The BIM Manager’s Balancing Act

“You are only as good as the people that work for you.” This quote rings true for all managers, especially ones that manage a technology-driven field such as BIM or VDC as it relates to Preconstruction Management. This is because not only do you, as BIM Manager, oversee a group of professionals, you also lean heavily on each Subject Matter Expert, or “SME.” You reach for their intellectual input on crucial matters, and you gather all of the intel and assemble it all into one respective bowl to then execute—whatever it is that you are executing.

It could be a new strategic plan to change the software platform with which your company has been drafting for the past 10 years while making sure not to hinder current projects. It could be an implementation document or standards/convention packet that requires input from all of the members of the “BIM Board” with each respective group being represented by an SME, before you could move further. These SMEs, who have specific knowledge for each facet of 3D Drafting, VDC, Prefabrication, Technology/IT, are the puzzle pieces who put the whole picture together when drafting such strategic plans to be eventually put in place.

This is not to say that the BIM Manager is simply gathering information from these SMEs and compiling it—that would do a great injustice to all BIM Managers across the board. The BIM Managers must not only compile the intel and opinions from all trusted SMEs, and all specific information and subject matter from each and every member of the group who chooses (or doesn’t) to participate, but they must also put their own information into these critical plans and procedures. This is information that the BIM Manager would have, and that the SMEs may or may not have based on their previous experience and education.

The BIM Manager then decides which piece of information is fact; which is opinion; which is tried, tested and true; which to leave out due to risk or other factors; which to keep and highlight or showcase – and all the while keeping the ‘political rhino’ at bay. This means making sure that everyone is satisfied, nobody feels ‘left out’, hard work is noted, pats on the back are given with specific distinction, and certain technical leads are taught and coached for the next critical stage with maybe certain feedback as education. It’s all a game of chess, and with the BIM Managers’ tasks and operations, it is not an easy one. Sometimes one must wear several different caps throughout the normal day: the field cap, the technical cap, the managerial and leadership cap, the coach, the analyst… the list goes on.

The BIM Manager job is not easily comparable to any other job title, and this is what makes this market so quick to grow (compare VDC and BIM now to five years ago, then three years ago, and even one year ago). This is also what makes this market so quick to phase into confusion as an industry. I am sure that all of you have at least once gotten into a lengthy discussion after someone at a dinner party asked you, “So what do you do for a living?,” only to see their inquisitive look quickly fade to confusion and boredom. You then have to eventually say, “I’m an engineer” just to get the conversation moving to a new one that is less taxing on all. This is not always bad, though.

The best part is that we all now know that BIM—as an intelligent process, from any facet—is not going anywhere. It is only growing. The highest ranked colleges in America (and internationally) now have Preconstruction Management and Building Information Modeling/Management as a major. This is a market that is not yet saturated. Some will contend, I am sure. But look at it as a whole, and look at the figures and statistics versus, say, Integrated Project Delivery, for one similar example. This gives those of us who have the heavy expertise in this small niche the power to capitalize on these opportunities before this becomes yet another flooded market that new graduates in three years have to climb over each other for a good fight to the top.

There are definitely things you can’t learn in the classroom. Then again, for the sake of the future of BIM and preconstruction management, think of how this will affect the baseline knowledge of these SMEs going into it. What if you had the advantage of knowing the power-plays of General Contractors, Subcontractors, Owners—and statistical intelligence from the BIM industry as a whole—as a baseline before you started your experience 10 or 15 years ago from 3D Drafter into your now BIM Manager role. I personally think it would be a huge advantage, and for our future BIM generation, this puts a smile on my face.

Because BIM requires so much technical knowledge and industry insight, in order to be a great example of leadership as a BIM Manager, you must be extremely team-driven—and even more so—extremely democratic. Also, because BIM from an external/project perspective requires teamwork from all project stakeholders, which is the name of the game, it also demands it from an internal perspective as well. It doesn’t necessarily matter how your specific company is broken up in terms of an org chart. You could have, say, a Virtual Design & Construction Group that focuses on the projects that need coordination and collision detection for internal project benefits for cost-savings that we all know and love, and a Detailing Group that focuses on our installation drawings, spool sheets, prefabrication drawings, and the like that are pulled straight from our intelligent BIM model. Then you could have a generalized BIM Group that stitches all of these processes together with respect to estimating, cost, commissioning, scheduling, start-up, bidding, and C/D sets.

I even recently came across a company that has its own BIM Technology R&D Group. (Think Tony Stark’s basement from “Iron Man”—only “BIM” instead of “Humanoid Robotic Outfits”). How cool is that? This company sees the massive internal cost-savings (and future revenue generation) potential that BIM offers. So much so that they were smart enough to create a small outfit that focused on ‘The Future of BIM’ in order to give them a leg up and to see where the industry is headed in the coming years so that they don’t ever have to make a massive costly internal change at the drop of a hat. This hypothetical process would be caught in advance, and would be able to march to the company’s cultural drum when need be. Not to mention that, though some of these efforts are overhead costs, this group also is in charge of database generation and upkeep, BIM/IT services as it relates to hardware and software to fix the all-too-well-known fatal errors that we have all been accustomed to over the years, and other billable processes. These are the things that keep me going, when it sometimes seems like my visionary mindset is proprietary to myself and myself alone.

To end with a quote as the article started, “Leadership is defined by Results, not Attributes.” As cliché as it may sound, I have found in my previous experience with BIM groups, Engineering Groups, and Precon Groups in the MEP trades, that excellence is almost always achieved by a leader putting his SMEs on the same plane he or she is on, and by coaching them along the way. I was fortunate enough to have a few great coaches in my career, and in turn, I have had the opportunity to be one. Learning from what each has to say in return (100 percent of the time, they know something you don’t).

Being humble and open does not make you weak—it strengthens your qualities as a manager, strengthens each link in the chain, and makes your team respect you that much more for valuing their input. You must do all of this, however, while still maintaining company and personal values, staying on track with the company’s future in mind, and all the while completing the plethora of specific day-to-day tasks that a BIM Manager has to do.

With that being said, all BIM Managers must do a balancing act with Technology, Logistics and Planning, Field, and Personnel. Whichever managerial style you decide to take, it will have a profound impact on not only your BIM team, but also your company’s design, engineering, and construction efforts as whole. Profits are always, of course, top priority, but the driving force behind them—team morale, employee satisfaction, and overall guidance and management support—is what drives your company’s success.

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