IDP and Integrated Delivery

Posted on June 28, 2010


Acronymns can be tricky. IDP is the Intern Development Program run by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).  IDP is the official apprenticeship process all architects-in-training must complete prior to sitting for their registration exam.  IPD is, as I often discuss here, Integrated Project Delivery. These two movements do not have a lot in common, which is unfortunate, because they should.

NCARB released its most recent revisions to the IDP, which will be reorganized into four task categories—Pre-Design (1), Design (2), Project Management (3) and Practice Management (4)—to better align with project delivery. See link for category breakdowns:  NCARB New IDP.

While working through my own apprenticeship I became aware of areas where the IDP could be strengthened, particularly with respect to the direction of current project delivery objectives. As a graduate of the IDP system with much more work experience, and an NCARB certificate holder, I offer five suggestions through an Integrated Project Delivery lens, for future improvement:

1) Track IPD Tasks (Category 4).  Current trends included, NCARB has sorely lacked emphasis and monitoring of several skills essential not only to IPD, but any successful project delivery.  Some of these tasks include collaboration, communication (giving presentations, graphic sketching, and written) and team building. Anyone who has been a part of a project knows how crucial it is to work together, share information, coordinate between disciplines, and learn to operate within team dynamics (manage personalities, motivate, meet deadlines). For many interns, these ‘soft skills’ may occur organically, incidentally, or not at all, but should be formally tracked as tasks to be learned.

2) Design Research (Category 1).  Architectural education teaches the value of creative ideas and technical solutions. Likewise, cross-disciplinary thought and coordination is a core belief of IPD and professional practice.  Today, clients want their projects designed around a solid foundation of sustainability and, where appropriate, evidence-based design. NCARB needs to reinforce the importance of design research at the internship level.

3) Client Contact (Category 3).  When I studied abroad, sociology and psychology were built into the architectural curriculum.  Popular design firm IDEO has used cultural anthropology as an insight mechanism for years. The common link of those studies:  people. Similarly, IPD is project delivery with a large dose of human interaction. Projects happen because of clients. Clients are people. Therefore, architects need people skills. Interns need to have exposure to clients by sitting in on meetings, visiting sites and taking part in design and project discussions with them. It can be a fight for an intern to extricate himself from the confines of the office for face time, and for this reason, minimum time with a client should be required.

4) Less Engineering Systems / More Cost Estimating (Categories 1 & 2).  Engineering systems are important for architects to understand, yet the second-highest hour total dedicated to this activity is excessive. Systems are conceptualized as a collaborative activity, but the labor-intensive actions are done by engineers, and done well after the ‘walls stop moving’. 

On the other hand, cost exercises are vital to maintain project viability, and owners pay significant attention to cost.  In that vein, cost is a parameter which drives a lot of the IPD process:  when a design decision is made, its impact is investigated holistically prior to adopting the change. If the decision does not provide an appropriate return on investment, it is not accepted. Cost and value decision-making are imperative skills to be honed.

5) Less CD Time / More Business Activities (Categories 2, 3 & 4).  NCARB has always put heavy emphasis on construction document (CD) production.  Still, dedicating over 20% of internship time is high, especially to the detriment of other important skills. I believe it takes three years of diligent practice under quality tutelage to be a proficient CD producer; however, NCARB’s goal is a base line of experience, not task proficiency, and an intern’s development does include life after CDs.

The recouped hours could be invested in business activities, areas in which architects and project managers are notoriously deficient. It is defensible that business skills like operations, negotiation, marketing and sales are as important as CD production. IPD is centered in the client’s world, which is definitely about business decisions.

Some of these items are already learned behaviors and skills in current internships, but need formal tracking because of they are essential to successful practice on any level. If NCARB can take this constructive criticism to heart for professional development, the next generation’s architects and project leaders will be more equipped to handle the demands of team work in Integrated Project Delivery.