The Business of BIM Part 2 of 2

Published May 11, 2009

by Cyril Verley, RA

Key Requirements for a Successful BIM Implementation

Moving to BIM is a “business decision”. It’s less about a simple “CAD upgrade” and more about a deliberate business decision made by owners who know that BIM will impact their firm at all levels. Once the owners have made this decision, the first aspect of this venture is for the owners to support their staff.

The key group of individuals needing the most support during this transition is the project managers. They are the ones who are responsible for project deadlines. They need to be told by the owners of the company that BIM is the strategic future of their firm and that the owners will support their needs in order to get the job done. It is fair to say that architectural firms who have made a successful transition to BIM have done so with aggressive support from the firm’s owners and executive staff. Said another way, other firms stumble with implementing BIM because their Project Managers lack the support from the owners and their projects inevitably return to 2D CAD.

The move to BIM is a gradual change. One should avoid an overnight, office-wide shift to BIM.  Instead, the change is done project by project. As new projects enter the office, BIM teams are applied to those projects. As for existing CAD projects that are past 30% DD, it is recommended they remain in 2D CAD.

It is essential to hand pick the right project manager and team members for the firm’s first BIM project. Look for people who are “open-minded” and flexible when it comes to their work methods with CAD.  BIM demands great patience from a “new” user and the PM must understand that his or her team will go through various levels of frustration during their “first” BIM project. One should also be looking for team members who are enthusiastic and enjoy sharing their knowledge with others. Once the first set of new users has gone through their first BIM project, they can be planted into future projects teams. One must be aware that once a first team gets through the painful learning curve (and yes, it will be “painful”) during their first BIM project, they become a huge asset and support to future teams new to BIM. 

One other key aspect of a proper BIM implementation is the translation of your existing office CAD standards into BIM. Project managers can be quite passionate about the graphic quality of their projects. If the PM makes a print of a plan, section and elevation view of their “new” BIM project and discovers that the lineweights, dimension tick marks and text heights don’t match their existing office graphic standards perfectly, he or she could potentially close the BIM project that day and return to 2D CAD. One can expect an experienced BIM user to take about a week to translate existing 2D CAD base standards such as title blocks, lineweights, dimension / text styles and custom door and finish schedules. Once the BIM standards are set, the training of the staff should begin. If the training is done first, your first BIM project will not have the proper office BIM standard graphic settings.         

Requirements for Properly Training Your Office Staff  in BIM

When moving to BIM, it is not simply an annual software upgrade that the CAD users can teach themselves. Building a BIM model requires the re-education of staff on how a project is designed and  documented. If the users are not properly trained and use BIM like 2D CAD, their chances of failure are quite high. If the firm’s move to BIM is to be successful, training is required. If training for the staff is not planned, making the change to BIM is not recommended.

One should also consider different types of training for various staff within an office. The most important group that requires training first is the firm owners and senior staff. This is best provided through a half-day presentation that explains and demonstrates why BIM is an essential business decision for their firm. It is important that this group understands all the ramifications of this change and its impact on all levels of their business.

The next group of users that requires training is that of the project managers who do not use CAD day-to-day. A single day hands-on class should be enough time to teach these PMs how to maneuver through the BIM model, find views, add a note, check a dimension, view a sheet and make a plot. It’s critical this group understands and can contribute to the organization of their project with their team. If they are not included, they might become alienated from the BIM process.  This can have negative implications on the project and result in negativity for firm wide success of the implementation. Project Mangers need this kind of inclusion in the process.  

The final group to be trained is the production users. Their hands-on class is the most intensive and will take the longest. This class should be for “production users” who will be using BIM day-to-day. The ideal attendee for this class is a project manager or project architect who uses CAD daily. These are the perfect users given their knowledge and past architectural experience. They will be the ones to mentor the rest of the production (junior) staff. Expect this type of class to be split into two, one-week sessions.

Training BIM with “Train the Project”®  

In our industry, there are many companies that provide BIM training (for production users) with a three-day class using a “generic” building type that has little or no connection with the types of projects designed in an actual office.  This training has seen some success but it is not the most effective type of training.

