Reconstructing the Architectural Practice: Success in AECO / REVIT / BIM

The transition into BIM is now a foregone conclusion for AEC firms large and small. Once past the initial choice to leave CADDrafting and implement BIM, firms are left with new software and old processes.

Creating and developing new BIM processes and restructuring existing CADD and Business strategies are fundamental steps to endeavor for a successful transition in the modern AECO marketplace.

Why We Need to Restructure

CAD work doesn't "require" a good architectural oractice in and of itself, whereas BIM does.

BIM teams and firms large and small that have been 'doing BIM' for a while have found success, in large part due to creating and following clearly defined, rigorous, and robust processes. A highly organized practice is required to get the right work done and to get it done at the right times. BIM project success requires much more than simply excelling at software.

“Honour thy error as a hidden intention”
–From the Oblique Strategies, Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt

“Without follow-through, intentions are inadequate”
–Jay Zallan

BIM project teams can be thought of in the same manner as sports teams. For example, let’s look at the architectural team. Each person, from the owner (associate, let’s say), to the manager (PM), to the players (design and production) has very specific tasks and responsibilities. When everyone is on the same page then "championship here we come."But if, for instance, there is a designer who does not deliver within the planned timeframe, leaving no time for production to incorporate the designs, then the team can expect a negative, costly impact.

BIM requires that people step out of existing comfort zones and actually and continuously learn, grow, and communicate.

If team success depends on everyone doing their part, at the right times, then they need to practice. That is not a double entendre, it is meant literally. There is a reason we "practice" our crafts—we need to stay sharp and at the very top of our game, if we want to be as successful as possible, that is.

When thorough process plans are created for each aspect of our team, and timelines and responsibilities are clearly defined and followed, then teams will be afforded a winning environment. There are always outside forces acting against our plans, so flexibility is necessary, too, but with great team communication, active management, and coordination efforts, then "the promise of BIM" can truly be achieved.

Just Throw People at It (but not in BIM)

In CAD many of the workflows often employed are now viewed as inefficient. One that masks even its own inefficiency is the "just throw extra staff at it to get it out the out the door" workflow. BTW: That one is fundamentally not a production-fail; rather it is a management-fail.

Responsibility must be taken for successes as well as failures or the processes will never be improved. Struggles on projects need to be captured and used to benefit future projects, not simply hidden away and ignored.

If that kind of ‘throw staff at it’ approach is used on BIM projects, for whatever reason, that inefficiency becomes a glaring indicator that effective management processes weren't followed. Throwing extra staff at BIM production 'cold' without the new team members understanding the project can be extremely dicey at best. Many times the result will be an enormous amount of extra time spent fixing absolutely avoidable mistakes.

In BIM there are pitfalls as well, like when modeling, for instance. Modeling can be a hypnotic endeavor; teams can find themselves meandering back and forth in the model losing sight of the bigger picture: schedules, time, and money. Following rigerous processes can keep that in check.

The point of BIM and the extended approaches of IPD, after all, can be thought of as processes that enable more efficiency and better executed projects, with fewer RFIs, etc.  AEC not only wants this; it can be argued that it needs it.

A Clear Understanding

So, how does a firm become successful at transforming its processes for BIM? Well, first get clear about what works and what doesn’t: adopt willingness for change and search out and then embrace new ways of production, coordination, and presentation. Second, create project guidelines and systems that will help teams manage the project objectives and overall firm goals.

Change can come in many forms, like that of allowing existing processes to evolve—production and design schedules, management styles, and output are all areas that are affected.

The Chasing CAD Dilemma: A “for-instance”

To my knowledge, the shape of a tag never made a firm any money, but blindly chasing them around sure has lost firms money.

What to focus on is important; doing so at the proper time is equally important.

Chasing CAD symbologies is not always recommended; rather, allowing an evolution of symbols, etc. in BIM is much more desired. This is especially true because tags, keynotes, and such can be associated to actual building elements, giving the project much better data with less need for QA/QC when compared to CAD. Output is another evolution that, while it can be distinct from the look of CAD in many ways, can also be extraordinarilly better in both the look, as well as informational and coordinational value. BIM can tell a better story than CAD.

The past may inform part of our future processes, but be cautious and skeptical of ideas such as: “Why? Because we have always done it that way.” Those types of reasons are pitfalls to avoid at most every turn.

