Advantages of IFOA for lean IPD construction projects

What Is Integrated Project Delivery: A Lean Operating System (Part 2 of 3)

This post is the 2nd of a 3 part series looking at Integrated Project Delivery. The first post focuses on IPD agreements (contracts), this post focuses on IPD as a Lean Operating System, and the final post focuses on culture.

When a team is aligned financially, traditional operating systems are not efficient for strong team performance (note: the operating system development starts with the earliest negotiations of the contract.)

To maximize the value of the contract structure, teams require a new work philosophy focused on efficiency and reliability. A Lean Operating System delivers customer value, through streamlined processes practicing continuous improvement.

We will focus on lean processes and tools for each part of this definition first by looking at ways to define and document customer value, then at processes for efficient value creation and finally at feedback systems to allow for evaluation and systematic improvement of processes used by project teams.


To successfully deliver a project with minimal waste, the project team must clearly define the customer’s expectations.

Validation Study: 
IPD teams are included at the start of a project, often prior to finalization of the owner’s business case. Understanding why a project exists prior to developing conceptual designs, teams have freedom to explore diverse options to deliver value. The final business case, budget, schedule, and program are captured in a collaborative report called a Validation Study.

Set Based Design:
Traditionally, teams look to make decisions about options before detailing them. Set Based Design is a concept of advancing multiple designs in order to make the best decision based on additional information gained from further design development.

Instead of picking a structural system for a new building prior to detailing it, a team may advance three systems into the Design Development phase along with floor plans and shaft layout. By continuing to advance multiple sets, the team can make a better decision with significantly more information. This process also reduces or eliminates negative iterations that occurs when one of the options becomes unviable.

A3 Thinking:
An A3 is a structured process of documenting a problem, options, proposed solution, and action plan on a single sheet of paper (A3 refers to a standard 11”x17” paper).

Developing an A3 is done collaboratively with all stakeholders. The process generates consensus around the proposed path forward by first gaining consensus around the problem statement. You can learn more about A3 here.

Choosing by Advantages:
Choosing by Advantages (CBA) is a systematic decision making process developed by Jim Suhr which focuses on advantages of options. While most systems focus on pros and cons, CBA removes cons by recognizing that a con can also be expressed as an advantage for one or more of the other options.

CBA works well to gain consensus with a large group of people with differing goals and values. The system also makes the decision-making process more transparent and more collaborative. With CBA, the advantages and the cost are shown separately so that the team can see the cost vs advantages trade-offs of their options. You can learn more about CBA here.


Traditional processes for communication and accountability contain inherent waste, leaving much room for improvement. Integrated teams are driven to work in a manner that levels workload and reduces waste.

Last Planner ® System: 
IPD teams use the 5 connected conversations of the Last Planner ® System to manage activities from early feasibility studies through construction and commissioning. Projects are started with high level milestones, then phase pull plans are created as the work proceeds. Look ahead planning, weekly work planning, and learning (measured through PPC and variances) are implemented to manage the weekly work of the team.

To better align teams and remove barriers to collaboration, large IPD teams use a single office space, co-location space, for the owner, designers, and builders. There may be people from 5 to 15 or more companies all working together in this shared office environment.

Smaller projects will develop a way of working collaboratively in shorter sessions (ex: 1 day every two weeks) or through online tools. Designers and builders work directly with each other in an effort to break down traditional silos.

Building Information Modeling: 
Many complex projects use Building Information Modeling or BIM during design and construction for coordination, prefabrication, scheduling, cost estimating, and facilities management. Smaller projects may not use the full capabilities of a multi-trade model, only designing the architecture in 3D.

Teams start with a discussion of what elements of BIM will be used on the project. This collaborative discussion between the owner, designers, and builders focuses first on desired outcomes (risk mitigation, prefabrication, operation efficiency, etc), then which elements and systems will be modeled (level of detail, etc).

Information Management:
With an integrated team, flow and control of information can still be wasteful. Teams implement a central point of storage for each type of project information, usually a cloud based documentation platform with a systematic naming structure.

Processes for using and sharing project information are developed by the team, documented and displayed for members to review.


High performing teams maintain a commitment to continuous improvement. Teams are self-aware of their processes and breakdowns, allowing them to reflect and improve.You can learn more about Continuous improvement here.

Teams create a feedback loop by implementing 4 steps in series: Plan, Do, Check, and Adjust. A process is implemented with an expected outcome. The actual outcomes are measured against the expected outcomes. A deep dive is done to discover the drivers of the measured variance and a countermeasure is integrated into the revised process. You can learn more about PDCA here.

5 Whys: 
To truly understand the root cause of a deviation from the expected outcome, teams implement a process called 5 Whys. This process involves asking Why 5 times, each time drilling down into why the previous activity occurred. The goal of this process is to arrive at the driver of an issue, to treat the cause and not just symptoms of a problem.

Plus/Delta Thinking:
A specific way to drive positive change is to implement a plus/delta improvement cycle. A team takes 5 minutes or less to capture Plus / Deltas at the end of each meeting and event.

  • Plus: Something that went well and should be repeated.
  • Delta: Something that didn't go well and should be changed or altered next time.

Teams assign each delta to a specific individual with an action plan and commitment for completion. With a commitment to identifying and adjusting deltas, processes will improve over the life of a project or team and lead to outstanding results.

Aligning teams with a contract provides motivation to collaborate but does not guarantee it. A Lean Operating System is needed to remove traditional silos, speed up communication, and reduce rework.

While Lean processes are integral to successful projects, they don’t work without a collaborative culture, which is the topic of the next blog post.

Check out Intro to Integrated Project Delivery and Advanced IPD Course

These online courses come with a certificate of completion from Lean IPD and are approved by many organizations for Continuing Education Credits. 

Group discounts available for project team onboarding and company trainings.

This is Part 2 of a 3 Part Series on Integrated Project Delivery.
See part 1, The Contract
This post was original published on the Lean Construction Blog.

James Pease, Executive Director - Design and Construction Executive Director - Design and Construction UCSF Medical Center, lean consultant, founder of leanIPD blog

James is an expert in the set-up and structure of large, complex capital projects using Lean and Integrated Project Delivery to drive highly reliable results.

He has negotiated IPD contracts and delivered over $650M in complex healthcare projects as an Owner's Representative with multiparty contracts, aligned team incentives and collaborative delivery models.

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