Thinking outside the box

As a BIM advocate I have found myself trying to pull others into my linear workflow instead of working with their design workflow. In my last post  “the Mechanic and the Designer”, I talked about my breakthrough on how I can support the less direct workflow used by designers. My new struggle is; how can I do that? I’m a geek that loves BIM process and the idea of Open BIM (yep, it’s what I dream about), it’s hard for me to understand and anticipate the needs of designers.

So how do I support the non-linear workflow of designers?

I’ve been working on the basics of this for a while: this kind of support always starts with trust. I need the designers I work with to feel comfortable chatting with me about what they need and what will help them move forward with design. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this — designers need the space and time to work through a project and find the best approach, and often aren’t aware of the Revit support that’s available. Regular chats about the direction of the project and design options gives me information about what tools I can provide, and providing designers with simple tasks using BIM tools can encourage team members to be more adventurous in their BIM strategies.

Once I understood designers don’t use the BIM standard workflow and I decided to try to support a design-based non-linear workflow, I realized the only way to promote and encourage BIM use is to help designers find new (and BIM-based) solutions to their design problems. My opportunity to test this came when one of my teams needed to present a large multi-phase, multiyear project to a group of investors. The challenge? They needed to efficiently show phasing and construction for the site. When I learned of this need, I suggested using a 4D timeliner to show each phase as it is built. The team had never considered coming to me for help with this because they didn’t know this type of presentation tool was possible.

I took this opportunity to show them the power and interoperability of BIM tools by providing them a timeline video building massing for each phase of the design. This lead to questions of “how can we do that on more projects?”, and my favourite, “you mean I can get all the areas in real time using this massing and develop something to present?” Suddenly I was working with a team that was interested and excited about using BIM for presentation, and who wanted to learn more about how BIM could be collaborative and assist with the design of their project.

I broke down the steps for the designers and showed them that Revit massing is not very different from Sketchup, once you know how to put the different parts together. The benefit to using Revit is that it is designed for easy data extraction: there is no need to export to CAD and draw a polyline to figure out area.

I provided a simple massing process, and I didn’t try to convince them not to work in Sketchup. Instead, I let the designers start in a software with procedures where they were comfortable, and I asked them to let me move the work into Revit when they were ready to start calculations. Instead of asking them to start the Revit model from scratch, I took the Sketchup model into Revit and massed up the buildings.  I think because I don’t know Sketchup and I’m skilled at Revit it took me very little time. Once I had their model in place they used it to generate area numbers, and found they were comfortable enough in the model to edit the massing to review the impact of different floor plates on their maximum area calculations.

Now that team rarely opens Sketchup and they have used Revit to develop their design and take the model onto Design Development documents.

Funny how having passion to teach and drive BIM in the industry creates opportunities to lead designers into BIM without even planning it.

The Mechanic and the Designer

I have always struggled trying to understand why BIM is so difficult to implement. It makes sense to me –why doesn’t everyone else see that?

In a recent meeting with a Design Partner I finally had my big ah-ha moment. That moment came with the realization of why BIM never quite seems to work the way it should: the basic principle of BIM throughout the project workflow misses the needs of the Designer. There always seems to be a breakdown between the Designers toolbox and the documentation software. I’ve never understood why the Designers can’t use the software provided as intended, but it turns out the flaw is in my understanding of the Designer’s thought process.

This is where I have had a difficult time understanding why the word BIM makes some roll their eyes. BIM is used to capture information within a modeling environment using tools to create documentation. It’s being used by a designer who wants to be able to iterate, work out and mess with design throughout the process of the project. These two strategies are not fundamentally opposed, but my discussion with the Design Partner made it clear that the designer needs to have a tool kit that includes an array of different options. To unlock the potential of BIM, Designers need to be able to collect and test ideas to learn about how the information available to them can be translated into an amazing project.

This idea has set me on the path to re-educating myself in how BIM and design can work together. I think the key to successful BIM implementation is finding a way to help designers explore different ways available data can been used to generate form. My goal has always been to simplify information capture in the BIM model so the designer can focus on the essence of the project, so the question becomes how do we give the designers the toolkit the need and get to our BIM goals?

