Using IPD and Lean in building design

Consider integrated project delivery (IPD) and Lean design to provide a more streamlined engineering process and less waste.

By Sarah S. Kuchera, PE, LEED AP, Associate Principal, ccrd, Dallas March 12, 2015

Learning objectives

  • Understand the key aspects of integrated project delivery (IPD) as it relates to building construction.
  • Learn how incorporating Lean can eliminate waste in the engineering process.
  • Know how to combine IPD and Lean processes to streamline building engineering.

When we think of the best way to deliver a product, some of us might think of the UPS slogan, "We Love Logistics." But how often do you think about the logistics involved with delivering building projects more effectively? 

Many of us think about the manufacturing industry as a way to streamline production. The Toyota Production System focuses on the elimination of waste. It is not important how many cars are produced,but rather that the best car is produced.

Another place to look is in the kitchen. Chefs learn mise-en-place during training at places like the Culinary Institute of America. There, they learn to gather and arrange the ingredients to help them focus on the meal preparation. In some cases, chefs will spend 6 hours prepping for 3 hours of meal production.

When you look at the engineering industry, it seems the focus has turned away from these practices and is solely on the speed of production, not the quality of the work. Imagine if the schematic phase of the project was twice as long as the production phase. A trend is building to reorient our processes and use other industries as a guide to produce better building design and construction projects with fewer errors and less waste-and that deliver better value to the owner. Lean design and construction is a process that focuses on these areas to deliver a better product.

Lean: Is this IPD?

Often, we use the concepts of integrated project delivery (IPD) and Lean interchangeably. While they are concepts that partner well together, they are not the same. IPD is a contracting method. This sets the rules for a project. Lean, on the other hand, is a mind-set. It’s the mind-set you adopt on a project or in your daily work that focuses on the elimination of waste.

IPD is a building trend in design and construction communities. Many owners have heard about IPD and are requiring it for their projects. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has developed a multi-party agreement that can be used to contractually join together several entities, rather than the traditional owner-architect agreement. The AIA has also published a guide on IPD that can be referenced for additional information.

Lean practices can be used on a project and are even valuable as a way to better manage your personal workload. The Lean Construction Institute (LCI) has formed Communities of Practice around the country that bring together Lean practitioners to develop skills and share knowledge within their business community.

Getting started

So, where does this all begin? As most things do, it starts at the very beginning of the project. The important part of an IPD project is that all of the major stakeholders are brought on board at the onset.This means the owner, architect, engineers, and major subcontracting partners are all involved at day one. This enables everyone involved with the lifecycle of the building to have a voice. Whether a project uses a formal multi-party contract or a standard contract, the spirit of collaboration is very important insetting the rules for how all of the parties will interact.

At the heart of collaboration is trust. This is often an uncomfortable place to start as a project team because we all bring our past experiences with us and worry that something bad will happen again. That is how most designers build their library of specification modifications and details. It is a way to manage a past problem and ensure that it will not get repeated. In an IPD environment, it is important to get the voice of all the players to guide decision making so you can ensure that the reason for a decision matches the goals of the project.


The electrical engineer has laid out the electrical rooms to show all of the equipment and to verify the size of the room for the architect during its initial floor plan layout. During a meeting with the owner’s team, the electrical team finds that the adjacent room needs to grow larger, but the engineer is concerned about giving up space. The contractor suggests the use of an integrated switchgear system that could consolidate the equipment into a smaller footprint. Still, the engineer is concerned about designing for this without input from a manufacturer.

In a traditional process, identifying a single manufacturer (sole sourcing) is a practice that is discouraged. There is a fear of losing a competitive pricing opportunity with only a single manufacturer. In an IPD environment, the pricing is open to the entire team. Involving suppliers in the process allows for a design to be developed around the dimensions of that specific product.Suppliers are also a good resource in assisting to manage the budget amount and can help the team better understand the alternate options their product offers. In a traditional process, a change in manufacturer can often result in expensive modifications to constructed work and schedule delays to get equipment to fit within a space.

Work share

Another aspect of collaboration is work share. This can take on many levels of involvement, from sharing ideas to collaborative production of construction documents. Every project is different, and the team should start by identifying what each player’s strengths are and how best to apply them to the project. If you think of the Lean principle of eliminating waste, focus on the elements of the project that can be streamlined.

