August 21, 2009
  Design-Build and Integrated Project Delivery: Narrowing the Gap

by Markku Allison, AIA, and Betsy Downs, AIA, LEED-AP

Summary: Mutual trust and respect, shared risk and reward, collaboration, innovation, early involvement of key participants, early cost and schedule knowledge, elimination of waste and duplication, open communication, common goals—proponents of design-build (DB) services have long touted these as advantages of single-source contracting for design and construction services. More recently, many of these same benefits have been promoted as fundamental principles of integrated project delivery (IPD). The similarities between DB and IPD are many; and there are some important differences as well.

We can see that both DB and IPD strive for many of the same objectives. DB accomplishes this by creating one contracting entity for the client’s entire project. This entity might be an integrated firm that hires both designers and construction personnel, a construction firm that subcontracts for design services, a design firm that subcontracts for construction services, or various forms of joint ventures.

The AIA definition of IPD
According to the AIA publication, Integrated Project Deliver: A Guide, IPD is a project delivery approach that integrates people, systems, business structures, and practices into a process that collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants to:

  • Optimize project results
  • Increase value to the owner
  • Reduce waste
  • Maximize efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication, and construction.

IPD is, at its roots, a philosophy about project delivery, though the term is also used to refer to certain delivery models incorporating high degrees of collaboration. IPD may be accomplished by a variety of arrangements, including the creation of a single purpose entity (SPE), DB, and other creative teaming relationships. It is, thus, useful to think of IPD as a philosophical umbrella, under which DB can reside as well as other contractual and partnering relationships that strive for the same benefits.

An integrated project team, such as the team created by a design-build single source contract, provides an excellent structure for achieving the principles of IPD. The best DB projects achieve many (and can achieve all!) of these principles and are successful for the architect, contractor, and owner. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many DB projects. Let’s examine a few of the more common areas where DB might fall short of true IPD and see how it might come closer.

Cooperation trumps control
The ability to have (at minimum) the architect and constructor both on board at project inception is a natural advantage for a DB team. It’s important, however, that the two are considered—and behave—as equals in the relationship, regardless of which entity may be contractually “in the lead.” Making decisions by consensus of all team members will result in more informed decision making and, ultimately, a better project. The key here is sincere mutual respect and trust: a demonstrated willingness to engage the various team members actively—including the owner—throughout the process, not just at certain points. With a foundation of trust and respect, it’s an easy step for DB teams to incorporate a number of the principles of IPD:

  • Mutual respect and trust
  • Collaborative innovation and decision making
  • Early involvement of key participants
  • Early goal definition
  • Intensified planning.

Sharing of information is generally of less concern to participants in a DB relationship than in traditional relationships, since liability issues are internal to the team and ultimately governed by the single contract with the owner. The use of powerful tools such BIM and Web-based collaboration enhances information exchange. Building again on the foundation of mutual respect and trust, and recognizing that effective collaboration requires an open and consistent flow of information, DB can accomplish a different but overlapping subset of IPD principles:

  • Mutual respect and trust
  • Early goal definition
  • Intensified planning
  • Open communication
  • Appropriate technology.

Looking back at the list of IPD principles, just two have not yet been covered: Mutual benefit and reward and organization and leadership. Can DB address these? We say yes. Structuring agreements in design-build project contracts to ensure team-based sharing of project savings and to incorporate team-based performance incentives, as well as equitable team-based sharing of risk, is a beginning. Modifying contract language to support collaborative decision making vs. single stakeholder driven takes it further, especially when the owner is included in that loop—again, regardless of which team member is contractually “in the lead.”

What is necessary to accomplish this? Mutual respect and trust. This more than anything is obviously the cornerstone to success—and in practice probably the hardest to realize.

Attitudes and relationships between AEC industry stakeholders have roots steeped in animosity. Traditional design-bid-build models have exacerbated the situation, strengthening boundaries between players and degrading project outcomes. DB teams pursuing and getting work, especially through QBS procurement models, have significant opportunity to overcome these challenges. With careful attention to the details of relationships, and with true mutual respect and trust, all DB projects may deliver the benefits of IPD philosophies.

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Markku Allison, AIA, is the national AIA resource architect overseeing the development of integrated project delivery strategy In 2007, he played a leadership role in the creation of two major AIA resources: Integrated Project Delivery: A Guide and the 50to50.

Betsy Downs, AIA, LEED-AP, is a principal at OWP/P and president of OWP/P Design/Build, Inc, the firm's architect-led design-build company. She is a member of the AIA Design-Build Knowledge Community national advisory group and past president of the Design Build Institute of America Great Lakes Chapter.

This article originally appeared in AIA Master Builder, the newsletter of the AIA Design-Build Knowledge Community.