The IPD Process: What the Heck is It?

FOX Architects recently completed a project with Balfour Beatty Construction for their new offices in Fairfax, Virg., by way of the IPD process. What is IPD you ask? How does it benefit the project in the long run? I had those very same questions and went straight to the sources, Nicole Antil- Sr. Project Designer and Genelle McDonald- Chief Estimator for Balfour Beatty Construction. Read on and find out what they had to say about IPD.

What is IPD and what is the main purpose of this process?

Nicole & Genelle: IPD stands for Integrated Project Delivery. It’s a new process by which to complete a project. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) defines IPD as “a project delivery method distinguished by a contractual agreement between a minimum of the owner, design professional and builder where risk and reward are shared and stakeholder success is dependent on project success.”

The purpose is to reduce waste and increase efficiency by eliminating redundancy and benefitting from early team input, all for the ultimate betterment of the project.   The success of the process is dependent upon the trust and collaboration among the team.   At the same time, you have to trust that each team member is the expert in their particular field and that they are looking out for the best interest of the project.

True IPD requires all participants to step outside of the boundaries of traditional roles into a more interactive and collaborative process. Some of the benefits to IPD delivery are:

  • More dependable flow of information between parties
  • Open sharing of project goals, risks and rewards
  • Important contributions by subs that are typically not engaged in the decision making process
  • Access to latest technologies through specialty contractor and vendor involvement
  • Cost certainty for all team members; transparency allows the IPD team to return savings along the way
  • Overlapping design and construction phases allows work to proceed sooner
  • Ability to use lean construction principles to improve the project schedule, cost and quality

Have you explored the IPD process with other projects?

Genelle: Balfour Beatty’s commitment to IPD is demonstrated by our use of this delivery method for over 2.2 million square feet of projects nationwide. We divide these projects into 2 categories: true IPD, and “IPD-lite”, in which some components of the traditional IPD process are used. The majority of these projects are hospitals, in which the IPD process is used to facilitate prefabricating and pre-assembling repetitive systems such as headwalls, bathrooms, doors and piping – resulting in projects built faster, with less manpower, and with increased quality.

Nicole: We continue to look for opportunities that are a good fit for this process. The process is not appropriate for every project and it is certainly not appropriate for every client. Having gone through it now, I think we have a better understanding of which projects or clients would be a good fit, and can approach them with the idea.

Why did you decide to take this approach for your project?

Genelle: As the project owner, we had the freedom to select the delivery method we wanted to use. Balfour Beatty’s business philosophy and construction practices are closely aligned with the IPD process, and this project provided an ideal opportunity for us to use this project as learning lab to deepen our knowledge of IPD, and to collect honest feedback and results to support out national focus on integration.
Nicole: Well, we were lucky enough to be chosen by BBC! At the onset of the project, BBC interviewed several firms, looking for a firm that would be open to a new and unfamiliar approach. Bob, being the visionary that he is, of course jumped all over the opportunity. We wanted to try something new, to see if there was a better way of doing what we do and how we interact with other disciplines.

BBC- Photo 1

Is the IPD process more or less beneficial for a larger scale base building project vs a smaller scale interior renovation? Why?

Genelle: The benefits offered by the IPD process include cost efficiency; the ability to streamline the production of design documents; and the ability to create early release trade packages and improve the project schedule. While these benefits can certainly be achieved on a small-scale project, the benefits increase exponentially on larger and more complex projects.

Nicole: There are certain aspects of the process that I found to be beneficial on a smaller scale project such as this one (26,000 sf). For instance, openly sharing the Revit model back and forth and having working meetings with the various disciplines present helped streamline the process. There are other aspects though, that I think lend themselves better to larger scale, more complex projects or repeated projects—i.e., an ICU room for a hospital. If you have to build 10 ICU rooms, the time spent up-front is worth it because the pay-off is 10-fold. On a small one-off project, that time spent up front may end up negating the pay-off. You really have to find the right project together with the right team.

When you start your next project, what would you do differently to make the IPD process more of a seamless process?

Genelle: Many of the lessons learned by Balfour Beatty stemmed from our participation as the owner. Our migration from closed offices to an open floor plan required a significant cultural shift, and we learned some valuable lessons about early and frequent communication of the project vision and progress, as well as gaining buy-in from employees.

Our lessons learned about the IPD process include:

  • Finalize the IPD contract early in the project. This helps establish guidelines for performance and behavior.
  • Executing a job via an integrated approach can be a new experience for some team members. It is difficult to get to all of the stakeholders and partners to abandon their comfort zones, behave differently, develop new ideas, and stay productive at the same time. Working through that process will result in some team members dragging others into this mindset, and those learning curves can put more pressure on the delivery process.
  • Shared project experience does not ensure shared expectations. If team members don’t take the time to get to know each other, you will not create a true integrated team. You have to build as a group before you can move forward. If you set the expectations up front incorrectly, it will set everyone else up for frustration down the road.
  • IPD requires continual participation as opposed to the “provide input and wait” mentality of traditional project delivery.
  • All team members need to understand the project value of team decisions and commit to those decisions. IPD provides a perfect opportunity to use innovative approaches, but successful implementation is dependent on establishing team expectations and agreeing on the project value of the decisions made.
  • Encourage open, horizontal communication, and make sure key decision makers are  included in the IPD circle. All participants must understand that they are expected to be part of the solution not the problem.

Nicole: There is no such thing as starting too early as far as planning goes. I would ensure that each and every member involved on the team understands the purpose and goals of the process and how it may be different from the way they are used to doing things. While IPD fosters team work and shared responsibility, it is important to define clear expectations of roles and communication.

After the completion of this process, have you noticed a change in the way you now work on current projects?

Genelle: The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”, but for two different reasons.

First, the experiences we had during the Bridgewater project enabled us to refine the procedures, attitudes and technologies required to produce a successful IPD project, including:

  • Protocols for creating, sharing and updating the digital building models.
  • Executive, management and operating structure to support integrated project delivery. Perhaps more importantly, we understand the need to constantly remind all participants that we are doing activities in ways that are new and different for most of them, so that we truly do collaborate.
  • Involving all stakeholders and allowing them to bring innovative ideas to the table.

Second, the migration from closed offices in the previous location to open workstations in our new corporate headquarters will enable employees to learn about IPD through working collaboratively every day. We are learning that when team members work alongside each other, people tend to stay informed by osmosis. As a result, our internal communication and decision-making processes will improve.

Nicole: Actually, I’ve noticed that the way we already work day-to-day has characteristics of the IPD process. I find that the engineers, and particularly the GC’s, we typically work with are all like-minded in their approach to work together as a team to find solutions to improve the project. The biggest difference is that today, through the traditional method, we don’t share in the reward (or risk) of those decisions. For instance, if we come up with a new, innovative way to detail a material transition that saves installation time and money, we don’t share in the reward. Similarly, if we come up with an ineffective way of detailing that material transition, that costs either time or money, we don’t share in that either.


Nicole Antil. LEED AP, IIDA is a Sr. Project Designer at FOX Architects. She has 7 years experience in the interior architecture field as well as an award-winning track record. Nicole can be contacted at nantil@fox-architects.com.

Genelle McDonald, LEED AP BD+C is the Chief Estimator for Balfour Beatty Construction. To find out more about Balfour Beatty Construction, you can contact Genelle at gmcdonald@balfourbeattyus.com

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