Collaboration of the Many

OPEN BIM is a universal approach to the collaborative design, realization, and operation of buildings based on open standards and workflows. OPEN BIM is an initiative of several leading software vendors using the open buildingSMART Data Model.

I am a strong believer in helping all colleagues, going to conferences, and networking to better understand what others are doing in the field of BIM. I find asking questions and having conversations about the processes I am working on and how my role works helps me learn about approaches I would never have considered, and this in turn makes me better at my job.

A couple of weeks ago at Autodesk University I was having a beer and conversation with a couple of colleges. One had never been to AU and was talking in amazement about people presenting their projects, process, or workflows. He was amazed people would be so willing to share. The other colleague and I had been to AU several times in the past, and better understand why someone will stand in front of a crowd of strangers and present ideas that might be valuable if kept to themselves: sharing makes us better.

Resources, information, processes, and workflows all start somewhere.  Sharing your work makes everyone advance. My friend, Rodigo Freig, told us a story about his first Revit project and how he started out. He explained that while working on this project he was struggling using Revit. Another colleague of his knew a structural technician using Revit, Michael W. Sullivan and said that Rodigo should give him a call. Rodrigo followed through. Michael didn’t just offer to help Rodigo – he invited Rodigo to his office for a discussion and information session on how he was using and implementing Revit in his firm. Even though they were competing companies, neither were worried about intellectual property or had any problems with open collaboration.

When BIM managers from several different companies and disciplines get together to collaborate and share out workflow and process, magic happens. These opportunities move us forward to create a better BIM environment in our industries. These discussions enable us to share information between companies and share ideas which is the key to Open BIM.  This is what makes us move forward and makes us better.

I want to share the knowledge I have to help people in the BIM community. Sometimes I get pushback from my own office: there is a lot of discussion on intellectual property. I get a lot of questions on why my company would let me tell people what I do.  I usually respond that while I share my ideas, only my office has me, my style, my routine and my process, and that’s what makes my company successful.

Today’s projects are riskier than they used to be: they are more complicated and require more information. The tools, processes and workflows used today are different then they have been in the past. This collaboration of the many helps ease this risk and create a leaner and more

Value of BIM Support

Understanding your value and the value you bring to the firm is an important piece of providing quality BIM Management.

As a BIM manager It is likely you will find you are undervalued and the service you provide are not considered an integral part of the business. Some of you may get lucky and find a manager that understands your value and the importance of BIM and what you bring to the firm, but that is rare.

Throughout my career I have worked as a CAD Manager, Consultant, and BIM Manager. Each of those roles come with a challenge to prove my worth. From the start of my career I have heard comments like “the company sure is wasting money on your position.” Or “I can’t believe the company pays you.” Of course I hear the negative comments far less often than positive comments. The positive comments always consist of two simple ideas: “how could I have done that without you?” and “you saved me so much time.” I hear this from the staff I support and help day after day. People who work with the tools and process day in and day out understand my value and the need for BIM Support. Management, on the other hand tend to look at my role simply as overhead and the value I can bring to the projects. Of course management tends to have a different idea of value from the users.

So today’s question is: how do we show our value to Management? There seems to be a lack of return on investment (ROI) help out there for BIM Support, so let’s provide proof of our worth so management can understand where our value lies.

First Step: try to get costs for the following on a job you did not support:

  1. Design coordination
  2. Time spent remodeling
  3. Consultant coordination
  4. Document coordination
  5. Visualization of any kind, even if you are just providing backgrounds for others to work with.

Second Step: compare these numbers with a job that DID have your support. You may find that design coordination time was a bit shorter, or that less time was spent remodeling.

Third step: try to track if any items used in previous jobs have been used in other projects. Your team might be able to help you with this. It’s likely that components you helped develop have spread to other projects, or that the page setup or typical details have been quietly saved to be used by another team.  It may take a few projects for your value to become clear: as team members start to absorb your training and use the tools and files you have developed with them, their work becomes more streamlined. Find out if your office is developing any similar projects to the one you supported, and talk to this team: can you see how your support is affecting how they work?

