Restructuring for BIM Success

This article expands on concepts presented in the November 2018 issue of AUGIWORLD in the article titled "Dearest Small & Medium AEC Firms: Restructuring for BIM Success (Now) Applies to You." This time a more thorough offering in line with the needs of large firms, though it also applies to small and medium firms. Read it from a perspective of change—that doing “what we always have done” is an untenable position. If you think (for instance) that recreating all your existing AutoCAD, Archicad, or whatever details in Revit is a time drain or waste, you are in need of a new perspective shift... the waste of time was not doing this earlier ;) So share this with those who can affect positive change so we can actually collaborate with all stakeholders for a more profitable and efficient A/E/C. The future is here, so either get on or “we drink your milkshake.” -Jz

BIM projects cannot and do not run like traditional CAD projects; that is simply a fact in A/E/C.

Overhauling the entire way we produce projects may not seem obvious at first, but working in BIM makes change necessary and a good strategy for process restructuring is also necessary to realize the efficiency and success we all desire. You know: The promise of BIM. Not to mention mitigate unnecessary frustration.

Managers and users alike will benefit from adopting new methods and practices to create better BIM projects into the future. We will explore restructuring practices, concepts, workflows, technologies, and useful examples of tools used… that can obviously be tailored to your firm’s specific needs.

Restructuring for BIM success is the basis of re-envisioning your firm, practice area, and team goals and outcomes. This class endeavors to help you create an effective transition to full BIM.

By clearly defining, setting, and managing expectations, responsibilities, input and output (for both internal and external team use), the true power of BIM and technology can be realized in AEC.

Creating an environment of empowerment and responsibility is fundamental in allowing every BIM goal to be met and then exceeded.

AEC Firms Need to Look Beyond CAD processes and Define New BIM Processes

Transitions: Assessment, planning, and communication are key.

The transition into BIM is a foregone conclusion for A/E/C firms large and small. However, once the decision to implement BIM is made, firms are left with new software and old, outmoded processes. Creating and developing new BIM processes are fundamental for successful transition.

CAD processes do not require Architectural practices be good.
BIM processes do require that Architectural practices be good.

Without teamwork, communication, and defined processes, firms cannot realize the full benefits of BIM. Ask this question: “Do we want to flounder and waste time and money allowing the lowest common denominator to drive our business model and project success? I thought not. But this is exactly what will happen if teams are given BIM authoring tools and no accompanying processes to follow.

When confronted, people will naturally revert to what is comfortable for them. Prior experiences with CAD (read as 2D or 3D drafting) will, I dare say, in every case lead them down the wrong path to aforementioned waste and frustration, worse mistakes, and rework.

Process Transformation

BIM Process Management strategies are required to transition from CAD-based processes. The new BIM processes and strategies will benefit teams by providing them a clean, new future. We must do this to allow the inefficient past to remain the past.

Firms that have found success using BIM have done so in large part by creating and following clearly defined, rigorous, and robust processes. BIM project success requires much more than simply excelling at software.

Getting the right work done at the right time with BIM requires a highly organized practice. This means that, for instance, reading (or re-reading) The Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice and the AIA Best Practices is in order once again.

In BIM, to be a success you must be proactive, not reactive.

In an A/E/C team, each person has specific tasks and responsibilities. When everyone is performing their planned tasks, it is smooth sailing toward project completion. But if one team member fails to deliver—say, a designer doesn’t meet an important, agreed-upon deadline—then the team can expect (yes, expect) cascading, negative, and costly impacts. This is not necessarily a failing of that designer alone—these scenarios are ultimately a failing of management.

Allowing teams and team components to work in a vacuum or silo is a sure way to set BIM projects spinning out of control. CAD projects were easy places to hide these mismanagement scenarios, by allowing a bunch of users to be “thrown” at the project at the 11th hour. In BIM, to be a success you must be much more proactive than reactive. If we do not plan for success, we are inviting failure.

A winning environment is created when thorough process plans are in place for each aspect of the team and timelines and responsibilities are clearly defined and followed. There are always outside forces acting against our plans, so flexibility is necessary as well, but with effective communication, active management, and coordinated efforts, the promise of BIM can be achieved.

Many of the workflows typically employed for CAD are now known to be inefficient. One that masks its own inefficiency is the “throw-extra-staff-at-it” workflow, as mentioned above.

On BIM projects, inefficiency becomes a glaring indicator that effective management processes were not followed, or worse, that they don’t really exist.

Throwing extra staff at BIM production without the new team members understanding the project can be dicey (read as “a debacle”). The result can be an enormous amount of time spent fixing all-too-avoidable mistakes.

There are potential pitfalls in BIM processes as well. Modeling can be a hypnotic endeavor. Teams can find themselves meandering back and forth in the model, losing sight of the bigger picture such as project schedules, time, and money. Rigorous processes can keep that problem in check.

If there are struggles or failures on BIM projects, these need to be captured and documented so they can be used to benefit future projects, not simply hidden away and ignored.

Transitioning to BIM

Q: How does a firm become successful at transforming its processes for BIM implementation?

A: Know what was, what is, and what will be.

Transitioning to BIM must begin by being clear about what currently works and what does not in the organizational production practices. Leadership, as well as the design/production staffs, must be willing to embrace new ways of production, coordination, and presentation. The creation of project guidelines and related systems designed to help teams manage project objectives and overall firm goals is vital. What to focus on is important, but doing so at the proper time is equally important.

Change can come in many ways, such as allowing existing processes to evolve. For example, chasing CAD symbologies is not always recommended; rather, allowing an evolution of symbology in BIM is more desirable, especially since tags, keynotes, and such can be associated to actual building elements. This gives the project better data with less need for QA/QC, compared to CAD. BIM output is another evolution that, while it can be distinct from the look of CAD in many ways, it can also be extraordinarily better, providing more informational and coordinational value, as well as better looking documents and visualizations.

