Many years ago, when I was a young engineering student, a required course in humanities was full. So, instead of learning about moral issues in engineering, I learned about moral issues in architecture. One of the assignments was to read the Henrik Ibsen play “The Master Builder.” Published in 1892, it paints a compelling portrait of a middle-aged architect obsessed with success—a “king” of the building process weaving complex relationships to keep his team, and genius, together.

I don’t know when things were really that simple. Perhaps in Roman times or maybe when Hearst built his castle at San Simeon. But I have heard of times not too long ago when construction was done on a handshake; everyone got together, and the project was done. This probably was the most efficient form of integrated project delivery (IPD).

It is not like that anymore, but I have seen many attempts to get back to that state of togetherness. During the 1990s, we had total quality management, partnering, and design-build. In 2000, we tried again, when the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) began to push for integrated design. It was a great idea—if a project was designed as a whole instead of piecemeal, it would operate more efficiently. The USGBC even offered proof that it worked, and yet it did not quite catch on.

Then, building information modeling (BIM) came along, and everything changed. Subcontractors, so often left out of other attempts at collaboration, saw the advantages of BIM and began driving the process. With virtual planning, they could work out problems at a point in the building process when changes are easy (and cheap) to make. This really was “integrated project redesign” because projects usually were bid before the BIM magic happened. Soon, though, these contractors started getting involved at the design phase, and, suddenly, we had achieved real IPD.

Getting Started

Of course, nothing is simple these days, and complex legal arrangements are involved with IPD. Both The American Institute of Architects (www.aia.org) and ConsensusDocs (www.consensusdocs.org) have standard agreements you can use. I am not a lawyer and, thus, am not going to try to explain these contracts; your attorney can do that for you. I can, however, share my view on how this should work. Like most things in life, success revolves around incentives and disincentives. For IPD to work properly, all parties have to share in both the risk and the reward. When design-build was big, I often heard the term applied to projects that really were just plan-and-spec jobs, with everything else the same—at least for the subcontractors. And maybe that’s the key: If you don’t have a real team, you won’t get team results.

So, you can force a team through a contract or find a team that already exists. In today’s market, with the financial pressures everyone faces, a combination of the two probably works best: You have a good contract that spreads risk, but a team that has worked together successfully.

Is IPD good for every job? For that matter, is BIM good for every job?

The answer to the first question is no for several reasons, the main one being complexity. If you need to replace a boiler, you hire a mechanical contractor and get the job done. Or perhaps you are retrofitting a simple space; if you are, IPD is not really required. Another caveat is public work. While we need to figure out how to do IPD for public entities, we need to build in extra measures to make sure the selection process is fair and unbiased.

The answer to the BIM question is no—so far. There are plenty of jobs that would not benefit from BIM. In fact, I have heard many examples of BIM not adding much benefit to a job and only driving up costs because of the additional upfront investment in technology. However, as software gets cheaper and easier to use, this will change. In the future, every job could benefit from being designed with BIM.

If, as an owner, a designer, or a contractor, you venture into IPD, ask yourself this: Is the job complex enough for IPD or BIM? If it is, proceed. Is everyone on the team locked together in risk and reward? If one party has an out, then it may not work. Most importantly, remember to be a good team member. It is just like sports: When everyone is working together and doing his or her best, you are most likely to win.

A mechanical engineer with expertise in safety, green building, and construction technologies, Dan Bulley, LEED AP BD+C, O+M, is senior vice president of Mechanical Contractors Association Chicago. Formerly, he served as an officer and board member for the Illinois chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and as president of the Illinois chapter of ASHRAE.