs can be optimized. This starts with site development and initial blocking of the plans. It is during this time when the architects and engineers should work closely together to ensure that the design does not cause unnecessary workarounds at a later point, as the design is still malleable. This early integration allows for more accurate sizing of components and gives trade partners the opportunity to help optimize systems from the beginning.

Engineers can help ensure communication and collaboration occur throughout the process by allowing multiple “owners” of building models, establishing robust BIM protocols, providing shared access to central servers, and consistently relaying to fabrication drawings. The engineering team should lead discussions that determine what items actually need to be drawn by the architecture/engineering teams versus what can skip straight to fabrication drawings with consulting-engineering oversight. Early in the process, the team should define who draws what, where to find future information, and which submittals and shop drawings need to be formally submitted-this may require a balance between what the owner is accustomed to receiving at the end of a project versus what is needed for construction.

Engineers should actively participate in the authoring of a BIM-execution plan by working closely with the architects, construction management team, and trade partners to determine the level of detail needed. It is important to ascertain what needs to be modeled to forecast future construction issues and determine who will be issuing drawings, if required. Going back to the concept of the right person for job, it is important that engineers and trade partners work together to determine not only who should model what within the building model, but also to develop unique solutions that can ultimately save the project time and money.

As the design phase progresses, the engineers will lead their respective PITs by defining system-design concepts. This includes offering options for review with the trade partners, who will then provide their input for constructibility, schedule impact, and cost. Engineers must listen and be open to all suggestions from the trade partners, as their field experience is immeasurable and enhances the engineer’s design. This step is the most important element, which encourages collaboration among the partners and ensures buy-in as the project advances. This collaboration leads to an open, trusting, and respectful relationship among all members of the PITs, and as a result, conversations arise that lead to nontraditional ways of thinking and innovative design and construction ideas.

Engineers must own the design under their professional license responsibilities. They lead code analysis, meeting with local and state authorities and ultimately stamping documents for permit submissions. Engineers should lead the collaboration between the architects and trade partners and champion the design intent while maintaining a practical and cost-conscious application. The trade partners offer system products and equipment from their relationships with local vendors/suppliers. This effort is done in parallel with tracking the cost model to select equipment that maximizes value and will meet the long-term performance needs of the project, allowing for the engineer to accurately advance the design using specific manufacturers’ equipment information. This accelerates the shop-drawing phase. Equipment-substitution evaluations also are undertaken earlier in the project, integrated into the design model, and coordinated with other trades. This provides an opportunity to work closely with the equipment fabricators to detail and finalize the equipment selections so that there is one comprehensive final submittal.

As the process moves from design into construction, the construction manager and trade partners lead their respective PITs. The engineers fill a support role on teams, but their involvement does not decrease. The traditional construction request-for-information process as the only means of communication between the engineer and contractor is set aside. The team partners are free to directly communicate by phone, email, or site visits under the IPD structure. This open, trusting, and respectful relationship ensures a timely flow of information and adherence to the cost model.

At its base, the IPD process aims to drive out waste and provide more value for the owner. At times, team members may step out of their traditional roles through earlier project involvement, involvement in PIT teams outside of their domain, and/or participating in and owning nontraditional aspects of the design phase. The breaking down of these barriers, however, and the integration of engineers, architects, and trade partners on all aspects of the team ultimately allow for a more efficient and cost-effective solution for the owner. For project teams who have worked on full IPD contract projects, the tenets only make sense-optimize project results, increase efficiencies, reduce waste, and gain insights from all parties. While full multiparty-agreement IPD contracts are not yet the common form of project delivery, the system is quickly gaining traction, with success metrics far outweighing the alternatives to deliver a quality, optimized project in the terms that all project teams desire-on time and under budget.

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Robert J. Garra Jr., PE
Author Bio: Robert J. Garra Jr. is a member of CannonDesign‘s engineering leadership team, serves as the office engineering leader for the Buffalo, N.Y., and Denver offices, and serves on the project management team for the Bayhealth Health Campus Project. He is a member of the Consulting-Specifying Engineering editorial advisory board and was a 40 Under 40 award winner.