How to Structure a BIM Team
Many AEC firms worldwide have BIM departments or BIM groups that perform collision detection, coordination, phase modeling, automated BOMs, and the like on different projects, and act separate from the engineering or CAD group. Some integrate the three facets into one group, using the engineering group’s CAD detailers as BIM detailers, and have the engineers knowledgeable about AutoCAD® software perform these functions while they design systems. More often than not these days, though, you will see firms separating the BIM group completely, creating their own BIM department to work on BIM projects as they come along, knowing that the BIM detailers and BIM professionals have vast experience working on previous projects that utilize BIM, so they can compete head-on with other subcontractors or direct competition. Some use this as a tactic to best take advantage of what BIM essentially does—save the company (or project) money internally. Others use the group to participate in BIM-focused projects as required by the GC.
In this article, I will attempt to break down and share the best ways, in my experience, to start or improve a BIM group, and the specifics that make a BIM group extremely functional and well-versed that will set your company apart from the rest.
I have and will always believe that your group is only as good as the people in it. That is, you can have a perfect, experienced BIM Manager, but if your BIM detailers are sub-par or do not have the work ethic or experience to perform BIM tasks consistently well, your group will simply not be a decent competitor against the rest. That is not to say there isn’t room for interns or different levels of BIM detailers. It just means that if your group, as a whole, is not managed properly by experienced and well-versed ‘BIM Leads’ that have a working knowledge of the BIM process and extensive knowledge of the software that their teams are using, your company will suffer the consequences. In a lot of cases, it will end up causing the opposite effect than what was intended—it will cost your company money.
Your BIM group will be divided up by employee type. We will start with BIM Leads:
BIM Lead: Your group will need BIM Leads to manage the different teams that are working on-site or from home base on different projects, or to manage a sub-group that still falls under the BIM group’s jurisdiction. The BIM Leads will set up the project-specific standards and processes while still abiding to the group’s core standards that your BIM Manager or Director has set in place with the BIM Leads’ help. This include file-naming conventions, layers that are different from the groups’ core standards, processes such as posting your models to the other companies for coordination purposes, ensuring that project guidelines set in place by the client are adhered to, making sure that the different facets of the project are being delivered in the correct format, keeping a running schedule for detailers, and so forth. The BIM Leads are the most knowledgeable and BIM-savvy of the group, reporting directly to, and sub-par only to, the BIM Manager or BIM Director.
BIM Manager: Your group will most always have a BIM Manager who oversees the entire group. Sometimes in larger corporations that focus heavily on BIM and see the true value of it, there will be a Director of BIM Services. This person will oversee multiple BIM groups within the organizations’ multiple offices around the US or internationally from a central location and constantly keep tabs on projects and meetings with the different BIM Managers.
BIM Managers must have even more experience with BIM projects and BIM-related costs and management than the BIM Leads, and should have countless BIM projects under their belts. The BIM Manager should be well-versed in not only BIM, but also Project Management and have a history of managing successful teams. Though BIM Managers will not always be as technically savvy with the software or programs their group uses, they should have a working knowledge of these programs so that they can be heavily involved in the process of creating standards and process documentation to which the entire group will adhere. They will do this with the help of the combined experience of the BIM Leads, along with themselves.
BIM Managers will be involved on each project that requires BIM services, from the kick-off stage to post-mortem, regularly debriefing the BIM Lead(s) for that specific project to gain insightful knowledge such as software/hardware requests, training requests, ideas, general updates, and most importantly to obtain useful project information so that they are briefed with the proper project knowledge to be able to participate in meetings. In situations where BIM projects are numerous and become too much for one person to oversee, there will be a BIM Director at play, and this person will likely appoint two or more BIM Managers to Lead numerous BIM groups. The BIM Manager leans heavily on his BIM Leads, but also must be able to have the acute BIM-based knowledge to make the final decision when it comes to running a proficient BIM team by utilizing the multiple facets of BIM on different projects.
