Wicked Education: Teaching IPD, BIM, and Lean Business Processes


The Wicked Series has explored a number of themes related to the use and deployment of integrated project delivery (IPD), building information modeling (BIM) and lean business processes.  This article tackles issues related to implementing an effective IPD, BIM, and lean process education program.  

The Wicked Series, read alongside the Digital Assets Series—AUGIWorld May, June, and July, 2011—analyzes the Wicked Problems faced by Built industry professionals seeking to deliver BIM services as members of integrated teams in an IPD environment.  Wicked problems, and there are many in the Built industry, are complex and challenging. Learning to use new tools to solve those problems is critical. 

Built industry stakeholders interested in utilizing IPD, BIM, and lean processes effectively are adopting formalized educational programs.  Institutional owners and large regional and national design and construction firms are grappling with training and education issues related to the use and deployment of these new tools as well.  The concepts outlined herein represent the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but provide a starting point and a bit of philosophical guidance for such firms and those contemplating similar programs.

Knowledge Economy v. Knowledge-Based Economy

Many ask, “Why should I learn IPD and BIM and why are lean processes so important?”  These new tools are important because they empower you and your organization to compete, effectively, in the new knowledge economy and in the emerging knowledge-based economy.  Simply put, stakeholders who wish to remain competitive in the Built industry must develop new-generation skills, hone existing abilities, and learn to use and deploy IPD, BIM, and lean tools effectively in a rapidly evolving Built market.  To effectively accomplish the task, stakeholders must compete in the knowledge economy and in the emerging knowledge-based economy.

The distinction between a “knowledge economy” and a “knowledge-based economy” are not very important to this article but are worthy of explication.   For the purposes of this article, the term knowledge-based economy refers to an economy that treats knowledge as a tool to be leveraged.  By contrast, in a knowledge economy, knowledge is generally treated as a product. 

In the Built industry, the emergence of BIM—especially BIM-enabled infrastructure of the kind envisioned in this series of articles—contemplates blending knowledge as a product and knowledge as a tool.  Here, however, we deal primarily with the term knowledge-based economy, and leave the treatment of knowledge as a product for another day. 

Our industrialized global economy is transitioning to a knowledge economy, a transition fueled by the rise of the so-called information era.  The next logical step in the transition involves leveraging knowledge as a tool, regardless of the degree to which one traffics in knowledge as a product. 

The transition requires new rules, practices, and fundamentally different legal relationships than those used to control relationships in an industrial economy.  As knowledge resources, know-how, and niche-level expertise expand, knowledge will be as critical as other economic resources.  Knowledge as a commodity or product is a key feature of a knowledge economy, while a knowledge-based economy involves efforts to actively leverage knowledge across disciplines, over time, and on multiple communication and software platforms.

The IPD, BIM, and lean process revolution sweeping the Built industry is an industry-specific extension of the foregoing processes with global implications.

How To Compete in a Knowledge-based Economy

  • Know your business purpose
  • Know what you know and what you don't
  • Know how to add value internally and externally
  • Know where to find the answers
  • Know how to advertise your knowledge
  • Know how to share the answers
  • Know how to acquire and enhance knowledge daily

Know Your Business Purpose

What is the business purpose of your organization?  What adds value to your bottom line?  What adds value to your customers’ bottom line?  Why does your organization need to know more about IPD, BIM, and lean business processes?  You need to answer these questions before you tackle the question of what your organization needs to know about IPD, BIM, and lean business processes.

Answering these questions in the context of developing an IPD, BIM, and lean education program ensures organizational support of the program.  Every level of your organization, from the board room to the field, must be committed to an educational program to achieve success, while a vibrant and effective educational program requires buy-in from senior level management.  Senior level buy-in, at least the kind that makes a difference, leads to adoption of strategic educational programs that complement and support the business purpose of the organization.  

Know What You Know (and What You Don't)

Readers of this column are familiar with the phrase, “If you aren't measuring it you cannot manage it.”  Institutional knowledge is no more immune from that truth than your supply of labor, key materials, or paper clips.

Before an organization formulates an IPD, BIM, and lean process education program, it needs to assess what it knows and doesn't know about those new-generation tools.  Sans knowledge of the point at which your journey begins and a mechanism for recording progress, you have no way of accurately measuring how far you have come.  Accordingly, tools that enable you to assess the state of institutional knowledge within your organization, and what knowledge therein is critical to your business purpose, are critical factors to address in the context of establishing any educational program.

Accordingly, don't just plug an IPD, BIM and or lean process requirement into an existing RFP and expect service providers to know what you want.  You need to know what you want.  You need to know what you know.  You need to know what you don't know.  You need to know the business purpose behind your organization's drive to adopt and implement IPD, BIM, and lean processes.  

Heron's odometer was crafted to carefully measure distances.

Internal view of Heron's odometer.

Know where you start.  Know where you end.

Know How to Add Value

An effective IPD, BIM, and lean process education program will constantly prompt personnel to ask, “What do I need to know about IPD, BIM, and lean processes that will enable me to add value for our clients and, ultimately, for us?” Every individual answers this question in a slightly different way, but an educational program that focuses the learner's attention on the organization's core business purpose (see the section above) and prompts learners to repeatedly consider the client's value proposition will be successful.  This concept values and promotes knowledge-based decisions that add value.