The ‘You can’t do that in BIM’ Fallacy

People will often say things like that and while it seems natural for humans to resist change, it is invariably a mindset that needs to be navigated around. These roadblocks are simply excuses for people to continue on the same inefficient path that they currently travel.

Anything done in CAD can be done in BIM, just better. If anyone ever tells you that you can’t do something in a BIM authoring software, then they are simply either unaware of how to do it or they are lying to you; nothing else.

Yes, anything that can be done in a CAD-drafted project can be done in BIM projects and usually done better. Firms may need to learn new approaches for BIM, but that is what will allow growth of our industries and allow better projects to be built. BIM authoring tools work just fine and it is mainly inexperience that creates issues and confusion.

Getting Over the CAD Addiction

The addiction to CAD is perhaps the single most difficult obstacle that BIM adopters will encounter when transitioning.

CAD addiction needs to be acknowledged and actively mitigated if a full BIM transformation is to take place. It may seem cold-hearted, but where are all the hand drafting AEC firms today? They are either using computers or are in other lines of work.

CAD may be around in many industries for a long time to come, but in AEC it will be replaced by BIM. For many, it already has.

Some people either consciously or unconsciously use CAD in a similar fashion that children use security blankets. Existing workflows can be held on to very tightly and cause a lot of problems for the transitioning firm.

There can be factional talk among staff, usually under the radar, where they try to build consensus for their ‘Pro-CAD/Anti-BIM positions,’ which is nothing more than subverting the firm’s intentions and goals. Some have even created scenarios where they subvert the BIM processes to ensure failure; that way they feel thay can go back to using CAD.

These people may even ask for training and advice—get the training and advice that they’ve asked for, then not used it. Then they say, “See? BIM doesn’t work” even though BIM would have worked perfectly if they followed procedures. It can be easy to hide these types of sabotage if there is an environment of unwanted change.

Envisioning Transition

There are four main components to a restructuring plan: Assessment, Planning, Creation, and Validation.


Assessments will give quite a bit of insight into what is necessary to change or refine during the transition and restructuring. Assess the staff, existing systems, and infrastructure, as well as project procedures. The assessments will be used to give a good baseline of the “state of the firm,” its capacity to absorb change, any fiscal impacts, everyone’s mindset, etc.

We cannot effectively create a better future if we don’t honestly understand the past and present.

Assessing Staff: What do we feel about our practice and process? Create a 10-question interview+/-, given to all staff—management included. Ask about what works in the current process, what doesn’t, who they think are the best teammates, how do they like the infrastructure, who they feel may hold the process back, etc. Be sure to ask “Who is ‘that’ person, and why?” There is always a ‘that’ person (or people) in every firm. Several names may come up in the answers, but there will usually be some consensus.

Make the interview setting safe and confidential—do not tie answers to names. We do not want to interrogate, we simply want to get the staff’s honest feelings about the state of affairs. These staff assessments will inform potential champions as well as gatekeepers, etc. by connecting “actions” to issues/answers.

Assessing Goals: What do you want and when do you want it? Because we define the goal of this ‘project’ as being ‘restructuring our AEC processes for BIM’ then the next step is to define the objectives. The point to take a good, hard and objective look at current processes and map them out visually so the current approaches can be used to inform BIM approaches.

Storyboard Your Process

Providing an interactive, live assessment can be done in several ways. Digital tools such as traditional process map or mind-mapping software can be used to create process maps, although I suggest starting off by using 3x5 cards posted on a wall if there is ample room. A digital set of process maps will be created later on, but the storyboard approach has the benefit of immediate collaboration where people can add all varieties of documents, notes, drawings, and so on. Include the entire staff in divining the process maps, so expertise at all levels is included and every possible measure is addressed.

Set up the storyboards and refine your ‘map’ until you feel it addresses the entirity of your current process; once completed you can begin to map out the new processes. When each process is fully vetted, then input them into digital process maps to be used in later phases of the restructuring and documenting.

Process Maps will include all the steps taken to complete an AEC project in your firm, practice area, or team structure. Provide time to review these; add color-codes for prioritization and distinguish things such as ‘what works’ and ‘what have the pain points been.’

The BIM process map can be started by using copies of some of the items from the ‘current process’ map: use colored strings to define critical paths or connections, etc. Those paths can be translated to the digital copies as well.

