Get the Most out of BIM – Be a BIMwit!

7/8/2014

BIM collaboration

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the BIM

The use of BIM tools in the architectural profession continues to increase. More and more firms are realizing the benefits BIM tools like Revit. However, it can be very easy to get bogged down in outmoded attitudes and workflows that prevent the user from getting the most out of the powerful tools available from BIM.

The solution: be a BIMwit! This is not a pejorative term – far from it. A BIMwit is someone with the keen wit and perception to make the best use of BIM, and I proudly count myself among this group.

I became a BIMwit shortly after I graduated from architecture school. I Having entered architecture as a second career, I knew that I was going to be behind the curve, as I would be entering the profession in my mid-30s. While in school, I made a point to learn how to use as many digital design tools as I could. Shortly after I landed my first architecture job, I got sent to a 3-day introductory Revit class. Despite my inexperience in the profession, I realized right away that BIM was a game-changer. It was unlike any of the other digital design tools that I had ever seen, and it seemed obvious that the power of the information contained in a BIM model would not only change the way buildings were designed, but also how they were built and operated.

I became a tireless advocate of BIM, often to the chagrin of other colleagues at my firm. “Boy, you really drank the Kool-Aid on that Revit!” one of them observed. I began to notice that the ones most resistant to incorporating Revit into the firm’s processes were senior managers, many of whom were not particularly tech-savvy. Even some of the managers who were enthusiastic about BIM didn’t really seem to understand it, nor did they want to learn much about it. It seemed to me that this attitude was nearly as counter-productive as that of the old-school managers who regarded anything other than hand-drafting as “impure.”

Face Down Fears and Level Up Your BIM Program

It doesn’t matter how many enthusiastic, BIM-savvy interns and junior staff members a firm has; if the management of the firm doesn’t fully support and understand how BIM works, it will not be used to its maximum potential. Educating management is key to maximizing the potential of BIM, and making the most of the investment made to incorporate a BIM program. That investment can be substantial: the cost of the software, the cost of the hardware to run the software, and the time investment can be substantial. Implementing a Revit program and only using it for drafting and document production is like buying a Ferrari and only using it to go to the grocery store down the street.

When beginning a BIM program, it is necessary to address the fears that such a change will inevitably bring. Fear of change is just human nature; it’s hard-wired into our amygdalae at the back of the brain. Many people are also afraid of technical tools in general, and a highly-complex BIM tool such as Revit can be very intimidating indeed. Finally, there is a fear of looking uninformed or incompetent, which will further drive technophobic managers and designers away from BIM. By addressing these fears up front, a good firm will save itself a lot of hassles in the long run. Just remember: change is inevitable, Revit isn’t as scary as it looks, and anybody can learn the basics and produce good-looking drawings and images, regardless of their level of technical expertise. Anyone – from the greenest intern to the crustiest senior manager – can become a BIMwit.

Maximize the Advantages of BIM

In some respects, this is preaching to the choir. If you’re looking to maximize your BIM investment, you have already understood the benefits of BIM. However, while these things are often used to make the sale, they will not be realized if a firm’s BIM program is not fully implemented, then these advantages will not be realized, either:

  • More Time Spent Designing, Less Time Spent Drafting – Nobody went to architecture school to produce documents; we all want to design, and drawing production is just one of the ugly realities of the job. A properly managed BIM program will streamline the document production process, allowing for more time to design. Specifically, it will allow for more design iterations, resulting in a better design and a happier client.
  • Better Design Visualization & Client Communication – As architects, it can be easy to forget that those outside of the profession may not be proficient at understanding plans, sections, elevations and other standard views. I remember sitting in a client meeting with an interior designer who was proudly showing off his concept drawings for a hotel lobby. The designer was rapidly flipping through sketches and drawings, and the client was nodding enthusiastically, but something was amiss. The client’s “deer in the headlights” expression got more obvious as the presentation continued, and it eventually became apparent that he didn’t really understand most of the drawings that the designer was showing him. With BIM, it is easy to create good-looking perspectives that can easily convey design ideas to anyone.
  • Better Coordination Among Disciplines – Structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems continue to become more complex, and new building designs are required to cram more of these systems into less space. With BIM, it is possible to achieve a level of coordination between these systems during design that is impossible with a traditional 2D drafting methodology.
  • BIMwit Firms are Seen as Being Progressive – And who doesn’t want to work for a progressive firm? Certainly, it is easier to attract top-quality talent with such a reputation, which is obviously beneficial.
  • BIMwit Firms Get More Projects – This is the kicker, and the reason many firms adopt a BIM program in the first place. In 2012, 65% of owners required or requested BIM on at least a portion of their projects. It’s hard to believe that this number will not continue to increase. Pretty soon, firms that do not wholly embrace BIM will find it harder and harder to get commissions.