Extreme collaboration can involve a coordinated effort between the engineer and contractor to produce a single document that is used for permitting and construction. In a traditional process a lot of time is involved with duplicating information. An engineer will design and draw the systems and then transfer them to the contractor to redraw the entire system for fabrication. When these processes are combined,waste in the form of duplicated effort is eliminated from the process.


During construction documents, the mechanical engineer draws the ductwork for the supply air on the floor. After the documents are complete, the fabricator looks at the design drawings and finds that there would be a more efficient way to connect the diffusers in a space that would result in far fewer fittings.

In a traditional process, this occurs on most every job with different avenues for resolution. Inmost cases, a compromise is made. By using the teams’ best resources, these situations can be identified prior to completion of the design work. Including the sheet metal fabricator as a part of the team during development of the HVAC design ensures that the duct routing is efficient, meets all of the design criteria, and preps the construction team for prefabrication.


If you really want to push the boundaries of the traditional process, have the team think about co-locating for the duration of the project. Sometimes the best way to share information is in a casual conversation between team players. Sharing ideas can be reinforced when the work is produced in this environment. Setting up a "big room" (see Figure 1) is a great strategy for encouraging deep collaboration. Here you have the key stakeholders present during document production and providing constant feedback to the development of the design. We all know how hard it is to truly coordinate information even among the design team members, but in a big room setting, the focus remains on the development of the project and all key stakeholders monitor the development based on their expertise.


The architect has shown an electrical room adjacent to a stairwell and a mechanical shaft in the initial layout of the floor plan. During a work session, the electrical contractor sees the location and expresses a concern about her ability to successfully route all of the conduit in and out of the room to serve the floor. With all of the key stakeholders sitting at the table, the entire team can find a more suitable place on the floor plan that does not come with the same limitations as the original location.

Value management

One of the underlying principles with an IPD approach is to eliminate waste to drive more value into the project. With all of the key stakeholders present at the beginning of the project, complex issues can be analyzed more thoroughly to ensure the owner’s money is being spent in the best way possible.

Target value design (TVD) is a tool that many teams use to ensure that the design is tracking to the project budget. One of the greatest wastes in a traditional process is the concept of value engineering and the redesign efforts that often accompany those decisions. When a design team develops documents that exceed the project budget, teams waste a lot of time in redevelopment of the documents, the most important parts of the design are lost, and lifecycle costing decisions are sacrificed.

Because the owner is engaged early, it can assist the team in identifying a hierarchy of key factors that are important to the development of its project. When all members of the team understand these key factors as well as the budget constraints, conversation is encouraged at the project start about what type of building the owner truly expects. As the design develops, the budget is continually monitored to ensure the project is trending in the right direction. This process also allows design iterations involving multiple disciplines to be analyzed for the best value to the owner.


The owner has asked that its building be a U.S. Green Building Council LEED Silver project. The mechanical engineer has determined that a highly efficient chilled water system would be the best system design for the project and has incorporated this into the project. The drawings are completed and priced, but the project has come in over budget and the mechanical budget seems proportionally high compared to the last project.
In a traditional process, the mechanical contractor may offer up value engineering to go to a direct expansion (DX) system because it would save the project a substantial amount of money. If all of the stakeholders are not involved, the project could risk losing its ability to meet the LEED Silver requirements with a less energy-efficient system. This may also have an impact on the owner’s long-term operating costs. In an IPD approach, this chilled water system would be evaluated at the beginning of the project to ensure the system will meet the budget demands before any of the work gets drawn. If not, the team can evaluate the importance between a LEED Silver project and this particular system selection.

Putting it into practice

Like most things, we find it is easy to talk about the process, but it’s difficult to master it until you get a chance to put it into practice. Every project comes with a unique set of requirements, and new team members make this process fluid. An IPD approach enables your team to lower the risk involved with producing the documents and provides ample opportunity to interface with the trade partners to lay the groundwork for the Lean processes to carry over into the construction side.

Sarah S. Kuchera is associate principal at ccrd in Dallas. Kuchera is a project manager and electrical engineer specializing in health care projects. She has been involved with multiple integrated project delivery teams and actively applies Lean construction methods in her designs. Kuchera is involved with Lean Construction Institute (LCI) and spoke at the 2013 LCI Congress on Lean Collaboration.