The CAD Addiction

BIM can tell a better story than CAD, and after all, that is what AEC does: tells stories to one another to get a building constructed.

The shape of a tag never made a firm any more money, but chasing the perfect shape certainly has cost many a firm untold $$$.

People will often say things like “You can’t do that in BIM.” While it is natural for humans to resist change, that mindset needs to be transformed, especially since it is fundamentally incorrect and misguided, if not purely ignorant. Such roadblocks are simply excuses for people to remain on an inefficient yet comfortable path. The truth is that anything done in CAD can be done in BIM and usually, if not always, better. Anyone who claims otherwise is simply unaware of how to do it or they are trying to stall the inevitable, or worse.

Firms may need to learn new approaches for BIM, but that is what will enable growth of our industries and allow better projects to be built. BIM authoring tools work just fine. It’s mainly inexperience, lack of leadership and oversight, and/or ignorance that creates problems and confusion.

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

If a full BIM transformation is to take place, then CAD addiction needs to be acknowledged and mitigated. The same kind of transition was necessary when firms and individuals hesitated to adopt CAD at the expense of hand drafting.

Nevertheless, where are all the hand drafters today? They are either using CAD or they are selling insurance (read as “in other lines of work”). CAD may be around in many industries for a long time to come, but in A/E/C, CAD is being replaced by BIM and for many firms, it already has been.

Restructuring for BIM: The Assessment

We cannot effectively create a better future if we don’t understand the past and present. Assessment will give insight into what is necessary to change or refine during the transition and restructuring process. Assess the staff, existing systems, and infrastructure, as well as project procedures. These assessments will be used as a baseline of the state of the firm, its capacity to absorb change, fiscal impacts, and staff mindset.

To assess personnel, create a 10-question interview that will be given to all staff and managers. Ask what works in the current process, what doesn’t, who they think are the best teammates, how they like the infrastructure, who they feel may hold the process back, etc. Make the interview setting safe and confidential. The goal is to get honest input on the state of affairs, not to interrogate. These assessments will help you identify potential champions as well as gatekeepers by connecting actions to issues.

Restructuring for BIM: The Storyboard

Since the goal is to restructure A/E/C processes for BIM, the next step is to assess and define objectives. This is the point to review current processes and map them out visually so the current approaches can be used to influence BIM approaches.

Providing an interactive, live assessment can be done in several ways: digital tools such as traditional process maps or mind-mapping software can be used, although I suggest starting off by using index cards posted on a wall. Digital process maps can be created later, but the storyboard approach adds benefits such as immediate collaboration that allows people to add all variety of documents, notes, and drawings. 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 the map until it addresses the entirety of the firm’s current processes. After each process is fully vetted, input it into a digital process map for use in later phases of restructuring and documenting.

Process maps will include all the steps taken to complete an A/E/C project in your firm, practice area, or team structure. Provide time to review these, and color-code them for prioritization, distinguishing what works and where the pain points are.

The BIM process map can be started by using copies of some items from the current process map: colored strings can define critical paths, connections, etc., and those paths can be translated to the digital copies.

The BIM process plans will require different input than the CAD processes did. People who have extensive knowledge of both BIM production and project execution will be included, for example.

The team that creates the new processes should incorporate all levels of project execution, including technical and managerial. If there is no one on staff with BIM leadership experience on the kinds of projects your firm produces, then get some.

Not knowing what you do not know can create failure.

Therefore, it is vital to bring in staff or even consultants if necessary, to help you understand tried-and-true BIM processes.

A key to transformation is determining the goals, then creating plans intended to accomplish those goals and completing the necessary actions in the plans.

Restructuring a practice to incorporate new processes requires many levels of buy-in and transformation. People will have varying degrees of willingness to change, and that needs to be figured into the restructuring plans.

If staff openly agree that they want to be part of the firm’s success and the leadership publicly states that they want to better the firm by refining its processes for BIM, then it becomes natural for the staff to do what it takes to accomplish that goal—namely, following the plans that are being created. If there is no implicit, open, and public agreement between leadership and staff, then the restructuring itself may not be efficient and may speak to how future projects will run.

The public nature of these agreements can provide an environment of empowerment and self-oversight. Conversely, if people say they accept the plan yet don’t follow through on their agreement, then there is a need and an opportunity to deal with whatever issues are lingering.

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

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 into a recipe for project performance. This plan should run the gamut of necessities from an overall strategic plan down to task lists. The plan should include infrastructure, staffing, training, implementation timelines, and fiscal plans—all of the whats, whens, and whos.

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

With the completed assessments directing an understanding of what to plan, a host of documentation can be created to explain what needs to be done, when, and by whom, as well as to provide management with 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 process maps and demand that granular plans be generated throughout the project lifecycle from preliminary submissions onward. The better we get at planning, the better our potential for success will be.

The AIA E202, G203, etc. Building Information Modeling Protocol Exhibits are some of the great starting points for helpful, if not necessary, documents that BIM teams use. Similar types of matrixes can be used to create overall project checklists as well as team-specific plans. Creating a team toolset that uses task lists interlinked with project schedules offers even greater opportunities to manage projects and teams and to keep everything running smoothly.

Once the plan is in place, it is time to do. Implement the plan, making everything necessary for staff to understand what the goals are, then validate the plan for future repetition, and you’re on your way to restructuring from old processes to new. Built on good planning, teamwork, management, communication, and follow-through, a BIM process can realize successes for the entire A/E/C team.

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