A Glimpse into PSMJ’s AEC Issue Briefing on Integrated Project Delivery

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction to my new publication, PSMJ’s AEC Issue Brief: Integrated Project Delivery, which you can only find exclusively here at AEC Insight (or in the book, if you buy it!). It is the publisher’s March “Book of the Month.”

Introduction: Why You Should Care About IPD

When I first started writing about design and construction in 1993, a new concept in project delivery gripped the industry’s attention. Its passionate supporters presented it as the next big thing, an innovation that every large and mid-sized project would someday incorporate into the delivery process.

We saw the future of project delivery and its name was partnering.

I remember thinking that the idea of bringing together all key participants in a major project at the very beginning sounded good. In theory, it would allow everyone on the project team to understand the expectations and ideas of the others, while opening communication lines and creating personal relationships.

At the same time, I wondered if partnering would ever gain widespread acceptance in an industry where time and money are of such critical importance and at such a premium. How could architects, engineers, contractors and owners— people with barely enough time to return a phone call, with schedules booked solid for weeks and months ahead— drop everything for several days to live in huts and sing “Kumbaya” around a campfire (which is how partnering’s many skeptics often described these events)?

Seventeen years later, partnering hasn’t exactly taken the construction world by storm. Do a Google search on “partnering on construction projects”; you’ll find that most of the books and articles on partnering came out a decade ago or more (or that the word is used in an entirely different context). Few people in the industry, and almost no one in small and midsized firms, have ever participated in a partnering session as we then knew it.

It is true that some clients and projects still practice partnering in various forms and to varying degrees. It is even possibly an ancestor to other collaborative planning techniques, including Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), the subject of this publication. But partnering in 2010 is no more a staple of the design and construction industry than TQM (total quality management) or BPR (business process reengineering), two other ideas that sounded good in theory.

It’s fair to say that partnering didn’t live up to the hype.

The hype is now buzzing relentlessly around IPD. It is the increasingly frequent subject of seminars and webinars, conferences and workshops, articles and books, organizations and associations. If you’re not talking about, learning about or thinking about IPD, you’re living in a figurative cave.

“IPD is hot! IPD is now! IPD is the project delivery method of the future, so you better get on board now or the train will leave without you.”

Just wait until architects, engineers, owners and contractors actually start using it on real projects.

You see, despite the incredible “hotness” of IPD, relatively few projects in the U.S. have actually used this delivery method. And, depending on how you define IPD (more on that later), the “few” may be even fewer.

So while IPD is currently the toast of the industry, it is a distant, mysterious concept to the vast majority of professionals working in the estimated one and a quarter million AEC companies in the United States. Some AEC firms may even be working in IPD arrangements, at least as some define the term, and not even know it.

This begs the question, why write this treatise on IPD if it is possibly just another fad? Why should you, the reader, waste time learning about something that could wind up being this generation’s version of partnering?

First, it’s important to remember that not everything about partnering went the way of the Discman, Spuds McKenzie and other 90s fads. Many people credit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) with originating partnering as we came to know it. And while the terminology has changed— the Corps now seems to prefer the term “Collaborative Planning”— remnants of partnering live on in some large USACE projects. They’re not alone on this, either.

Collaborative planning is a good term that strikes at the essence of both partnering and IPD, without the “touchy-feely” baggage that grew to accompany the former. In 2010, collaborative planning among project team members survives in a number of forms, including as a basis for some of IPD’s principles (e.g., collaborative innovation, mutual respect and trust, open communication).

So even if IPD eventually goes down the same path as partnering, some of its better elements may survive to help create the next industry trend.

More importantly, IPD is not partnering.

Partnering and IPD both grew out of the commonsense concept that projects benefit from the people involved cooperatively considering the process and the product before creating too much of either. Both are the backlash of an industry that has unintentionally built distrust, inefficiency, and finger-pointing into the system.

A major difference between the two is that partnering addresses mainly the “softer” side of the problem, where IPD can affect many of the harder elements of a project, such as the contractual terms.

The 65-page briefing delves into several aspects of IPD, including how it is defined, how IPD projects work, the history of IPD, some sample IPD projects, and the outlook for IPD.

As I wrote at the end of the intro, “The overriding charge of this PSMJ AEC Issue Brief is to offer an entirely unbiased, agenda-free perspective on IPD and the role it plays— and is likely to play— across the wide AEC industry.” I believe the document lives up to that mission and hope the readers agree.

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