INFOCUS – December 2009

In this issue:  Shared BIMM

bimM: A practical look at Building Information Model Management

In the first instalment on this topic, we began by identifying three primary levels of BIM Management, abbreviated as BIMM:

  1. Project level
  2. Office level
  3. Organizational level

In the second instalment, we focused on Project-Level BIM Management.

In last month’s edition, we took a closer look into the Office-Level and Organization-Level BIM Management roles.

In this final instalment, we discuss the responsibilities that may be shared across each of the three levels of BIM Management – based on skills and abilities of the individuals.

Joint BIMM Responsibilities

Some BIMM duties will require collaboration. Constructive debate of ideas and issues can achieve superior outcomes than if decisions are always made by a single person (though in smaller firms, this may occur by necessity). Where the latter occurs in larger organizations, it can suggest an inability or unwillingness of the person to entrust responsibility to others – the hallmark of a micro-manager. On the other hand, being ‘ruled by committee’ is also counter-productive. First establishing a vision (and a strategy to achieve it) can help to achieve a balance, where individuals are given freedom (and responsibility) within a frameworki.

It is important that higher-level BIM Management maintains a solid, collaborative relationship with the other levels of BIM management, but also with other key ‘BIMmers’. Each needs to ‘stay sharp’; attentive to systematic improvements that will benefit the organization directly, or indirectly (by improvements for client).

There are several areas of responsibility that should be addressed jointly by Office- and Organization-Level BIMMs. These are described below.

1. Definition and development of company BIM standards

These should demonstrate an acknowledgement of and an appreciation for, the interdependent nature of BIM, and the necessary levels of interoperability with others. This makes consistency achieved by upholding standards more important than ever before. All BIMMs have a role in ensuring that the organization achieves a productive and minimum level of consistency and quality, and it is these standards that are developed to establish that. While there are likely to be many more, nominated standards include:

  • Naming and/or numbering conventions (for a variety of items, some of which have been listed earlier – refer Project-Level BIMM responsibilities)
  • Standard Processes
    • Modelling techniques (how, and how much to model)
    • Documentation techniques
    • Presentation techniques
    • File management techniques (file exchange, archiving etc.)
  • Project template(s), which may incorporate a broad range of pre-configured settings and information (some of which is listed explicitly below)
  • ‘Bottom-of-the-food-chain’ independent items
    • Fill/Hatch Patterns
    • Line Styles
    • Line Patterns/Types
    • Line Weights/Pen Weights
    • Materials
  • Content creation
    • This will involve determining and managing the library location, structure and format. There may also be a necessary duplicity of libraries in order to support multiple software versions (older libraries may receive legacy support only, depending on firm projects)
    • Given the complexities and volume of BIM components, systems should be configured to support establishing easy and intuitive location/navigation of content (whether by name, location, search tools, reference documents etc.)
    • Component template customization
    • Standard non-component content, such as legends, schedules, keynote tables, other reference documents

These standards can be superseded, either by client or project requirements, by agreement to test a new initiative. Where the results prove positive, the original standards may be amended to reflect ongoing improvements to the system.

2. Support Files and Tools

Staff cannot be productive without the necessary tools with which to work. Those tools require the creation, implementation and maintenance of support files. This work is sometimes done by, or in tandem with IT staff, depending on available skill sets. This includes:

  • Development of file exchange configurations and protocols
  • Development of custom scripts or programs to automate repetitive, tedious tasks
  • Configuration of deployment tools (for a variety of software)
  • Development and management of key resource files (e.g. reference files, shared parameter files, pattern file definitions, material libraries)
Image: Best Practice Implementation – a cyclic process

3. Establishment and implementation of ‘Best Practice’

In the absence of industry wide agreements on how things should be done (particularly in the current climate of so much change), it is, to a large extent, up to firms to establish their own ‘best practice’. This may be influenced heavily by experiences of peers and of those further ahead on the same path, but ultimately what methods should be employed is constantly being determined and re-evaluated. While the BIMMs within an organization (at all levels) may contribute most heavily to what becomes a firm’s ‘best practice’, it is ultimately an evolutionary aspect of the change we face. As a process, it should be open for contributions from anyone, and should always occur with a commitment to constructive and productive improvement, rather than fruitless resistance or criticisms of systems, software or people. If ‘best practice’ is cyclically incorporated into firm standards, then the firm’s productivity, quality, consistency, and ultimately business performance should improve as a result.

