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.

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.

How to be a BIM Manager

How to be a BIM Manager

In April of this year I was promoted to BIM Manger, and put in charge of the BIM movement in all 4 of our offices here in Canada.  It is pretty exciting and terrifying at the same time, not going to lie.  After I got my head around the new position I sat down and took some steps to help lead the company to the BIM future!!!

The first step is to setup some goals, do a 3 month plan and a 12 month plan.  These goals will help you focus on what needs to be done, and gives you a time line.  For myself it helps me keep going, when I finish one project I know I have a list so I keep the positive energy flowing.

Goal 1:  to develop a BIM Curriculum, I read in a blog about the importance of creating training program for your office in order to develop consistence in education. (I’m sorry I don’t remember the author of the blog, if it’s you thanks, and let me know so I can give you credit).I think this is a big piece of helping your office move forward and making your self visible to all staff, which is a big feat with 4 offices across Canada.

Goal 2:  of course the biggest headache, is content.  Who hasn’t fought with content and making it consistent thru all your offices.  Hopefully after much pain and suffering I will have a post dedicated to how I wrangled this issue.

Goal 3:Start a BIM Hour, this came from an Idea I someone at my presentation in Sacramento said.  He said his office is across America and they started an IT hour so people could join a conversation and get their IT questions answered.  I thought I would take it to BIM, my first BIM Hour saw over 50 people participate.  We discussed Formit and it’s Analysis tools, we took the hour and did a short demo, watched a video and answered peoples questions about using Formit and what our offices plan was.  I received a lot of great feedback and people looking forward to the next BIM Hour in August.

Goal 4: Startup my BIM User Groups, and BIM education series in all offices.  This is something I have been doing in Vancouver for the last 5 years, it has created some knowledgeable users about Revit and how we use BIM in our projects.  Now it’s time to get it across the country.  The BIM User Group is an office specific training during lunch that staff can join and see some cool uses of Revit.  The BIM education series is what my BIM Curriculum is set for.

Goal 5: Keep that office wide training going.  We have several advanced modules in Revit to help users get better at the tool.  It’s a 4 hour training series that runs thru the quarter.

I will go more indepth in my book “How to be a BIM advocate” coming out in July, until then Keep up the passion.

The Over Modeling affliction or OVM

There is a strange affliction happening in my office, it’s called Over Modeling (OVM).  This disease gets spread from staff member to staff member.  We have yet to find a cure for it, but we have established support groups to help those that understand they have a problem.

How can you tell if your office is afflicted with OVM?

 

  • Have people been asking questions about making the Stairs show exact in 3D, Section and Detail?
  • Have there been questions showing the correct curtain wall mullion in 3D?
  • Has the size of the model increased drastically in a matter of a week?

If you answered yes to any of these questions then your office may have OVM disease.  Don’t worry there is treatment for this disease, it takes time and effort with constant communication.

New Years Resolution: Improvement in Production and Quality documents

“Everything should be made as simple as possible by not simpler”  – Albert Einstein

When you start working with BIM you have to change how you approach a project, how the project is setup, and how the team must change its thought process when creating the model.  The key is to focus on the project deliverable’s.  This goes for the Project Managers also, they can’t assume Revit will catch any problems.  Do you ever get the question from Project Managers: “Why doesn’t Revit tag Rooms and Doors correctly?”

This is the epidemic I have been faced with in my office regarding follow thru when modeling in Revit.  It has become second nature to simple place a door or a room in Revit, and why not it’s so easy.  However this comes with a large problem, placing a door or a room doesn’t mean it’s numbered correctly for your specific project.  When we drew “dumb” objects in AutoCAD we had to manual add these numbers. So when did we start thinking that Revit could do it for us?

Now the question is how to do we remain productive and efficient in Revit but still produce a quality drawing set.

My New Year resolution for the office is to try and come up with teaching strategies to help focus all Staff including Project Managers and Principals.  This year’s goals will be all about identifying, using and believing in the QA and QC processes, Teaching of the Deliverable’s, and a refocusing of tools and enhancements in the modeling environment.

Enjoying the Support Role

Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.   Albert Einstein

I truly enjoy my job in BIM Support, and I would like to pass on some wisdom I have learned after my 20 hard fought years in Support at Architecture Firms.

It took me a long time to find peace while doing my job. There were a lot of hard times, they always seemed to block out the good.  As I said in my previous blog Fighting the Battles to win the BIM War , Support in Architecture is the dirtiest job.  To make the job something you can do for a long time, and something you can truly enjoy you need to find that key.  The key for me as always been, for lack of a better word, swag.  Yep that crap you get from those conferences, resellers or in the mail.  I put it out on my desk, and it makes me smile, it helps remind me of the simple pleasures of my job.  Like that one time I helped someone and it made a huge difference on the project.  Also that time was struggling because it couldn’t complete a task, and I was able to show them a simpler way

We are never going to be the ones who are mentioned in the emails or articles as one of the important keys to a project.  We are not going to toast that champagne at the opening of the building.  Nope we stand proudly behind those that do, knowing that without our support and hard fought battles this building would not have been as successful as it was.

You need to hang onto those successes, and every time it gets hard and you ask yourself “Why am I doing this” pull out that piece of swag that makes you smile and remember that project that without you would have failed.

I’m okay with that, I never really liked champagne anyway, and sometimes the swag is pretty cool.

Have a Successful day 🙂