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.

humanity_evolution_3452853b

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.

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.