A Low-Tech but Powerful IPD Tool

Posted on May 28, 2010


Long before any of the current best practices du jour in project management, design collaboration with the owner especially in health care, meant full-scale vignettes of a suite, room or wall layout to make sure things worked the way they were designed.  These dress rehearsals, or mock-ups, have always been important in highly program-driven work.  The more a new design idea was to be replicated as a prototype for a facility or system, the more important it was to be mocked-up and discussed.

Mock-ups allow everyone to occupy the design, use it, discuss shortcomings, and ways to make it better; they get people talking.  Mock-ups are an original integrated project delivery (IPD) tool, before IPD as we know it even existed.

Fast Company’s May issue has a two-page spread on Kaiser Permanente’s (KP) Sidney Garfield Health Care Innovation Center. Run primarily by John Kouletsis, an architect and KP’s Director of Strategy, Planning and Design, the Center is a 37,000 s.f. laboratory for testing everything from new floor plans to new technologies to “yield a health-care blueprint that include[s] the best designs, practices, and equipment available”. It is good to see dedication to the mock-up, especially on a permanent basis, and then to amplify it to cover other explorations.

Mock-ups are an underutilized tool in projects for a few reasons.  First, BIM and 3D virtual modeling have done a serviceable job representing spaces that previously required a lot of imagination to understand; BIM runs a close second to a mock-up and is an acceptable substitute for vetting in many cases. Second, mock-ups take time to build, space and money to execute, and more time to coordinate the schedules of the users and stakeholders to get everyone to walk through and simulate (see reason one above).  Without timely feedback, the mock-up is not very useful. Third, mock-ups are usually a physical build-out of an already-cooked design; the design team and client typically use the mock-up to confirm, not explore.

However, a mock-up is a valuable tool to commune around from an integrated delivery perspective. It is full-scale; there is no escaping the realities of what everyone has agreed to. When you walk through a mock-up, you get more feedback about a design because people see and feel things and share criticisms because they can with no recourse—things can still be changed with relatively no consequences.

Kaiser’s payoff with their Innovation Studio has reaped rewards such as redesigned headwalls, improved workflows, more efficient clinic layouts, reduced expenses and the implementation of handheld computers.  Kaiser has the right approach because the mock-ups are not executed as confirmations, but as explorations—ways to brainstorm and figure out a design problem.  What better metaphor for integrated project delivery than a mock-up with everyone involved on the challenge, including actors posing as patients and visitors? 

In the article, I particularly appreciated Kouletsis’s candor and humbleness in the admission that “we’re not really sure what cutting edge is” so they need to define it for themselves. And in the safety of their Innovation Center, they are free to experiment and make as many mistakes as needed to define their next system standards.  This dedication caught the attention of the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation.

Having a building permanently dedicated as a staging venue for mock-ups and design innovation explorations is a luxury. However, using mock-ups to brainstorm ideas or to perfect what already works is something any integrated project delivery team can do. There is no reason to settle or take a chance a particular choice will not work on your next project; there is too much at stake. The next time, earmark a little time, money and space (a parking deck works well in a pinch) and be sure.