A Tale of Two Firms

While it should be evident that BIMwit design firms have an advantage in landing new jobs, it must be pointed out that the firm actually has to deliver on its promises. This can be very difficult to do if the firm does not have BIMwits throughout its management structure. A while back, I worked for XYZ Architects, a firm that had rather half-heartedly implemented a BIM program because it seemed like it was the up-and-coming trend. The senior management wasn’t really supportive of BIM, however, and many of the project managers actively opposed it. On several occasions, XYZ Architects promised a client a Revit-based job, only to backtrack and revert to 2D drafting. This usually happened when the PM got nervous about the schedule, usually midway through the Schematic Design phase, and chucked all of the work that had been done in Revit, only to start over again in AutoCAD.

A few years later, I was working for ABC Architects, a firm that had enthusiastically embraced BIM from the president of the firm on down. We were soon approached by former clients of XYZ Architects, who said that they were tired of working with firms that promised to deliver a project in BIM, only to backtrack and finish the project the old-fashioned 2D-drafting way. During the interview, they specifically mentioned that this had happened with XYZ Architects, and that they had approached ABC Architects because of their reputation as an all-BIM, all-the-time design firm.

The point of this cautionary tale is that talking the BIM talk is not good enough; a firm must also walk the BIM walk. In order to do so, the management needs to support and understand how BIM works and how managing a BIM project needs to be different from managing a traditional 2d-based project.

So What is BIM, Anyway?

This can be a loaded question. It is sometimes difficult to get people to agree on what the acronym means: “building information modeling,” or “building information management” (which I prefer), or even “better information management” (cute, but too vague). It can be a lot like the parable about the blind men and the elephant – it differs depending on where you are. For example, BIM can seem quite different to an IT manager than it would to a senior designer. To cut through the debate, I will make the following simple assertion:

BIM IS A PROCESS

BIM is a process, and to be properly utilized that process needs to be properly managed. The problem is that many firms don’t understand how to do this, or resist doing it for reasons already discussed. This is unfortunate, as this situation results in a myriad of missed opportunities and friction within a firm.

elephant-bim

Managers: Know How BIM Works

The biggest impediment to a firm’s successful implementation of a BIM program is a lack of understanding at the senior level. A lot of managers feel like they are too busy (as is quite often the case), or that they don’t need to learn how to operate a BIM tool like Revit because it is beneath them, isn’t germane to their work.I suspect that many of these attitudes are fear-based, and as I’ve already mentioned, those fears need to be addressed and overcome.

Managers often dismiss BIM tools such as Revit as a being merely a tool for the production staff. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In order to manage effectively, a manager needs to know the tools his team is using. The snarky analogy I sometimes use is this: you wouldn’t hire a framing crew whose foreman doesn’t know how to swing a hammer, would you? Likewise, a design firm manager needs to have a basic understanding of how a BIM tool such as Revit operates.

Sometimes, there will be manager-level BIM training that focuses solely on navigating through the model, printing sheets, etc. This is a good start, but it does not go nearly far enough. I recommend that every person in a design-related role on the project team should be able to design a birdhouse and be able to generate a simple drawing set expressing their design. This goes for the principal-in-charge as well as the newest intern.

There are 1-day courses available from resellers and other sources that specialize in teaching managers the basics of BIM tool operation. I highly recommend that these for managers of BIM projects, especially if the courses are provided off-site. It is way too easy to get distracted with phone calls and emails during in-house training, and miss a vital piece of information. Managers, get some off-site, distraction-free training, and start designing your bird house!

Revit birdhouse design

Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Interns?!

Another area where I have seen many missed opportunities is in the mentoring process that is a vital part of a senior manager’s or designer’s responsibility. BIM is an unparalleled mentoring tool to help teach junior staff about how buildings go together. In BIM, one is essentially constructing a virtual building, and the parts of the building in a BIM model must go together as they really will when the building is constructed. There’s no faking it with spurious linework or exploding blocks, saying “we’ll go back and deal with it later.” In BIM, it has to be right (more or less) from the beginning.