It can be difficult to quantify time savings, so try to note when team members mention they are using your technique on a different project, or mention that they have saved a component to their desktop. Each time your work is reused and shared, it saves your team time (and money!). Work done by a truly great BIM manager will stand the test of time: even years after you have left an office, your files might still be used.

Fourth step: look at the breakdown of your time. Is it hard to get work done because people keep interrupting you? That’s actually a great sign. You may want to keep notes of what kind of help people need: in addition to being able to point out how you saved time for each of these people, you may find that there is a common thread in questions that you can address either with a new tool or more information.

Always remember on your journey whenever you feel under appreciated and wonder what is wrong with your manager, remember their focus is usually value-for-money. When you can show your value (and give them the tools to show your value to their boss), you help them see support saves money.

Success of soft skills in BIM

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” – JK Rowling “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,” Harvard Commencement address June, 2008

 

A long long time ago I started out as a CAD Drafter in Architecture as someone who loved the process of Computer Aided Drafting. In my first job I learned all about creating CAD standards and getting staff on board with changes in the drafting process. Although I immediately understood why this was important it took many years of frustration and a lot of patience to get to a point where I understood how to make this happen. I had to develop my Soft Skills.

 

Soft skills are just as important,if not more important than developing and creating process. The success of BIM in a firm depends on the adoption of the tools by your staff.

 

The first thing to remember is that the way you use the software likely isn’t the same way as your target audience does. To effectively teach you need to understand your student’s point of view. I had to learn how to teach process and steps without restricting the way a user accomplishes the task.

 

Every day in the life of a support person is spent trying to better understand the staff’s needs and abilities. A great way to learn is to talk to people. Discussing non-BIM subjects, such as how their day is going or how they are feeling creates a comfortable environment for them to ask you questions. My motto has always been that no question is stupid, the only stupid question is the one not asked.

 

In order to understand how your user interacts with the software you need to stop and watch them work. It was difficult for me to keep my hands down and mouth shut to watch the user model, but it’s the best way to understand how they approach tasks.  Always remember that your way to model isn’t the only way. If you let the user build the way they feel comfortable it is easier to guide them.

 

When your team of modelers/users have “successfully” delivered projects before working with you a different tactic is required. Listen and watch how they develop their model, and learn about the process they use.  Once you understand how they work, suggestions that fit with their workflow will nudge them towards efficiency.

 

For instance they may show you how they model walls the full length of the building and just use the edit profile to adjust different areas. Of course you don’t want this to happen! But unless it is going to cause an immediate model failure, start with incremental suggestions. Ask, don’t tell. Give your team the opportunity to explain their process so you can better understand how they use the tools

 

Remember your job is to guide and teach, and know that you will continually learn. When a user describes their usage or process you might hear and see a different perspective and perhaps a different way of addressing a problem shared by other team members.

 

The hardest and most important skill is patience. This skill takes practice, and trust me you will need an outlet for those hard days.