What we need is a two-way connection between our documenting software (which is usually Revit) to our design pipeline. This can include paper sketches or work in SketchUp, Rhino, 3D Max, and whatever exciting and new visualization tools that make our product look amazing and beautiful  — something historically been lacking in Revit). BIM software is designed to incorporate a tremendous amount of information, and it can be difficult to use with the limited amount of information that is available at the early stages of design. The work of design needs to be fuzzy and incomplete so the design itself can be reviewed while it is incomplete.

These soft edges to the design allows us to work within constraints with the information provided.  Providing data from within a model that we’ve already begun allows the designer to maintain design intent while reviewing the results of visual or functional iterations of the product. A live link in our documentation can give our designers a workflow that allows them to follow the standard design practice of a general idea becoming more and more specific. This reviewed and tested idea can then be placed into the documentation process.  This is winning at implementation.

The whole process was described to me as follows: the project is like a car.  I’m the mechanic. My job is to make sure that the engine continues to run and the design can still maintain visual aesthetics. Seeing this image drawn by the design partner (who is in essence an artist) completely changed my perspective on the project.  Illustrating the need in BIM management is that simple: we need to create a workflow that feeds the design intent into the documentation process throughout the lifecycle of the project.  Does that not blow your mind?

To further emphasize the communication barrier between designers and BIM managers, I explained to the design partner that I can see this as a cake.  This cake is built with layers:  my work is the layers underneath the icing.  The software and tools support the process. Although this metaphor worked for me, it wasn’t a fit for the design partner. For him the design is a car and I’m a mechanic.  His argument was with a cake the icing can be removed. It may not be the most delicious cake, but it’s still edible and therefore serves the basic function of a cake. You can’t have a car without an engine, and that’s an important distinction.

BIM managers need to learn to use language and metaphors that speak to designers, otherwise we will continue to have difficulties convincing teams to work with us on projects. My challenge is to mediate between the process-driven linear development that makes sense to me, and the less direct creative method of designers: we need to find a way to bring them together so that each can better communicate their issues and concerns.

Questioning the Consultants

Question: why are consultants fighting the use of a BIM Process that can save them time and coordination headaches?

 

I frequently work with my colleagues to coordinate consultants, and it’s part of my job to make sure that our consultants know what we expect from them. Although our office works exclusively in Revit and requires our consultants to do so as well, I find that Revit gets used as a drafting tool instead of a BIM Tool. Consultants complain that using Revit to capture information such as slab slopes, ramps, stairs and wood framing is ‘not part of the fee’. They may be willing to model the major elements but they do not want to provide a model for coordination with the architect or to the client.

The struggle is real: working with smaller consultant firms is a big problem when trying to facilitate interoffice BIM goals. If BIM is not required by the client most smaller firms would prefer to charge more for using a BIM workflow. I think that the use of Revit implies a start to the BIM workflow. After all, if you use the software as intended to incorporate information 3D coordination will occur.  There is an amazing advantage to all parties involved in the project.

Struggle

My response is always the same. Although our clients may not have explicit BIM goals, my office has an expectation that all consultants will collaborate on the project. We strive to deliver the best project possible to the client, and we need efficient collaboration to make this happen. Each project utilizing the BIM Tool Revit gets some sort of BIM Execution Plan (BIMeX) and I expect consultants on our projects to build models to a level that is documented in the BIMex and discussed at the project Kick-off meeting with all parties involved.

I am always confused by the consultant approach of using Revit as a 2D drafting tool. Revit is a BIM tool and it draws in 3D and is not a 2D drafting tool. Accurate modelling that all team members can use for coordination is the entire point of the software! Is this where BIM sputters? Is this the first edition of the software? Absolutely not: this is 2017 and we have been using this process for several years.

Understanding client requirements can allow the Architect to dictate the need for BIM Goals and create an in-house BIM Execution Plan. These requirements should be written into the consultant agreement and all consultants should agree to abide by the BIMeX. These meetings are meant to outline the use of software during the project timeline, the Level of Development within the model, what is modeled, how models are exchanged and who owns what elements in the 3D environment.

