PennFIRST: IPD in Action

Mike Carey, Project Executive

Project delivery within the construction industry continues to evolve toward increasingly collaborative environments. Our clients are placing greater emphasis on a heightened sense of communication between project partners and many are committing to a relatively new type of project delivery for the design and construction world – Integrated Project Delivery (IPD).

IPD has grown from processes first developed by Toyota in the 1970’s to create production efficiencies. The architect, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry has been adapting “The Toyota Way” in the evolution of the modern building process for the past two decades.

Last year, Balfour Beatty was selected with HDR, Foster+Partners, BR+A, and L.F. Driscoll on the design and planning of a New Patient Pavilion for the University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine) in Philadelphia. Touted as one of the nation’s largest IPD healthcare projects, our joint-venture team, collectively named PennFIRST, supports Penn Medicine’s drive to implement IPD at such a large scale while also recognizing Penn’s many “firsts” such as:

  • Founded as the first teaching hospital in the U.S. by Ben Franklin in 1751
  • Produced the first x-ray in 1890
  • Developed the first mass-produced penicillin in 1921
  • Recently discovered that the use of the HIV-virus has the ability to train the body’s immune system to attack certain types of cancer

All of the PennFIRST team members along with Penn Medicine share one contractual agreement that encourages multidisciplinary collaboration, promotes team problem solving and innovative thinking. To promote collaboration at the highest level, our team began working together through a process called “colocation” or simply, moving to one, integrated office space, or “colo” in Philadelphia. This collaborative working environment allows us to explore new ideas in design, construction and healthcare delivery all geared towards an efficient design, optimizing the patient experience, and driving waste out of the design and construction process. Traditional IPD offers varying degrees of collaboration based on owner expectations. In a colocation setting however, project team members interface on a daily basis much like they would do with teammates from their individual organizations.

Though many IPD projects are using practices that are labeled as integrated, the idea of creating a team of stakeholders from individual disciplines – design, construction, engineering – and placing them in one office environment is yielding more positive results. For example, our team is working on the project program and a concept design simultaneously. In nearly all other cases, the program is defined first by the owner with the help of their designers, and then a concept design (building massing and aesthetics) would be developed prior to a traditional Schematic Design phase. The PennFIRST team has all of the appropriate “experts in the room,” which is enabling a very detailed and precise program to develop.

The practice of colocation doesn’t imply, however, that everyone working on the project spends five days a week in the colo working on the projects. That would be impractical and tremendously cost-prohibitive for the project, so the team has core leadership and supporting personnel in the colo working together on a daily basis. This team has established a bi-weekly cadence for many regular meetings and is supported by hundreds of other sub-consultants, production architects, engineers, and others who are in the colo on a regular but part-time basis.

One challenge we had to face early on was the fact that an extended team of our design and sub-consultants were located all over the world. Many of the conventional project management tools our team had used on past projects were analyzed and found to be inefficient for the PennFIRST team. Most systems and tools were designed to function around mostly linear processes and were not conducive to the degree of collaboration we sought. We explored several project management options and, after reading the book ReWork, a NY Times bestseller by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the PennFIRST team opted to try Basecamp, a project management tool that was simple to use and afforded the entire team visibility on project-specific topics and discussions in real-time. This removed the complexity of using a cloud-based shared drive which offers limited capacity for providing context to ongoing developments and avoids the risks associated with conducting important business strictly by email. To date, Basecamp has proven to be an incredibly useful and Lean project management tool, and our subscription to Basecamp is at a fraction of the cost of other traditional project management tools. 

Likewise, we explored different methods of parametric cost modeling. Rather than approaching it from an industry mindset, we wanted to develop a system that our Owner could easily understand allowing them to build-in extra options based on different budget scenarios. Our solution included the integration of three different systems- MedPRO (a Balfour Beatty Healthcare tool), Rhino, and Grasshopper- all used by different PennFIRST partners. All three applications allow our Owner to view the model in different ways and allows the capability to turn-on and off project program elements and provides a general view of the impacts to building massing.

The most remarkable aspects of being part of the PennFIRST team is the unique nature of the IPD work we are doing and the opportunities to drive efficiencies- and even better- cost, and schedule predictability for our Owner who is has been an integrated partner from day one. The experience has provided a one-of-a-kind learning experience that’s been incredibly rewarding for all project team members.

As someone who has been in the construction industry for years and done extensive work in the Design-Build delivery method, it is easy to understand how project development and design using an Integrated Project Delivery method is a radical change for most. While much attention is given to the tools and processes used on a project, effectively engaging team members in new ways of thinking is equally as crucial to successful implementation of IPD, as well as leadership and an entrepreneurial attitude at all levels of the project team. While the delivery approach certainly requires better behaviors and teaming from all the PennFIRST partners as well as Penn Medicine, working in a colo and finding simple, efficient tools outside our regular host of options has reaffirmed our commitment to continuous improvement in order to advance our industry and how we provide service to our clients.