It should be noted that establishment and implementation of Best Practice is not always straightforward. The reality, according to Susan Cramm’sii readers, is that Best Practice:

  1. “…isn’t always the “best.” Best practices work for a particular company in a particular market at a particular time and what is best for one organization, or one situation, may not be best for others.
  2. …often isn’t feasible in terms of time, money, effort, and incentives. We can rarely afford the best because the end customer doesn’t want to pay for the best product — they want to pay for a fairly good product. In addition, best practices are usually premised on getting consistently good results in the long-term but people are rewarded based on the results they got last quarter.
  3. …is sometimes unachievable given that common sense isn’t all that common. People learn something in their early 20s and then apply what they have learned for the rest of their careers. And all too often they hammer it into what they know or what they can sell… and after that much pounding, the result has lost all of its key elements.”

In response, she suggests:

  • “Adapting best practices intelligently and innovatively to a given organization’s cultures and situations.
  • Defining quality processes so that you have the best likelihood to deliver quality products and services at the time and cost required.
  • Having experienced people who understand the fundamentals and know how to think critically, strategically, and creatively.”

Furthermore, it can be difficult to implement ‘Best Practice’, because by the time you’ve determined what it is, it may no no longer be valid or current! Such is working in this age of continuous change. Flexibility and adaptability are two characteristics that are to be found in good BIM Managers and their organizations.


4. Research and Development

The distribution of the following activities amongst the BIM Management team may depend on the available skill sets. It is not uncommon for some of these to involve non-BIM Management staff.

  • Testing/review of software (primary or relevant third-party applications)
  • Internal programming solutions (API customisation)
  • Database linking/import/export abilities
  • Other creative problem-solving, establishing ‘Proof-of-concept’ possibilities
  • Discussion/demonstration with other office ‘BIMmers’

5. Collaboration & Leadership

With all the talk about, and emphasis on, the buzzword ‘Collaboration’, BIMMs should practice what they preach, and collaborate within their own organization. This can be more difficult where there are multiple offices, which by intent may or may not already work as one.

To facilitate effective collaboration requires appropriate use of leadership skills. Getting other people to work together requires an ability to work with people. Within the AEC industry, it is the architects that are often heralded as the leaders of tomorrow, based on their historic appointments as lead consultants within design teams, and their ability to synthesize information from multiple parties to arrive at design solutions.

Some are concerned that many aren’t focused on tomorrow, and don’t exhibit the necessary leadership skills to be truly effective leaders. Daniel Goleman explains that “IQ and technical skills are important, but emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. [Emotional Intelligence is] a group of five skills [namely, self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill] that enable the best leaders to maximize their own and their followers’ performance”iii.

Leaving aside more specifics of these leadership traits, the point here is that as a result of leadership skills, and as part of an organization’s culture, communication must be encouraged. The support of leaders, and active encouragement of candour, are key component to this. This communication can exhibit itself through such vehicles as:

  • Workshops/Seminars/Focus Groups
  • Updates on websites/intranets
  • Emails/Instant Messaging
  • Word of mouth
  • Presentations during company social events

6. Teaching (not Training)

If you seek innovation, ‘Teaching’ is a much more appropriate word than ‘training’. Training can imply a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ mentality – not to mention the inference that your staff are no smarter than monkeys! (Perhaps that is precisely what you believe!) By definition, training implies that there is no scope for thought or initiative beyond that which is learned. In order to innovate, however, you want to establish a base level of knowledge, accompanied by understanding. Those who possess it can leverage this to develop new skills and techniques. Teaching others is also widely accepted as one of the most effective ways to learn, so this responsibility should be entrusted to others, and this philosophy integrated into the culture of an organization. This is why user groups and workshops (with an emphasis on participation) can be particularly effective as learning environments.