  1. First step: find your outlet. there will be long and very hard days. My outlet is all about keeping a consistent routine. I have a gym routine, I go 2 days a week in the morning before work – my favorite exercise set is ball slams, ropes, and the Bulgarian bag.
  2. The second step to getting those soft skill in tune is to prepare and always be ready for questions. I tend to get into work at 6am on my non-gym days. This gives me time to assess the projects and check the Revit modeling usage/needs. I can write some training material, prepare a training session, even write an outline of my path forward. This time before the questions starts helps me get all my frustration out on what I’m seeing in the Revit models. Sometimes I simply review on documentation and perhaps write a process for those things they keep doing wrong.
  3. The third step is to harness patience; remember you are support, not the ruler. BIM can only be successful if projects are guided. There is no reason to force users to use the software as you do when there are so many different ways to complete the task at hand. That expression “you can catch more bees with honey” is something you should have in the back of your mind whenever you are answering those questions from users. It can be really easy to lash out at a user that has asked you the same question over and over again and can’t seem to get it. Unfortunately I don’t have a tip for that process, I just keep answering the questions. I encourage you to try ways to help that user learn. The important thing in harnessing your patience we all so desperately need is to understand that some users don’t want to learn, they find it easier to rely on you.
  4. The fourth step is to make yourself seen and use your voice. I always keep my ears open to what is happening around me. Users will often ask their neighbour for help before they come to you — they may not want to interrupt you, wait for you to finish with someone else, or they might not want to stand up.  Help everyone feel like it’s no bother to help and it’s what you enjoy doing. If people get the vibe that you are frustrated or irritated they could likely stop asking for your help.
  5. The fifth step is to remain open minded. Keep your eyes wide open. Let users guide you to new ideas, or developing new processes. I’ve learned a lot from users who have different ways of using the tools. I have been showing a user how to accomplish a task in Revit when their neighbour told me the way they did it, which I had never thought of or seen before. This process they used ended up being quicker and allowed for an easier transition to the next piece of the model.

 

Just remember we are not perfect and users are usually frustrated. Keeping a cool head and following your path will make the job more enjoyable. Find those little joys during the job that will help you keep going.Let the passion drive you, thrive to do it better than those before you. I work hard to find a way to make it easier for others to understand, and a way to make it easier to complete.

 

Working in BIM is a journey to exciting new technology and possibilities in building. The AEC industry is a place that has a lot of potential,  using technology intended for other tech services to take us to new places. However, you need to have a ton of patience and a lot of willingness to adapt to new things. I don’t want to scare anyone who wants to follow this path, but I want to give you an idea of what you may struggle with. I am grateful so many of you have found value in my posts.

 

Those of us out there that have worked in the industry for the past 20 years or so have learned to adapt. Those who did not adapt are no longer in the industry! This  adaption is about having the ability to support staff in their transition to BIM. It’s not an easy transition: there can be resistance, there can be anger, there will be struggle. Engagement of staff is key to the success of BIM and the need to prevent BIM from failing. I think of the BIM Leads and Managers as the gate to success and the prevention to failure.

BIM’s new generation

Hiring a BIM Lead is a new concept. Traditionally, companies expanded the title (and responsibilities) of their CAD Manager to include Revit support. Unfortunately, this resulted can lead to some misconceptions about BIM, I touched on this in my post Stop the BIM madness. Now that many companies have successfully transitioned to BIM from CAD, specialized knowledge of the possibilities of integrated software design is necessary.

This is where most companies run into a serious problem: people with my experience are rare. I started my career as a CAD Manager and transitioned to a BIM Manager. I started at the beginning of 3D modeling and battled through the adoption of BIM. There certainly aren’t enough people like me to act as BIM leads for a the firms that need them. What has started to happen leads us down the road of Danger of BIM Theory.

Since there are so few old timers like me available, I think it is time to harness the abilities of our new generation of eager kids who were born with technology in hand. These youngsters can’t imagine any other way of collecting and displaying data then with technology. Having a fresh perspective can give them an incredible idea to problem solve and innovate that is unhampered by knowledge of how things used to work.

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Ever-changing: as the world changes so do human interactions and societal demands  Photo: Getty

A year ago I wrote about sharing what I have learned to help guide the younger generation into the field of BIM in Caring is Sharing. I collaborated on a BIM curriculum with the CAD and BIM Technology Department at VCC. During this collaboration I visited the students to see their progress. I was amazed at how quickly these kids picked up Revit and the understanding of BIM. It was very exciting, and made me feel very old.

Last week I went to the department head of CAD and BIM technologies and pitched him my idea.  I believe that a newly graduated student could work as a BIM Lead. I explained the main focus in most Architecture firms at this time is making the use of Revit profitable and keeping technology out of the designers way. I believe graduates of this program would help move design past the struggles with technology and help architects focus on design. This got him very excited and I started talking to the graduating students to see if they were interested. After meeting with a couple of these kids I realized they have the ability to inject new ideas and bring new views on how we use technology in BIM.

