What is integrated project delivery?

ALL CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS FOLLOW THE SAME BASIC FORMULA. And that’s the problem, according to the MacLeamy Curve, a concept developed by renowned architect Patrick MacLeamy. In a traditional design, bid, build process, the further along you are along in the construction process the higher the cost of a design change. Although owners set the tone for the project early on, their input usually isn’t called upon again until the project is next to being finished — which is generally too late, leading to delays, waste and increased delivery costs. The integrated project delivery (IPD) method brings key stakeholders into the process early on to maximize the projects outcome at each step of the way, from start to finish.

BIM as a building process

If integrated project delivery (IPD) sounds familiar, it’s because its roots are in building information modeling — providing architecture, engineering construction professionals with the insights and tools they need to design more efficiently, plan and construct. Like BIM the software, the IPD process is designed to utilize the knowledge of all stakeholders to increase certainty. Until recently, IPD was considered an “alternative” project delivery to the traditional design, bid, build process. However, as more owners are looking to tighten schedules, decrease budgets and increase efficiency, it’s gone mainstream.

A new ‘mindset’

For mechanical contractors, the first step to successfully bidding an IPD project is to understand that IPD is more than a process: it’s a “mindset,” says Matt Cramer, president of Dee Cramer, Inc., a heating, cooling and sheet metal contractor headquartered in Holly, Michigan.

For the $60 million development of the Edward J. Minskoff Pavillion at Michigan State University, Cramer served as HVAC contractor and was one of six subcontracted stakeholders in the integrated project delivery process. The 95,000 square-foot building, created for the university’s Eli Broad School of Business, underscores how collaboration in construction yields the best result.

“From an HVAC contractor standpoint, it is essentially a design assist project, but it’s a different mindset,” says Cramer. “There was a base design that we started with, and then we basically started the design assist process from that point on.”

FTC&H (Fishbeck Thompson Carr & Huber) served as lead architect on the development and partnered with LMN Architects of Seattle to develop the university’s desire for an “iconic” design. The university then hired Clark Construction to manage a team of trusted subcontractors that could deliver the project on time and at cost. That team included Glazing Solutions Inc (for glass), John E. Green Company (for plumbing), and BCI (for risk management), Douglas Steel (for structural steel), Superior Electric (for electric) and, of course, Dee Cramer (HVAC). 

A mix of flex, rectangular and spiral duct can be found in the building’s energy room and throughout its ceilings. Cramer used its Engel coil line, plasma tables from Vicon Machinery and a spiral duct machine from Lockformer in the process. REVIT, Autodesk Fabrication, CADmep and CAMduct software were all used in the duct design process. “This was actually the first job that Dee Cramer drew sheet metal in REVIT,” says Cramer. “We did that just from an exchange standpoint with other partners. Normally we draw in a REVIT-based product, but it’s a sheet metal-specific product that we can download to our fabrication equipment.”

A learning opportunity

Because the integrated project delivery method involves key stakeholders at every step of the process, contractors can help prevent conflicts in design. For owners, it is an opportunity to ensure design still meets function. For Michigan State University, that function is education.

“When this thing started, I was really excited by the prospect of the IPD process in that it allowed me and the college to sit at the table as the program was developed and the building was designed,” says John Wagner, professor at the MSU School of Business and owner’s rep for the project. “It helped ensure that the college was getting the building that it wants.”

Beyond the university’s agreement on making an iconic design, it was important that the building served the needs of modern teaching methods, Wagner explains.

“For example, I don’t think anyone at the table had any experience teaching and as a consequence didn’t understand how classrooms work and how different classrooms line up to different approaches to teaching,” he says. “And I was really happy to be able to bring that information to the table. In the building now are four different types of classrooms, and each type of classroom aligns with a different type of teaching in the School of Business.”

Beyond the classroom, IPD also served as a learning opportunity for contractors outside of the risk pool to be more collaborative, says Cramer.

“Working on the job, we are looking out for other people,” he explains. “Where as in most design, bid, build projects, it’s kind of every man for himself.”

Profit is tied to meeting certain metrics in IPD contracts. What made Michigan State University’s project unique is that the university wanted to spend exactly $60 million on the project. Any areas where the development saved money were reinvested back into the building to benefit students. “So that was pretty challenging for us,” Cramer says. “I think we re-estimated maybe four or five times through all of the different design processes, which isn’t your normal PD, SD, DD, CD schematics. The idea is that we are all kind of pulling on the same end of the rope and we’ve got some skin in the game.”

Building partnerships

In June, the construction of the Edward J. Minskoff Pavillion at Michigan State University was delivered ahead of schedule and under budget. Cramer credits the integrated project delivery process for making it happen. “There is no way this job would have been delivered (in June), I don’t think, if we didn’t have the contracts and the team set up the way we did,” he says.

After finding unforeseen amounts of asbestos in a renovated building, the project was met with a two-month delay. But a collaborative environment quickly made up for lost time.

“We are always looking to make up for that time,” says Nick Henne, project manager for Clark Construction. “It’s being in that collaborative environment where even non-risk pool partners at the table understood that if they are not efficient out there, this job is not going to be successful.”

The project began with a less than $1.4 million in a contingency fund used to protect profits from unforeseen circumstances. The asbestos renovation used about $400,000. “So it was one of those jobs where we were already strapped for money, and, with a two month delay right from the get go, for time,” says Henne. Despite everything, the job finished with less than 60 RFIs.

In the end, the project was a learning opportunity for all stakeholders involved.

“With working with the School of Business, we thought that this would be a great opportunity because it is going to take some hard work from our internal client to support the process,” explains Tony Rhodes, a construction project manager for Michigan State University. “We are always trying to build relationships with our partners; we don’t think of them as tradesmen so much as partners. But this was the perfect opportunity to have somebody there to support us, govern us, with the mission of IPD.”

He adds, “By doing it we’ve seen the value. We have seen the value of building partnerships with other trades grow with this process. And that’s the whole idea of what the business college is trying to do.” The hope is that the construction industry will follow suit. 

This story originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of SNIPS magazine.