Once the BIMeX is created and agreed upon by the Architectural team it’s time to have a Project Kick-off meeting to go over the BIMeX and requirements of the projects modeling needs. It’s always best to sit down in person to discuss these requirements to make sure there is no confusion and everyone can agree upon the BIM Goals and deliverable. This documentation is used throughout the lifecycle of the project for a record of modeling responsibilities and requirements that all parties agreed on.

As Henry Ford said:   “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

A Year Later…

one-year

It has been a year and the journey has been rough at times, but I am optimistic the future is bright.

A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new – Albert Einstein

A year ago I wrote about a New adventure I was starting at ZGF Cotter Architects: http://wp.me/p4aYOX-2j. A lot has happened in that year; we dropped the Cotter and are now fully established as ZGF, the Canadian branch of the Number One Architectural firm in America.

As a design firm, ZGF believes in utilizing technology research to help better the design. As the year has progressed I’ve discovered what that phrase actually means to the firm. I’ve heard people say “don’t get in the designer’s way.” I didn’t really understand this phrase from my perspective of process and support. I am not an architect and I do not design amazing buildings or come up with incredible solutions for a client’s building; I do not want to. My job is to support those that do.

What I love is to work with process. I believe that technology can be leveraged to give designers more time to focus on what *they* really want to do and do well. I believe creating standards for content and materials enables users to focus on design and forget about the technology behind the output. When I hear the phrase “stay out of the way”, I now understand it’s about streamlining the process so you can keep the technology out of the way.

This past year has been a period of learning and growth to discover the best ways to help my designer-colleagues use BIM technology. To date my job as Design Technology Manager has followed these three phases:

Phase One: Understand what currently is used to help the designer tell a story for the project.

  • Are there specific types of software that are used?
  • What is the workflow during the design process?
  • How does that differ from project to project?
  • When is the design process at a point for documentation?
  • Does design ever stop?

Phase two:

  • Learn how to link software together so the design intent and work remains intact.
  • Work with colleagues to identify where information management can be automated and streamline workflow.
  • Review different project types to make sure that universally applied processes still apply.
  • Create templates to assist team with process documentation
  • Ensure that technology process allows for updates and changes along the project timeline.

Phase three: Setup a BIM Implementation plan for the Vancouver office and focus on making it succeed.

The Danger of BIM Theory

I was recently at a BIM conference and found myself listening to a presentation on a project I worked on at a past firm. This was a P3 project (Private-Public-Partnership) located in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Listening to the presentation was a bit surreal; their focus was how they had used BIM to manage  data. Once the Architect finished discussing data management and how information was used, my replacement started talking about how BIM was a key. His presentation focused on the theory of BIM and how it can be used on a P3, but included nothing about how BIM was used on the P3 project that we won.

Listening to the presentation helped me realize there is a serious problem with the implementation of BIM. I believe the issue starts with those in charge of BIM Implementation in a firm. I have met many professionals that lead BIM inside their firm.  Some have no experience with the tools; others have come up through the ranks using the tools but have no experience with setting up the process. These two types of BIM leaders have different types of BIM Implementation strategies. Those with experience in the tools tend to lean towards a CAD Management approach. Those without hands-on use and an educational background tend to come to the table with theories of BIM process and an unrealistic idea of its function on projects.

In order for BIM to succeed there needs to be a shift in BIM Leadership across the board. The BIM process should be implemented in a way that helps your firm succeed, not make projects less profitable. BIM tools need to be taught in a way that is easy for users and is not locked down to enforce standards.  BIM Leaders also should be included at the beginning of all projects and invited to attend meetings that discuss:

  • Project resourcing
  • Project/owner requirements
  • Project goals such as sustainability and life cycle management.

The BIM tools should never get in the way of BIM implementation but with the current trend of some BIM leaders around the globe, BIM has become dysfunctional and possible even a money pit.

I am currently working with the office Partner in charge to implement a working BIM process that will prove to the other 5 offices in my firm that when BIM is implemented correctly it is successful and profitable.

A quote from Albert Einstein sums up the role of all BIM Leaders: Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.

Part 2: Change in the AEC Industry

Today I’d like to talk about how we can help the industry adapt to BIM. This is a big leap, and it’s useful to break down the changes into smaller steps. BIM is a popular idea that isn’t always well understood  and has yet to be fully realized.

