Enhanced Processes: The Evolution of Lean, Collaboration and Efficiency in AEC Project Delivery

Enhanced Processes: The Evolution of Lean, Collaboration and Efficiency in AEC Project Delivery
Seattle Children's Bellevue Clinic and Surgery Center, the first IPD project in Washington State

Contributors: Craig Stauffer, Alex Legé, Jason Collins, Ted Ryan, Brian Phair, and Todd Parke
PCS Structural Solutions | October 4, 2019

For decades, teams in the AEC industry have been working to put a dent in the productivity problem. The post 1960’s industry drive, which McKinsey & Company calls “the construction productivity imperative,” has created a pressure cooker of alternative processes and delivery methods seeking to move the needle. Alternative delivery methods have been worked and reworked—an alphabet soup of organizational models navigating partners toward positive outcomes. The first IPD project, for example, was completed in the U.S. in 2005. In Washington State, Seattle Children’s Bellevue Clinic and Surgery Center ushered in IPD delivery in 2008. Lean construction principles took on lagging efficiency, and Building Information Modeling (BIM) enabled rapid information sharing among multiple partners. Collaboration broke down silos, and teams began to collectively tackle inefficiencies.

As structural engineers working throughout AEC markets, PCS must dial in to the unique needs and challenges of our clients. It’s a constant examination of fundamental questions: What practices should we bring to best serve our teams? And in this scramble for productivity, which ideas work? We asked team leaders from our public, private, and healthcare markets for their perspective on alternative processes in project delivery.

What are drivers in today’s markets?


“Today, a shortage of skilled labor and a large quantity of existing buildings that need upgrade or replacement drive the public construction market to more efficient delivery,” says Alex Legé. In addition, sustainability and LEED takes a prominent role in educational environments.


“The feasibility phase is expedited in private development,” says Jason Collins. “The owner needs a lot of information up front and quickly; they need to know what is critical and have it broken down to an intuitive format to make sound decisions.”


Healthcare entities face the challenges of navigating a shifting political landscape and an aging demographic and infrastructure. Todd Parke explains, “Providers are scrambling to deliver care in appropriate locations. Project teams must offer clients proactive insights, cost-effective design and speed.”

The Integrated Project Delivery Legacy—IPD-lite or IPD-ish personality

Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) has had an interesting evolution. Anchoring the behaviors of the team in an IPD model is a multi-party, shared risk-shared reward contract, the purpose of which is to invest all parties in efficiency and success through collaboration. Researchers at the University of Washington, Yong-Woo Kim and Carrie Dossick, identify five elements that contribute to the integration of project delivery: “contract type IFOA (integrated form of agreement), culture, organization, lean construction and building information modeling (BIM).”

While IPD hasn’t enjoyed broad success as a contractual delivery model, it continues to generate interest in the industry and has undoubtedly left a legacy informing the way AEC firms do business. IPD has evolved from its pure multi-contract form, and terms like IPD-lite or IPD-ish are commonly used to describe the philosophy without the shared risk/reward contract.
Lean Construction principles are relevant in an industry focused on maximizing materials and reducing time and costs. Early collaboration among partners reduces the cost of design changes late in the game. In an industry historically slow to adopt technology, BIM is now an industry standard.


Lean is rarely mentioned in the public market, although Lean concepts do find their way into team structures. “We will be the ones to push for pull planning,” says Alex Legé. School projects with state funding are required to meet Washington Sustainable Schools Protocols (WSSP) or LEED Silver requirements. Under these standards, collaboration is formalized. “Structural engineering is being pulled into the sustainability conversation, because structural engineering can add a lot of value through good design,” says Craig Stauffer.
“Collaboration is highly valued in the public market,” continues Legé. “The structural engineers are pulled in about the same time regardless of the delivery type. You need to have the bones in place fairly early. Engineering is time sensitive and the impact early in the project is huge.”


