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Integrative Process: Managing Risk and Assuring Performance


by Alistair Jackson and Elizabeth Powers

Integrative Process is the best way for projects to manage risk and assure performance outcomes.

At the 2014 Living Future UnConference in May, Alistair Jackson of O’Brien & Company, Julie Kriegh of Kriegh Architecture Studios, and Pat Park of 21 Acres presented the concept of using an “Agile and Elegant” approach to design and construction to achieve better outcomes for high performance buildings.

Fundamentally, that presentation made an argument for what we in sustainable building typically call Integrative Process (IP). [To learn more about IP, read our blog post Clarifying the Integrative Design Process: ANSI Standard gets an overhaul with IP Version 2.0.  See also The Integrative Design Guide to Green Building by Bill Reed and the 7Group and LEED v4 Integrative Process credit information.] The difference in the presentation from what you may have seen before is the explicit link between IP, risk reduction, and investment by borrowing the concept of “Agile delivery” from the software development world, as illustrated in the Agile Methodology blog; Managing Development of Large Software Systems, Dr. Winston Royce (1970); Manifesto for Agile Software Development, Beck, Kent, et al. (2001); and , Agile Software Development, Cockburn, Alistair (2002).

The essential premise of the “Agile” approach is that, with clearly defined performance outcome requirements and undetermined methods to achieve those outcomes, the “product” may best be developed in a series of iterative stages, called Sprints, using small, cross-functional teams.  Just like IP, it is about doing thorough discovery, goal setting and analysis early and revisiting the analysis and testing throughout the development process to ensure the project is on track to the goals.

In both subsidized housing and for profit real estate development, it has been very difficult to get developers, funders and investors to commit funds to a project early enough to make a true IP process feasible.  The barrier is a perception of risk; in subsidized affordable housing, to the big risk is the project won’t be selected for public subsidies, or won’t be able to assemble sufficient capital; in for-profit development, investors see land acquisition and entitlement, and the granting of permits as key risk watersheds.  In both cases, these milestones occur well downstream of the best time to engage a collaborative, multi-disciplinary team of stakeholders in defining the goals of a project and setting the course to achieve them.

Real estate investors and developers are smart people – they know what they are talking about.  If we were building a conventional building, and were only accountable for the traditional metrics – on time, on budget, meets code, gets a C of O – the above risk assessments would be reasonable.  When we add “high performance” to the list of project descriptors, however, the risk profile increases is complexity and magnitude.  When we add “accountable high performance,” in the form of performance testing, measurement and verification, outcome-based incentives or codes; the risk profile changes even further.  Why – because, as an industry, we don’t yet know how to broadly and reliably deliver high performance.  We’re still in the R&D phase where we see great successes and dismal failures; mostly, we see more of the same – “le plus ca change, le plus la meme chose.”

Click on image to view full size graph. Graphic by Julie Kriegh, Kriegh Architecture Studios,

The conventional sequential or waterfall delivery (where you work through the development process in a series of sequential steps and don’t test performance until the product is substantially complete) works well where the finished form of the product is known and accountability is for prescriptive requirements such as meeting the program requirements and assuring life safety.

But when the task involves new requirements (such as resource conservation) with hard outcome metrics (such as an Energy Use Intensity target for the 2030 Challenge or Net Zero Energy and Water), you are in R&D mode because the “well-trodden path” won’t get you there.  In this mode, the waterfall method increases risk as you invest more time in development without confirmation testing that you are on track to the goal.

Click on image to view full size graph. Graphic by Julie Kriegh, Kriegh Architecture Studios,

Using the Agile approach (as with IP), each sprint targets a defined set of the requirements, does thorough analysis and produces a working “prototype” to test for compliance – an energy model, a daylight analysis, or a wall assembly mock-up, for example.  If it fails to meet the requirements, the team goes back through the same iteration again.  The real issue here is risk mitigation – the earlier you can develop a working prototype and test it against requirements, the less time and money you put at risk.  Each subsequent investment in development is made on the basis that you have confidence that you are on the path to success.

Alistair, Pat, and Julie all knew that the clear performance requirements and on-going analysis that are the foundation of Integrative Process could bring discipline to the design and construction process and provide predictable outcomes.  The challenge is the call for an important shift in resource investment to earlier phases of the project, thus allowing for  a more iterative, analytic approach to finding design solutions  when the costs of change were at their lowest on a project cycle.

Agile and this groups presentation help articulate the benefits of that shift in increasing net operating income (NOI) over time, improving return on investment (ROI), and pin pointing where investment in a project brought the best return and lowest risk.

The challenge O’Brien & Company faced was how can we prove to our clients that the benefits of an integrative process also lower risk and save cost? We needed examples.   Here are a few real life examples of how an IP approach saved owners both time and money, providing a solid foundation on which they could build a secure peace of mind.


Photo Credit: Benjamin Benschneider
Formal east-facing entry of Federal Center South Building 1202. Photo Credit: Benjamin Benschneider

Federal Center South Building 1202, Seattle, WA – The GSA used a Design-Build process, which is an integrated delivery method that allows the owner to hire a single entity responsible for the entire project. As part of the integrative process, a base building model was developed to explore façade options and a number of technological opportunities. It was concluded that appropriate orientation, a thoughtful façade, and a passive hydronic HVAC system offered the right balance between passive design and a more active system to handle peak conditions. This approach enabled a robust base building that maintains occupant comfort and is adaptable to programmatic changes without significant impact to energy performance. Under the highly-integrative process, the team was able to program, plan, and design the project in under 18 weeks in order to guarantee a performance-based contract that met GSA’s construction budget, energy performance goals, and aggressive design and construction schedule. Building energy use is predicted to be 20.3 kBtu/SF per year – 40 percent lower energy cost and CO2 emissions than in an ASHRAE standard building. At a cost of $270 per square foot, the Federal Center South Building 1202 delivers value. The energy bill should be approximately $200,000 a year less than comparable new office buildings.  (Reference:  Whole Building Design Guide case study)

US Navy claims (cited in 2005 IP standard) that, since they implemented their “Integrated Design Build Delivery” model, they have seen a 90% reduction in change orders on typical projects, resulting in an average 1% reduction in construction cost while improving quality and sustainability.

NREL South Table Mountain campus; Research Support Facility

NREL Research Support Facility, Golden, Colorado – Performance Design Build.  The client invested heavily in clearly defining the performance requirements for the building before ANY design work was done.  Three DB teams were paid a stipend to develop design solutions that met the performance requirements.  The successful team was offered incentives for performance improvements over the base requirements in both construction and operational performance.  The project received a LEED Platinum certification and an EUI of 35 kBtuh/sqft/yr (INCLUDING a high performance data-center).  The final construction cost totaled $259/sqft rather than the typical $335/sqft for newly constructed commercial buildings designed to achieve LEED ratings in Colorado.

Last year, Kathleen O’Brien and Elizabeth Powers co-authored an article in the Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy (WJELP), in collaboration with construction attorney Nicole DeNamur, on the legal hurdles faced by deep green buildings.  The article explored the risks and challenges through a discussion of specific examples from two Living Building Challenge case study projects located in Seattle: 1) the Bertschi School Science Wing and 2) the Bullitt Center.  What the authors discovered through interviews with these project teams was that almost all technical challenges that the projects faced were or could be resolved through process improvements.   Two of the specific recommendations made in the article were first to encourage construction lawyers to support an integrative process contractually and to encourage leasing agents to develop green leases.  Read more about the case study projects and the solutions for implementing such deep green building strategies in the article on the WJELP website.

We would also love to hear your stories of success with IP!  Please submit the stories you would like to share in the comments field.

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