Equipping staff with the necessary knowledge and understanding (the application of which constitute skills) is a vital part of BIMM. Therefore, conducting training (–ahem-) ‘learning workshops’ is still a necessary activity. The formats to be employed for these should be selected for optimum effect. The following are suggested formats:

  • Teacher-led, classroom style, hands-on (students carry out tasks in real time)
  • Teacher-led, workshop style (including demonstrations and discussion of key concepts and techniques)
  • Pre-recorded video (usually narrated or annotated screen capture is best)
  • Written documentation (usually accompanied by illustrations and associated explanations)

It should be pointed out that using more than one format usually achieves superior outcomes (e.g. providing written or recorded examples of something that students have just seen demonstrated or discussed live). It may also be appropriate to use different methods for different students (e.g. classroom-style for beginner-level students; workshop-style for intermediate).

Learning objectives should be established for any formal teaching that occurs, partly as a business case, and partly to do something useful and tangible with the desired results. This then supports the knowledge management/skills development work that should already be undertaken by the Organization-Level BIMM.

The different audiences should be identified at the outset, particularly during periods of change (such as during BIM implementation). These may require different approaches to achieve optimum results. They may include:

  • Varying levels of hierarchical positions:
    • Directors/Principals
    • Middle Management (Project Leaders)
    • Technical/Project Staff (Beginners/Intermediate/Advanced)
  • Marketing staff (which may or may not already be represented by those listed above)
  • Other liaisons (Clients/Consultants/Contractors/Sub-contractors etc.)

Wrap-up

Building Information Modelling in, and of itself, could be described as something of a vague term, and the role of managing it is perhaps even less clear – hence this series of newsletters. A different term that perhaps better describes a more mature, holistic application of (what we know as) BIM, is Virtual Design and Construction. While at a practical level, we may already have Virtual Design Managers and Virtual Construction Managers, a blend of both within the one title suggests the highly integrated nature of the process and of the role. Is this role an evolution of that of the architect (as building hero: expert at design and construction), or is it a return to the role, simply with different tools and processes at one’s disposal? While the processes are indeed integrated, how do we balance this against the segmented, specialised roles we now observe as our parameters and levels of design increase?

Leaders of AEC organizations need to acknowledge that integration of BIM practices requires review of their organization’s structure. The ability to cope with change, and to turn that ability into strength (whilst achieving and/or exceeding client requirements) is what will determine success for AEC firms now, and in the coming years. Adopting a lean organizational structure, in which individuals are equipped and empowered to fulfil well-defined duties in pursuit of a well-defined vision will be critical to this success.
Change happens whether you like it or not, and whether you are prepared or not. How will your organization cope?

Well, that’s it for INFOCUS for 2009. We wish you a very restful and joyful Christmas and New Year. Stay safe, and stay tuned!

References

Footnotes:

Good to Great, p.124, Jim Collins, HarperCollins Publishing, 2001

ii How are you defying ‘Best Practice’?, Susan Cramm, Sept 11, 2009. Harvard Business Review Blog,http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/hbr/cramm/2009/09/how-are-you-turning-best-pract.html?cm_mmc=npv-_-TOPICEMAIL-_-SEP_2009-_-LEADERSHIP1

iii What makes a Leader?, Michael E. Porter, Harvard Business Review, 1998, www.hbr.org, reprint R0401H.http://hbr.harvardbusiness.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader/ar/1

Further Reading:

BIM and Construction Management: Proven Tools, Methods and Workflows, Brad Hardin, Wiley Publishing, 2009, 1st Ed.

The New “Must Have” – The BIM Manager, Dominic Gallello, President and CEO, Graphisoft. AECbytes Viewpoint #34, January 17, 2008. http://www.aecbytes.com/viewpoint/2008/issue_34.html

Leadership That Gets Results, Michael E. Porter, Harvard Business Review, 2000, www.hbr.org, reprint R00204.http://hbr.harvardbusiness.org/2000/03/leadership-that-gets-results/ar/1

Leading Change, John P. Kotter, Harvard Business School Press, 1996.