When the AEC industry is compared to others, it is clear that we are behind on major advancements and safety protocols. Over 70 percent of projects within the AEC industry are over budget or delivered behind schedule, or both. There are over 800 deaths each year on construction projects. Each industry, except farming and construction, has improved efficiencies in the past 60 years.

So how do we fix these issues that continuously occur on projects across the country? After spending the last 18+ months on the Penn Medicine project in Philadelphia, a billion-dollar integrated project delivery (IPD) method job, I’ve been fully immersed in an IPD atmosphere. From formal training opportunities on lean/IPD tools and processes and numerous trial-by-fire experiences, I’ve taken part in each aspect of a true IPD project. Throughout my experiences, I’ve noticed three common core concepts that have lead to the success of IPD projects and have begun to reverse those astounding industry statistics.

1. People
Have the right people on your project. This includes all designers, contractors, and even the owner. Taking advantage of the collective wisdom of each trade and role on the project adds value to the final product. Each team member needs to have a willingness to change and improve processes. All too often, phrases like “we’ve always done it that way” are used as excuses to remain stagnant. Bring on best practices and lessons learned, but make sure they fit the project and align with goals.

Finally, the mindset towards collaboration and cooperation efforts needs to be set for each member early on. When asked, everyone should know the goals of the project and each task involved. Communication is huge for making any project a success. If possible, have employees co-located in the same space – this allows team members to see each other as humans, rather than a name behind an email or a voice on a conference call.

2. Trust
Having trust across the board is more than having contract language to fall back on. I define trust as believing that all partners will look out for each other’s best interest and working together to achieve an overarching goal. For example, on another Southland IPD project, the structural engineer and steel fabricator started talking early on about how the chillers were going to be rigged into the penthouse of the building. They came up with a workflow to leave out a couple framing members during erection to allow Southland to rig in the chillers early in a very safe and simple way. The steel erector had to adjust their normal workflow to allow Southland to lift the equipment, but ultimately the project benefited. Because all the team members worked together and trusted each other, the project saved time, money, and reduced the risk of injury.

3. Process
Providing educational resources on the tools and processes of IPD and lean projects are crucial for all team members. Oftentimes, when schedules and budgets get tight, team members begin to fall back on old habits. Doing so leads to selfish mindsets and a lack of trust, which essentially breaks the first two concepts that lead to successful projects. It’s important to continuously utilize the processes and tools set in place to ensure that decisions are being documented and fully vetted.

A few tools that we’ve used on the Penn Medicine project include A3 documentation, target value design, and the last planner system. Each of these have allowed us to make timely decisions with everyone involved – especially the owner.

Trust between individuals makes the process work. In my short career as a design engineer in the construction industry, I can already see the impact I am making on this IPD project. When I accepted the opportunity to be a part of the Penn Medicine job, I brought along my willingness to learn and my desire to see the construction industry not change for the sake of change, but to change and improve.

I believe that this new way of having the right people, instilling trust among those people, and offering education on proper tools and processes, provides the end user with the best possible environment for healing and research, regardless of constraints. Whether it be site context, safety, natural resources, capital availability, etc. integrated project delivery optimizes the whole process and makes possible what once seemed impossible.



  • Erin Miller

    Design Engineer

    As a design engineer for Southland’s Mid-Atlantic Division, Erin Miller is responsible for generating innovative solutions for building HVAC systems. She has experience with a variety of market sectors, including healthcare, commercial, and mission critical, as well as managing field coordination of mechanical systems. Erin is also a committee member in the local ASHRAE chapter, where she has served as Technology Awards, Website, and Programs Chair.

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