IPD and the New Project Manager

BY Burns Mechanical IN Construction, Energy, Philadelphia Benchmarking

Soft skills.

These are two words not normally associated with project managers in the litigious, adversarial building design and construction industry. But if a leading-edge trend known as Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) becomes the norm, project managers, architects, and engineers displaying the strongest soft skills will be the big winners.

I have shamelessly appropriated the name of this post from a PACE (Partnership for Achieving Construction Excellence) roundtable held earlier this month at Penn State University. The discussion largely revolved around the experiences of my colleagues’ work with William Seed, formerly the VP of Design and Construction with Universal Health Services and now the Project Integration Executive for Walt Disney Imagineering. Mr. Seed has been involved in more than 60 projects instituting some form of integrated delivery, and my colleagues shared many lessons learned from their experiences on those projects.

From my own experiences on integrated design-build, IPD-“ish” projects, I can attest to the need for a new style of project manager. Those wishing to employ the status quo methods of drawing lines in the sand, comparing apples-to-apples, and looking for a best and final price will struggle to achieve improved outcomes. Collaboration, trust, and transparency will be the new vernacular. But can this possibly work?

According to Seed, more than 97 percent of his ILPD® projects (where “L” is for “Lean”), which have an aggregate value in excess of $1 Billion, have been delivered at or better on cost and schedule than predicted, with the cost targets already being 10 to 30 percent more aggressive than those delivered through traditional contracting methods.

What skills are essential to the new breed of project manager?

Again, from Seed, The traditionally trained Project Manager is not equipped to deal with the relationship-based nature of the ILPD model. The desire for early involvement from constructors and specialty trades and strong multi-disciplinary collaboration demands a new kind of leadership.”

The skills necessary to build the requisite trust on a multiple party agreement with shared risk and reward include “group facilitation skills, organizational management skills, people assessment and change management skills, along with the tactical skills of the past.”

In other words, success will require a total recalibration of how we traditionally approach construction problem solving. When one attendee questioned a panelist on how specialty sub-trades were selected on their IPD projects, the answer elicited laughter from those immersed in their adversarial worlds: “Almost purely on chemistry.”

Is the greater Philadelphia building industry ready for such a radical departure from the traditional and universally accepted, albeit flawed, way of delivering projects? Or is this the kind of vision that only a Disney “Imagineering” team could dream up? It will be interesting to watch this trend unfold and see whether the local market will eventually nudge us toward a more collaborative delivery model.