Likewise, private owners don’t talk about Lean explicitly, although key Lean principles appear actively at play: team members are quick to identify value and highly motivated to eliminate waste and improve processes. This drive for information makes collaboration an imperative in the private market. “I have heard it repeatedly from my clients ... they need people who can speak up,” says Ted Ryan. “In the last five years, there has been a higher emphasis on how teams can work together. Collaboration is highly weighted in the selection process. When a project starts, owners have selected teams that work well together and can get it done.”

“Once the train gets rolling, you have to be quick on your feet. It’s important that the team finds a rhythm of generating ideas and assessing them quickly. Challenging one another in a productive manner is really important,” adds Collins.

“All the best sites are being used, so developers are often working with challenging sites. They require creative solutions, and owners recognize that we can add more value when we’re pulled in early,” says Ryan.


“As structural engineers, we have the opportunity to bring Lean principles to the project. We see Lean often in design-build, but it may depend, in part, on the project manager’s personal process. BIM provides integration—we serve as a bridge,” explains Parke.
Healthcare structures are highly specialized. “Collaboration is pretty intense in the healthcare market,” continues Parke. “There is so much programming inside the structure with sometime zero square footage left in the walls. You have plumbing, mechanical … the walls and ceilings are crammed with utilities necessary to the function of a medical building. It’s important to work side-by-side with our partners to deliver that level of complexity.”

What does the integrative design process look like today across public, private and healthcare market sectors in the Pacific Northwest?

Alternative delivery methods, such as design-build and its variations, are gaining popularity quickly. Design-build got a big push from a series of catastrophes and natural disasters in the early 2000s which required fast, efficient response. Design-build’s success seems to be in striking middle ground, allowing flexibility with regard to Lean principles and owner needs. According to Kristin Hill, Director of Education Programs at Lean Construction Institute, “Design-build allows a high level of Lean integration. It blows the doors off of what teams are able to accomplish—they can go as deep with implementing Lean as they find possible.” All fifty states have since adopted procurement laws that allow public projects to use design-build delivery.


Bidding remains important in public markets to provide accountability, but a streamlined process that reduces time, saves money. Delivery models that can be tremendously flexible and fast are favored. “Most of Tacoma Public Schools’ projects are going design-build, and higher education is moving to alternative deliveries like GCCM and design-build,” reports Legé. These delivery models provide owners resources that help them control costs better while still delivering quality projects.


A Negotiated Bid process meets the needs of private owners who highly value qualifications and teamwork. Increasingly, owners are selecting for teams who are highly collaborative—they know they get the best value from a team that can perform well together. The secret sauce is a unique combination of individuals who are able to challenge each other to find better solutions.


“I see healthcare clients headed to middle ground with regard to delivery—GCCM, GMP, negotiated bid, and design-assist bid,” says Parke. “Selective bidding is still important to some clients, because it allows the healthcare entity to attract general contractors who are available to build the project, and also allows for competitive pricing. Although healthcare entities differ in their preference, I find that most like to have a contractor involved during design in a design-assist role to help with both cost management and high-level design direction. In most instances, the contractor is retained for construction through a negotiated contract.”

Delivery Practices Moving Forward

Time will tell which alternative practices can prove nimble enough to weather changes and improve productivity in the AEC landscape. Delivery methods that allow flexibility and embrace integrative design principles continue to gain steam. Lean construction principles remain highly relevant in an industry fixed on maximizing efficiencies and controlling time and costs. In an industry historically slow to adopt technology, BIM is now standard, connecting teams and providing rapid information that help reduce project errors. Early collaboration among partners ensures critical decisions are made early in a project, reducing the cost of design changes. Critical to that piece is how partners foster collaborative culture within their organizations.

At PCS, we know that a collaborative culture is the key to allowing us to best navigate the AEC landscape with our partners and make an impact in the quality, productivity and legacy of our projects. We’re convinced that to address the productivity problem in AEC, it will take connected teams and bold solutions.