Integrated Design and Delivery in Canada, Mexico and the United States



In the US and Canada, “integrated design” sometimes stands for a vague concept of interdisciplinary collaboration that is limited to the design stage, or it can signify a very deliberate, collaborative process that extends through construction and into building operation. It is in the latter sense that we will consider it in this report: as an integrated management, design and construction practice adapted from certain modern managerial-production systems that are widely used to structure a more deliberate process.

One of these systems, Lean Construction, was derived from the Lean manufacturing principles, which emphasize value for the customer, tightly controlled process flow, and emphasis on perfection, pioneered by Toyota. This production management approach has now developed trademarked techniques to maximize value and minimize waste in construction, through organizations like the Lean Construction Institute, which runs workshops, hosts conferences, and is responsible for the development of training programs to educate practitioners in both Canada and the US. Lean construction practices, based on the Lean principles, will recur in the discussion below.

Another very influential source helping to solidify and define integrated practices is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Standard, a green building standard used internationally, that awards project teams which have worked together to identify opportunities to save energy and water early in design.

Furthermore, specialized multi-party contracts have been adopted in the US and Canada to formalize integrative efforts, although use of such contracts is still very rare and typically limited to very large, complex projects, especially in the healthcare sector.

These sources of guidance, however, are only utilized in select domains, with little crossover. Interviews with practitioners in the US and Canada revealed that terminology and practices differed greatly between different disciplines, creating confusion and opening the door for companies to use terms like “integrated design” for marketing without changing current practices. This suggests that there is great opportunity to influence practice in these countries by simply laying the groundwork for a common understanding of what true integration entails.

In interviews with Mexican practitioners, respondents generally expressed a much more consistent understanding of integrated practices than their colleagues to the North, but they also had a much more limited approach—mostly just involving the contractor team in the design process. Lean practices were not cited as a basis for implementation and most practitioners expressed a need for more guidance on the process.

Research suggests integrated approaches have recently been introduced in Mexico, largely through greater exposure to the LEED Standard. A small number of practitioners are practicing deeply integrative processes, but to the knowledge of the authors at the time of this report, no projects in Mexico had used a multi-party contract. These findings suggest that a resource outlining specific steps to deeper levels of integration, and consolidating tools that already exist, could greatly benefit Mexican building professionals.