BIM process plans require different input than CAD processes. This time you must include people who have extensive knowledge of BIM production as well as Project execution. The team that creates the new processes wants to incorporate all levels of project execution, including technical and managerial. If no one on staff has BIM leadership experience on the kinds of projects your firm produces, then go get some. Not knowing what you do not know can create failure; bring in new staff or consultants if that is necessary to help you understand unknown or new BIM processes.


Restructuring a practice to incorporate new processes requires many levels of buy-in and transformation: both personal and professional. Transformation and willingness to change “looks” different on everyone and needs to be figured into the restructuring plans.

Anyone who has studied transformation understands that it is primarily important to figure out what goals are truly desired, then to create plans intended to accomplish those goals, and finally commit to and complete the necessary actions in those plans.

Gaining buy-in can be increased by working with the staff to agree that what they want is what’s best for the firm, since that can become what’s best for them as well.

If staff openly and publicly agree that they want to be part of the firm’s success, and the firm openly and publicly states that it wants to refine its processes for BIM, then it becomes obvious and natural for the staff to do what it takes to accomplish that goal: namely buy-in and follow the plans that are to be created.

If there is no implicit, open, and public agreement between ownership, management, and staff, then the restructuring itself may not be efficient and will probably speak to how projects will run.

The public nature of these agreements can provide an environment of empowerment and self oversight. Conversely, if people say they buy-in, yet don’t follow through on their agreement, that is necessary to know as well because it provides an opportunity to honestly deal with whatever the issues may be and rectify them; not be held hostage by them.

If it comes to pass that there are any parts to the plan that have not been completed as planned, these objectives either need to be re-committed to and completed, or, if found to be unnecessary, dropped from the plans. Either way there is a mechanism for responsible and managed follow through.

Planning for Success—what will be done, when, and by whom

A structured plan is necessary for success in anything and BIM is no exception. An implementation plan is used to provide on-demand insight into where the project is at any moment and can be developed to become recipes for project performance. These plans should run the gamut of necessities—from an overall strategic plan (the 10,000 foot view, or macro) all the way to task lists for every possible consideration (micro). The plans should include infrastructure, staffing, training, implementation timelines, fiscal plans, and so on. Basically all of the “whats, whens, and whos.”

Successful BIM projects have team members with intimate knowledge of the design, production, and documentation processes. By documenting the project execution tasks, management can predict staffing needs and budget impacts proactively with more predictable results. As we saw earlier, unplanned up-staffing can throw unnecessary trouble into the mix and should be avoided.

The Plan

Knowing the end result is everything—or at least being aware of most of the desired end product. With comprehensive assessments informing our understanding of what to plan for, we can create a host of documentation that can both explain what needs to be done and when/by whom, as well as provide management tools to keep items from falling through the cracks.

Good planning documents will enable prioritized workflows, tighter timelines, and overall project health because knowing what still needs to be done at any one time is critical.

BIM and IPD projects benefit from, and quite often require, that process maps and thorough/granular plans be generated throughout the project lifecycle—from preliminary submissions on. The better we get at planning, the better our potential for success will be.

A portion of the AIA document E202 BIM Protocol Exhibit

The “AIA E202™ Building Information Modeling Exhibit” is one of the great starting points for helpful, if not necessary, documents used by BIM teams. Developing similar types of metrics can be used to create overall project checklists as well as the team-specific plans all the way to production staff plans, and so on. These can be thought of similar to the “Cartoon Set” and can/should be tied in to one another.

Creating a toolset for teams that use task lists interlinked with project schedules will offer even greater opportunities to manage projects and teams and keep everything running smoothly. Capturing the finite elements of a project and linking that with time and staff will give management clear understanding of what needs to be done and when.

There are many available resources that can help in understanding and creating process maps; therefore, a list of links is provided at the end of this article.

Once the plan is in place, it is time to implement the plan, making everything necessary for staff to understand what the goals are, etc. then validate the plan for future repetition and you’re on your way to restructuring old processes to new.

Plan Ideas

  • What is the goal?
  • What are the objectives?
  • What will be done the same?
  • What will be done in new ways?
  • What infrastructure is already in place?
  • What infrastructure is needed anew?
  • What staff is already in place?
  • What staff may be needed anew?
  • What are the timeframes?

Creation Phase Ideas

Do the things you've planned.