BIM Detailer: Not to be confused with a CAD Detailer, BIM detailers have experience working on BIM projects, and utilize the 3D software that traditional CAD detailers would not use such as AutoCAD® MEP, Autodesk® Revit® MEP, Autodesk® Navisworks, and others. BIM Detailers are what make your BIM projects run proficiently (hopefully), and should be considered the oil to your BIM machine.
The hiring process for a BIM detailer should include an initial interview, performed by the BIM Manager, to find out about the candidate’s previous projects and references/work ethic. This will help weed out candidates that currently lack the skill set you are seeking. The next process would be to get a BIM Lead involved to check candidates’ software proficiency. Does their knowledge with the software listed on their resumes check out? Your group should have a test procedure in place for this exact instance, and you should have one in place for each program that your company uses. The BIM Lead could also ask questions that specifically relate to BIM, so long as they are mostly technical-driven questions. The BIM Manager should always be in attendance (in the background) during these portions of the interview, because the BIM Manager has more management training and typically is more personable and “company-savvy” than the BIM Leads, and would make sure that the BIM Lead is not coming off as “pushy” or making your prospective employee uncomfortable. First impressions do not pertain only to you, but also to the person you are interviewing!
There are different levels of BIM Detailers. If your company needs more BIM detailers because there is plenty of work to go around and some projects require help with design documents and simple annotational tasks with installation drawings that derive from the BIM model, you will likely only need to hire a BIM Detailer I. On the other hand, if you are seeing more BIM projects pop up than you have BIM Leads, and need a BIM Detailer to take over a project from another BIM Lead and manage that BIM project, you would likely need a more experienced (and more expensive) BIM Detailer to get the job done. With the help of the BIM Manager(s), the BIM Director would likely come up with the detailer leveling system, and list the attributes that your company is looking for each level. For instance a “BIM Detailer I” requires only minimal history with BIM Projects and only needs to know AutoCAD and 3D basics, while a BIM Detailer IV would require an extensive past in BIM and be a certified professional in the programs you are using.
The BIM Manager or BIM Director will get requests frequently from the BIM group. This includes requests for hardware upgrades such as faster machines, larger monitors, spaceballs, unicorn mouse pads, and the like. This also includes software requests such as add-ons for AutoCAD or Revit, more licenses for a specific program because of the influx of requests or new hires, or even a request to change the program you are currently using or adding a primary. For example, adding Revit to your vast array of BIM detailing experience and test driving it on a few platforms to be ready for a change in procedure initiated by the client. These are the types of decisions that the BIM Manager must be equipped to handle. If BIM Managers don’t have an extensive background in BIM, they would not have the knowledge to be able to take the cost of the technology request, the usefulness of the item, the effect it would have on the team, and many other factors into consideration before making the ultimate decision to submit an order to IT or to their manager for approval. They have to believe that these purchases are valid and would benefit not only the group, but the company as a whole. There is a fine line between being on the cutting edge of engineering technology and being on the bleeding edge. The latter eats up unneeded resources and results in unrewarding expenses. It is up to the BIM Manager or BIM Director (If it affects all BIM groups) to make these decisions about whether these types of things would benefit the company as a whole, and make them more appealing to clients in the future as well as in the here and now.
Looking into the future of design in the industry makes a lot of sense for large and small companies alike. To send a couple of your BIM Leads to gain useful knowledge brought on by a software leader such as Autodesk about the way that the design software that you are currently using is going could mean that you have the upper hand on the competition when the time comes for the ‘switch’. This would be an easy decision to factor in the cost of time missed by these employees versus gaining this useful knowledge for your company’s arsenal of key information.
These examples should not be taken as an end-all-be-all “rule” of how to hire and delegate employees for a BIM group. They are simply a guideline that I personally have seen on a vast array of BIM projects and AEC firms, and I have seen this process work and have come to truly believe in its structure. I also recognize that not all AEC firms are alike, and some might disagree with some statements made. This would make yours a normal company with its own core values, and that is okay. I hope that you gained some helpful knowledge and pointers from this piece, though, as that is what these are all about—sharing knowledge from one professional to another.