Servant Leadership in the Built Environment

“A new moral principle is emerging which holds that the only authority deserving one’s allegiance is that which is freely and knowingly granted by the leader in response to, and in proportion to, the clearly evident servant stature of the leader.  Those who choose to follow this principle will not casually accept the authority of existing institutions.  Rather, they will freely respond only to those individuals who are chosen as leaders because they are proven and trusted as servants.  To the extent that this principle prevails in the future, the only truly viable institutions will be those that are predominantly servant-led.”

Robert Greenleaf shared this assertion in his 1970 essay, The Servant As Leader.  While Greenleaf was not referring to industry, I, as a practitioner of Greenleaf’s principle, nonetheless, see Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) as the manifestation of Servant Leadership in the institution of the built environment.  The design community, builders, manufacturers, and operators are the ones responsible for conceiving, creating, and shepherding the built environment…to serve it.

A project delivery method, at its core, is comprised of two categories of individuals or companies – those who decide, design and determine, and those that supply, construct and install, and operate. Founded on a culture of trust, and in service of the owner and the program, IPD integrates those two into one.  As the Construction Specifiers Institute states, “when properly executed IPD affords

  • Owner, design, contractor, and supplier teams to interact before the construction docs are completed to make decisions and commitments about the design that have cost implications.
  • Decisions to be made and orders placed for materials, products, and equipment that require long lead times
  • Buyout phase to be better managed because of the team interactions and extended time for making effective decisions”

Breaking Down Project Management Silos

The last several years all manners of industry have been talking of ‘breaking down silos’.  Much of this is surrounding corporate structures coming from a fundamental need for effective collaboration that applies anywhere there are two or more individuals or groups interacting.  Whether in classrooms, the board room, or the construction site people are choosing to work together in less traditional, structured ways to gain effectiveness and efficiency.

To execute on IPD, many builders are taking cues from lean manufacturing and reapplying as lean construction.  In lean manufacturing, sometimes referred to as “the Toyota Way”, no one tool or tactic — gemba walks, TAKT time, 5S, 8 wastes or other — will completely lean out the process, but composed as a system have proven highly effective as I’ve seen first-hand.   Jonathan Cohen, FAIA, writes “Just as BIM is a tool that is useful, but not in itself sufficient for implementing IPD, lean construction is a set of tools in support of IPD but is not the entire process.”   These two disciplines, lean manufacturing and lean construction, converge at pre-fabrication and modular construction to achieve mass customization – a collaborative solution, executed with speed, delivered at scale.

As a formalized delivery method, IPD involves contractual relationships that differ from traditional design-bid-build types of agreements.  Shared goals and shared incentives help to align priorities to insure the team leaders are serving the owner with a unified front.  An example of this would be access by the entire IPD team to the entire budget enabling compromises to shuffle across traditionally unrelated line items for the good of the project without concern for protectionism of a specific trade or item.  “In IPD, value engineering is a continuous process, rather than an unwelcome surprise at the end of the design,” writes Cohen.

Choose Your Integrated Project Delivery Team Wisely

IPD team selection becomes less of a traditional bid award process and more like the employee hiring process where in addition to qualifying technical expertise we also focus heavily on exploring the intangibles to achieve the best possible cultural fit of individuals working with individuals and organizations teaming with organizations.

As the manifestation of servant leadership in the institution of the built environment, Integrated Project Delivery brings lean manufacturing and smart organizational culture practices to the design and build world.

The result is faster, smarter, better.