IPD, BIM, and lean processes provide users with myriad mechanisms for adding value.  The value proposition associated with these tools varies from phase to phase, discipline to discipline and organization to organization.  An effective education program encourages participants to identify and internalize value propositions in their wheel house and to be opportunistic as to value propositions not in their wheel house. 

Know Where to Find Answers

Every organization has an institutional knowledge base.  Few access that knowledge base effectively.  Fewer still index that database and render it accessible to leaders and employees—new and old alike—enabling those individuals, and by extension the organization, to leverage that knowledge base with ease.  In fact, in many organizations, much of the institutional knowledge is tucked away inside the heads of senior leaders and shared with others only on a need-to-know basis, as if the organization were a spy agency.   While certain intellectual property must be protected, most institutional knowledge needs to be shared.

The institutional knowledge base needs to be identified, indexed, and utilized effectively.  In other words, institutional knowledge needs to be “Googlized.”  This is true regardless of how much institutional knowledge, if any, relates to IPD, BIM, and lean processes.  An educational program that effectively enlightens participants regarding the use of those tools deserves a place in a reservoir of institutional knowledge that can be “Googlized” and leveraged over time.   

Spread the Knowledge

The next key feature of an effective educational program is knowledge of its existence!  That means internal and external marketing and promotion of the program.  Those within the organization tasked with marketing and education should treat the launch of the program as an opportunity to leverage social media, web-based marketing tools, internal gossip chains and every other traditional and non-traditional marketing mechanism in their arsenal.  Launching and promoting an internal educational program actually represents a great opportunity to procure critical and frank feedback on the firm's marketing tools as well.

In addition to informing personnel of the availability of the educational program, participants and experienced personnel need to be reminded to share the fruit of the tree of knowledge at every opportunity.  Teaching moments need to be transformed, as often as possible, into informal training sessions.  And the disbursement of knowledge needs to become routine.  To compete, effectively, in a knowledge-based economy, the thirst for knowledge within an organization must be insatiable and every member of the organization must become sponge like regarding knowledge.  For this to happen, learning must be fun!  Innovative disbursement mechanisms, varied to meet the needs and demands of different learners, support such efforts.  Some individuals are audible learners, others visual and yet others require hands-on demonstrations.  Learning of the best kind occurs in the presence of all three and engages individuals in the process in a competitive and entertaining manner.

Thus, an effective learning program is one in which learners clamor to participate and which serves all three types of learners through a diverse array of learning mediums.  Twitter, texts, blogs, web pages, manuals, DVDs, videos, workshops, physical models, virtual models and an array of other communication mediums should be utilized by education professionals tasked with teaching IPD, BIM, and lean processes.  Equally diverse learning and testing mechanisms should be developed as well.

Knowledge Acquisition & Enhancement

Learn from your mistakes.  Reiteration of the learning loop and improvement in the IPD, BIM, and lean processes educational materials goes hand in hand.  If an entity intends to compete in a knowledge-based economy, education of its personnel and Built industry partners regarding the value add opportunities associated with IPD, BIM, and lean tools is critical.  Lean literature and Six Sigma programs feature reiterative learning/correction loops.  Mechanisms whereby knowledge is acquired, enhanced and leveraged over time are common in the manufacturing sector.

While these concepts find support in lean construction and lean design processes, the Built industry is generally less receptive to reiterative learning loops.  Too often, Built industry professionals send “fire fighters” to get projects back on track with little concern or attention paid to the manner in which the project is brought under control.  Built industry professionals interested in leveraging IPD, BIM, and lean processes need to reassess this attitude.  Gathering, evaluating, and enhancing information and data that makes its way into your organization's knowledge base requires concentrated effort over time.  Effective learning tools enable leaders at every level to enhance the procurement, analysis, and retention of information and data deserving of inclusion in your institutional knowledge base.

Again, learn from your mistakes. 


Is your organization prepared to leverage IPD, BIM, and lean processes in a knowledge-based economy?  Ask yourself the following questions.

Does everyone in our organization know our business purpose?
Do we know what we know about IPD, BIM, and lean business processes?
Do we know what we don't know about those tools?
Do we know how to leverage IPD, BIM, and lean processes to add value for our clients?
Do we know how to leverage IPD, BIM, and lean processes to add value internally?
Do we know where and how to find answers about IPD, BIM, and lean processes?
Do we know how to advertise our knowledge of IPD, BIM, and lean processes?
Do we know how to share our knowledge of IPD, BIM, and lean processes with others?
Do we know how acquire and enhance additional knowledge of IPD, BIM, and lean processes daily?

Teaching IPD, BIM, and lean processes is, like so many things in the Built industry, a wicked problem.  But just because the problem is wicked doesn't mean it cannot or should not be solved.  It just means solving the problem will be a bit more difficult than solving more traditional problems. 

As always, the questions raised in this series of articles should be viewed as opportunities and not as hurdles.  The Built industry needs to seize the opportunity and run with it.  Innovative firms, organizations, and governmental entities can put internal training programs in place.  They can join forces and put regional training programs in place.  The can further join forces to educate entire countries and, ultimately, the world.  Act today!

James Salmon, Esq. is President of Collaborative Construction Resources.