  • Methods
  • Templates
  • Standards
  • Documenting the Process
  • Toolsets
  • Checklists
  • Project binder
  • Staff responsibilities

Validation considerations

QA and QC of the entire process

  • What went well?
  • What were the pain points?
  • Adjust the plan for future projects

Many firms initially believe that they can learn BIM simply by buying the authoring software and trying it out a project or two. This usually yields inefficient results, even with software training.

BIM Is Not Software

BIM is a process of data modeling, where associations are created between building objects, their real informational values, project timelines, and teams. BIM is not simply a 3D model of a building—that is a sculpture. BIM combines all of the data from concept to final construction.

Detailers, for instance, cannot begin late in the DD or CD timeline and hope for success. Detailing needs to be involved with the project throughout. Design is another main area where teams can lose time and money: If there is no “pencils-down” or if it is too late, then there is no time for production to do their work, let alone providing coordinated and quality controlled work.

The restructuring of an entire firm is no different than restructuring a small part of the delivery process—just bigger, with more variables. The following is an example of a restructuring approach for one part of an overall project process: detailing.

Extrapolate the ideas herein for recreating a BIM workflow that enables your firm a better chance at efficiency and success…

Tasks, Projects, and Production

When project or “task-based” schedules are created, they must be inferred to include every possible factor, beyond simply the individual task itself.  These factors include the project or task’s deadline, design time*, QA/QC, production, and transmission.

The following list is an abstracted analysis of what to schedule for and the potential factors involved.

Project = (Design + QA/QC) + (Production+ QA/QC) + (Submission + Contingency)
Design = (Phase specific Completion Date – Pencils Down)
Production = Modeling + QA/QC + Documentation + QA/QC
*Pencils Down = Completion Date – (Design QA/QC + Final Production + Final QA/QC + Submission)
QA/QC = (Review + Markup) + (Revision + Re-Review…)
Contingencies = Estimated  percent of Project time for unforseen delays, etc. (judgment call)
Submission = Check Print + (Final QA/QC + Final QA/QC Revisions) + Printing + Transmittal

Pencils Down

“Pencils-down” should be considered one of (if not “the”) most honoured factors in a project. If a project is to be delivered as coordinated and complete, then allowing production, revision, and verification time after the design is finished is vital (read as: VITAL).

One large stumbling block to budget is when the project is not properly executed within the schedule.

A recurring impediment to completed, coordinated, and on-budget projects in AEC is when one part of a team does not leave enough time for necessary future work such as if a design team is not completed by the end of DD. Remember: that is what DD is for… Design Development.

There are always items that need to change after they are planned and although this may need to happen once in a while, if unplanned changes are too numerous and become the status quo, then success is tenuous at best and definitely not the desired way to run a business.

Another example of negative impacts to a project is in the design of Details. This is equally important a part of a project that needs to have a pencils-down date (or dates).

Details are to be designed progressively throughout a project, but each phase’s details need a schedule that allows for both creation and production (including all the QA/QC and revisions, etc.).

The first-pass details are best designed early on in a project—beginning about 30-50 percent SD and progressively developed through DD and optimally having a detail-design, final Pencils-Down before 75 percent CD.

The third example of negative impacts to schedules is “The Meandering Production Team.” If a team is allowed to work without a concise plan of attack, derived from the comprehensive project schedule and broken out into more and more granular ‘task-to-date’ sub-plans, then the project can expect similarly undesired results.

The ‘Efficiency’ Bottom Line

Create an environment of efficiency to deliver success.

• Create good plans and manage them closely for all aspects of the process: Design, Detail and Production; Coordination; and Submission.
• Execute the plans and make people accountable and empowered. Do exactly what is planned—no more and no less (unless the plan is changed).
• Keep teams on point by eliminating unnecessary meandering and overworking; ensure that the team holds to tight, rigorous, and agreed-upon managed timelines.

Concluding Thoughts

This article focuses on restructuring processes for BIM projects. This restructuring is broken out into several overarching themes that all work toward the bottom line: Success. The philosophy of ‘planning the work and working the plan’ is a fundamental principle to follow for overall project success.

Being built on good planning, teamwork, and management as well as communication and follow-through, a BIM process will realize successes for the entire AECO team, when properly administered.

Helpful Links

BIM Standards

NIBS Resources:

AIA E202 BIM Exhibit:

BIM Execution, Planning

COBIE Tools:

Process Mapping



IPD Guide:

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