This provides an excellent opportunity for senior architects to pass on their experience to junior staff. The traditional way of using details and redlines as a teaching tool is cumbersome and ineffective. Using a BIM model is a more efficient teaching tool by several orders of magnitude – but it will not be very effective if the senior architect doesn’t know his way around a BIM tool like Revit. Become a BIMwit, graybeards, and start passing on the benefit of your years of experience to the next generation of architects!

Managing BIM for Success

One of the biggest impediments to successful implementation of a BIM program is a lack of BIMwits in decision-making positions. This will slowly change over time as today’s junior staff BIMwits make their way into management-level positions. However, a progressive firm can cut to the chase by encouraging (or mandating) that current managers become familiar with the BIM process.

One of the most common mistakes is not understanding that in a BIM project, decisions need to be made earlier than in the traditional 2D drafting process. The project needs to staff up earlier, and basic decisions regarding structural systems, wall types, etc. need to be made earlier than they normally would – and that the thought processes that inform those decisions need to be initiated earlier, as well. The payoff for making these decisions has already been mentioned – that in the long run there is more time available to design and less time spent producing drawings. However, that will only occur if this front-end work and decision-making is done properly. I believe that this is what the project managers at XYZ Architects failed to understand, and it ultimately cost them clients.

BIM Execution Plan – Roadmap to a Great Project

Planning is key to developing a great BIM project. Getting buy-in from all of the stakeholders in a project is vital to having successful project: from the owner to the consultants, and the general contractor and the subs, make sure that everybody is on board with BIM on the project. This is achieved through a BIM Execution Plan. This should be a detailed and frequently-updated living document that help guides the BIM activities through all stages of the project. In some cases, the BIM execution plan may even be part of the contract documents. Develop a BIM Execution Plan in pre-design and keep updating it as the project progresses. Not only will it help the project run more smoothly, it will also make planning for the next project go that much more smoothly.

Collaboration is Key

The old model of design-bid-build is on its way out, particularly for larger projects. Now, collaborative project structures such as Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) require all of the stakeholders to work together to insure a positive outcome for a building project. Even if the design team isn’t working particularly closely with the contractor and subs, the project will still benefit enormously from the collaboration available in a BIM-based project.

First, it is important to have as many design consultants as possible working in Revit or a similar BIM platform. So-called “blended” projects where parts of the design are in BIM and part are in AutoCAD are enormously ineffective. Many design firms have consultants with which they prefer to work, although some of them may be reluctant to incorporate BIM into their own work processes. Remember, architects: engineering consultants work for you – don’t let them dictate the terms of the project. Principal-level discussions can be held to make sure the consultants understand the importance of being on board with BIM. This is a two-way street, as well. BIMwit engineering consultants are cognizant of how BIM-savvy their architectural clients are, and will adjust their schedules (and fees) upwards for architects whom they know will be providing poor BIM models to work with.

Early collaboration is key – determining something as simple as where the gridlines will be in the BIM model or who owns the lighting fixtures (and when) will save a lot of time and heartburn down the road. Even better, using a BIM tool such as Navisworks that is specifically designed for collaboration and clash-detection will catch a lot of constructability issues before they get into the field, while they’re still cheap to fix. This can result in higher fees for added service and much fewer RFIs and changes in the field.

Navisworks coordination model

Celebrate Your BIMwit Success

BIM is a game-changing technology, and it is already in the process of radically changing how buildings ar being conceived, designed, built and maintained. In order to maximize the potential of BIM tools, design firms need to fully embrace the changes that are necessary to successfully implement a BIM program. In short, everyone in the design process needs to be a BIMwit. This especially includes senior staff and management, who need to have a good working knowledge of the tools their team is using to effectively manage the projects and pass on their experience to junior staff. The benefits of being a BIMwit are enormous – but everybody has to take part. The benefits of being a BIMwit are enormous, and success is all but ensured to those individuals and firms who are willing to  “drink the Kool Aid” and become BIMwits!

Tesseract Design can help you and the rest of your firm become top-notch BIMwits. Learn more about our BIM services at www.tesseract-design.com/bim-services.