We should remain doubtful, on practical grounds, about the veracity or longevity of the American Institute of Architects’ Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) manifesto and its single-purpose-entity (SPE) offspring as a widespread solution to industry woes. Practitioners, instead of policy wonks, need to weigh in and put them to the test.
Any proposed solution to industry problems is obliged to confront basic industry reality. One industry driver is the fundamental stalemate from which most negative project outcomes and most legal protections flow.
Owners, designers and constructors are all victims, contributors and beneficiaries. The stalemate simultaneously is an impasse with divergent convictions as well as the source of protection for each party through a checks-and-balances system that denies undue advantage. This standoff plays itself out with icy clarity during the change-order process.
At its most basic form, each party has certain expectations:
- The constructor is entitled to a completed design, clearly memorialized in the contract documents. Simply put, the contractor can rightfully expect to be provided with perfect contracts documents.
- Design professionals are required to provide contract documents that conform to the legally supported standard of care, which actually contemplates incomplete contract documents. Perfection is not the legal standard of care.
- Owners expect that they should not have to pay for the mistakes of either design or construction professionals.
Can IPD change this fundamental stalemate? IPD is a methodology to reduce process waste by increasing collaboration and aligning the interests of strangers in an environment of mutual responsibility. This is done by pulling the contractor forward into the design process to take advantage of its expertise without sacrificing the gains made in speedy project delivery.
For designers, guaranteeing perfect contract documents would successfully transfer risk from owners to design professionals, thereby increasing owner certainty. It would change designers’ role on projects because they would need to require the owner to create circumstances that allowed them to reasonably provide such a warranty. These include allowing considerably more time (and fee) to perform the necessary due diligence. Early contractor participation in this effort would not facilitate better results faster due to untested process ambiguity.
IPD and SPEs may represent owners’ desires to finally gain the upper hand in the fundamental stalemate by redistributing risk. These new contract forms will be tested in the field and courts in the coming years before there is anything resembling widespread industry deployment. Owners will be impatient for this as schedule pressure will not abate. The marketplace patience required for the legal system to produce battle tested SPE contract forms will disappear in favor of other delivery methods like contractor-led design-build (CLDB).
CLDB is the means by which owners now shed risk. It has been tested and has a foothold in the marketplace. It redirects much owner risk to the design-builder. Will this less risky route win out over a nascent and theoretical IPD proposition? Or, will the SPE creature simply evolve into CLDB where designers are absorbed into the contracting team? If so, there is a downside, as design quality and owner control will have to give way to schedule and cost expediency. Perhaps buildings will have to resemble toasters for a few years until the marketplace again reprioritizes, demanding higher quality and more content control.
As today’s great idea is often tomorrow’s anachronism, there are more questions than answers regarding the future of IPD and SPEs. Certainly, if IPD is not robust enough to answer the needs of the marketplace, then the marketplace will either transform IPD into something useful, or relegate it to the dustbin of history.