It’s time to let the new generation become BIM leads, you could find someone who can bring the next big idea down the BIM road.

BIM and 2018

“And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that never were.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

You know that saying “careful what you ask for?” I am ten years into my BIM life. Last year I asked my office for the following things:

  • Complete inclusion into projects.
  • The ability to help control building model organization, including everything to do with BIM and data that is required to achieve higher BIM levels.

When I got back from AU 2017 I was given that control. I was also given the opportunity to be a part of every project from the proposal phase to construction wrap up. With this new responsibility came a new title: associate.

The last couple months of 2017 have been a very exciting time, and I’m looking forward to sharing with you everything I learn as part of each project team from the very beginning.

When I returned from AU I was informed that our company was going to be collaborating with leading Vancouver contractors and engineering firms. Our goal is to enhance the building performance of our design by sharing information between architects, engineers and contractors. This includes electrical, mechanical and structural engineers; before beginning design our whole team can get together to discuss building performance and how it can affect material choice and massing. I believe this collaboration will lead to great buildings. It’s very exciting, and although I truly believe it is the best way to move forward I never expected it would happen in my lifetime as a BIM manager

This new opportunity is already giving me insight into the tools Architects need to harness BIM. I’m working on ways our team can access building performance stats to improve performance. This will not only fulfill client requests but also show provide options that demonstrates how we can exceed client requirements (and expectations).

I want to keep technology in the forefront of all projects, but not have it get in the way. This is a huge task. I also want to find strategies to keep or projects on time and on budget while also providing the client with an exceptional building… which will mean each project will need different delivery methods built to suit differing circumstances.

I am really excited about this. My team will have the chance to get better results with more collaboration and less blind alleys. I am already working to find new tools and strategies that will change how we use BIM.

I look forward to sharing my process as we work it out. I hope it will help at least some of you out there begin a new chapter of collaboration and gain a better understanding of BIM.

Popping the hood

Acting as the Mechanic in an Architectural Design firm requires openness and an understanding of the design goals and needs of your team.

Think of when you take a car to an auto mechanic:  it’s rare to hear that you are driving the vehicle incorrectly. Instead, the mechanic will listen to your description of the problem before popping the hood or taking a test drive to gather information. The mechanic needs to put aside ideas of proper use to focus on what their team needs to make the project move ahead.

Popping the Hood

The best BIM managers work as a visible part of the office team. To be visible is to be open-minded and continually have your ears open. As I stated in my post Thinking outside the box you need to get the team comfortable. Remember continually checking on your team and having the regular chats gives you more information than waiting for them to come to you.

I use the following list to embed myself into project discussions and ideas. I make sure all questions are phrased as such, and make sure my tone is not accusatory or brisk:

  • Walk the office looking at computer screens and asking what they are working on.
  • Ask team members  how they got the information they are using.
  • Review the model prior to people starting their work day and make notes on what I see.
  • Keep my ears open to conversations happening around me and interjecting if I can add any useful information.
  • Keep a positive attitude and inquisitive nature; you might learn a new process.

The other key to getting involved is to train the BIM tools efficiently: train to people’s needs and abilities. Without an understanding of the baseline skills of your team you may inadvertently allow some to struggle without understanding while others become frustrated with what to them feels remedial.  Keys to successful BIM Tools training:

  • Don’t teach them the same way you teach the person next to them, everybody has different learning styles.
  • Only use 1-4 hour training modules; don’t make them sit all day
  • Record the training so they can review later.
  • Create handouts of your process.
  • Review company projects to see the gaps and train

Make sure your team knows there is a role for BIM in every project, even when it is not in the contract. As BIM manager there is nothing more satisfying than to talk with a team and realize you can provide assistance with a new tool to facilitate a proposal to the client.  There is always something you can provide to help create amazing presentations for the client.

This is the most important role of the BIM manager to teach your team. Teaching them about these tools specific to their needs will improve all the work your office produces, while creating a true collaboration between the mechanic and designer.

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.