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We start our journey to successful BIM implementation at Stage One (Precontemplation). At this stage, firms understand they have to change, but are trying to hold on for a while longer. This is often because they have been misinformed or have had a bad experience using BIM tools. A combination of miscommunication and unrealistic goals have many firms frozen between a desire to adopt new strategies, and a fear of out-of-control costs. The previous implementation of AutoCAD created a lasting scare for most firms, and offices that had bad experiences with the introduction of AutoCAD are more likely to avoid BIM.

Let’s start by addressing the role of the BIM Manager. CAD Managers are not BIM managers, and making a CAD Manager the BIM Manager by just sending them to Revit training will create a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of what BIM is and what it can do. For example, this year I had a conversation with a PM who was telling me how good his firm was at BIM. He said “We are one of the best Architecture firms with Revit, so yes we are using BIM”.  He didn’t understand that he was missing most of the tools that BIM provides. That, my friends, sums up the reason why BIM Implantation is struggling.

A BIM Manager’s main task is to make BIM Tools as simple to use as possible. If the tool gets in the way of any part of the Design process, staff will resist using it and default to previous strategies for solving the problem. The BIM Manager must also be at the beginning of all projects. Every project in the office should start following a BIM process, no matter who else in the consultant team is also doing BIM: what matters is the practice of the process. If all projects proceed with a standard BIM Process implementation becomes second nature.

BIM Managers must have a working knowledge of the tools they provide to staff, and the patience to work with users to help them understand how to make these tools an effective part of their workflow. In a feasibility study, for example, the AutoCAD process is long and is prone to calculation errors. If instead we use Revit to create a feasibility study we can design a massing plan for each area, extrude to the height needed, add a mass floor and create an area schedule and then link that data into an excel table that calculates the areas for us. Each tweak and boundary shift is then automatically recalculated, giving the user immediate updates of information that can both streamline their process and allow them to focus more on design.

I was able to convert several Architects into using Massing in Revit for their FSR city requirements by simply showing them how efficient this process can be. If we can create and teach processes that help users understand and use the tools successfully, BIM Managers can guide firms from the Precontemplation stage  into the Contemplation stage.

As a BIM Manager you hold the power to transition your firm successfully into BIM, or to simply let them suffer in silence.

Changing in the AEC Industry with BIM

30 years ago the introduction of computer automated drafting in the AEC industry transformed how  projects were delivered. This change is a minor tremor compared to the earthquake created by the introduction of BIM tools. In 20 years the industry has been radically transformed: in 1998 a couple of guys in Wellesley, MA sat down and started writing code for a new piece of 3D software called Revit,  in 2000 Autodesk buys Revit and in 2016 we are still trying to get firms to change to a new workflow process.

A few weeks ago, I realized the most used phrase in my office is “Change is Hard”. I started to think more about it and I thought it was time for a little research, and so I’ve been reading paper after paper on the Stages of Change and how to modify behaviors/attitudes. The more reading I do the more I realize there is a need for a change in the way we initiate and implement BIM.

Unfortunately, the changes firms made 20 years ago to shift from drafting by hand to using CAD left a lasting mark on the industry. When we had to move to this new Electronic Drafting software, firms didn’t understand the need for someone to manage the software.  Adoption was painful, slow, and costly. In time, it became clear that larger firms needed a CAD Manager to create protocols and workflow and help team members control their drawings sets. When offices began to implement Revit, many assumed their CAD Manager could handle the new workflow process. CAD Managers were sent to Revit training and came back to the office crowned as BIM Managers. This trend led to Revit users being guided by CAD Managers who do not understand the complexity of the role of BIM Manager. The title has been degraded to the point some firms will not even use it. It’s time to take back this role and recreate the definition and position.

This brings us to my research and a better understanding of how the AEC industry can learn to take advantage of BIM Technologies.

Let’s start with adapting the Transtheoretical Model to match BIM. I will revisit this flowchart and adjust based on new information that comes to light. Over the next several weeks I will be outlining my ideas and plans for each stage of BIM adoption to review how to minimize the failure and maximize the success of every team adopting BIM.

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