Instead, the “ideal” training experience for production users is a training process pioneered by CDV Systems called “Train the Project”® which means to train on one or two of the client’s own “live” office projects using the client’s own computers within the client’s office environment. This type of training has been successfully used at firms such as HOK, SOM, AECOM and NBBJ. It is an intensely focused learning experience for the production staff, teaching exactly what they need to know to build their live office projects using BIM. If the questions of the users attending the training pertain to building a curtain wall or custom stair they designed within their own project, their class time will be more focused and more productive.

Learning BIM is a very large undertaking. The quantity of what needs to be learned is the equivalent of learning AutoCAD and Architectural Desktop simultaneously. The best odds of success come from dividing the “Train the Project” training into two parts. The users spend their first training session going through all the commands to build all the major categories of their project (i.e. using walls, doors, windows, floors, roofs, noting, dimensioning, sheet setup, printing, etc). Once that first training session is completed, the users continue working on their project for a period of about seven to ten weeks. During the seven to ten week period, as per the instructions from their BIM trainer, each user will keep a log of questions regarding the construction of their new BIM project. When the second session of “Train the Project” training occurs, each user will present, during class time, a list of BIM questions specifically related to their project. Once those questions are answered, the class continues with more advanced BIM features which drill deeper into the program and which are always related to their project-specific issues.

There are bonuses that come with “Train the Project”:

• The production users are learning BIM.
• These same users are learning BIM by building their own “live” office projects.
• With the guidance of the trainer, the users are also learning how to build and organize their live office project from scratch.
• By the time the first week long session of training is done, what they have built during class time becomes their office project going forward.
• If the BIM office standards were done properly, the users would also be learning how to use their new office standards during class time AND for their first project.
• Since the users are actually “working” on their office project during class time, the firm can expect that 40 to 50% of class time becomes “billable time” to the project.

When Should “Train the Project” Occur?

For firms interested in the idea of “Train the Project”, it is recommended not to train on a project that is in schematic design. It’s difficult enough to learn a new BIM software program while at the same time keeping up with ongoing project deadlines. It is asking too much of any user to have them learn BIM, keep up with project deadlines and use BIM as an “SD design tool” on their first BIM project. Two out of three is okay, but if users are told they need to do all three, there is the high probability that their first BIM project will fail and return to 2D CAD.

Instead, this type of training should be scheduled when the office project has been brought to the start of design development level using existing 2D CAD. If the project is at a DD level, the major design decisions have already been made, allowing the users to focus on specific modeling issues during the class. In the class, the DD set of CAD files are imported into the plan view of the BIM model and “traced” by the users. The users then continue building their project model while learning BIM.

Using BIM as a SD tool is possible but not for a user’s first project. Once the users have gone through a completed BIM project in DD and CDs, they know how to maneuver through the entire BIM program. Their next BIM project can then start at an earlier phase like schematic design. 

What Happens After the First Week of Training?

To reiterate, implementing BIM requires changes at all levels of an organization. Once the first week of training is completed, there are some key protocols that must be put in place if BIM is to flourish within the office. First, the project users who have been trained MUST remain on the project using BIM. They are new to BIM and in order to take full advantage of the training, they need to remain working on their project for at least seven to ten weeks. Once they have gone through this initial learning curve and have created their list of advanced BIM questions, they are then ready for the advanced training class. If, however, they are pulled from their BIM project too early and put onto a non-BIM, 2D CAD project, they will lose their BIM training within seven to ten days and will be required to repeat the first BIM training.

Another key aspect of a successful BIM training experience is to place the desks of all the team members close together. Unlike 2D CAD, BIM projects demand more communication between the team members. If the team is spread throughout the office, communication becomes more difficult among team members and will negatively impact on the quality and quantity of their BIM work. It is also recommended to seat new BIM users next to experienced users. To be an experienced user, one first needs to cross the learning curve on a tight rope. If there is someone close by to offer slight “nudges” of help, they will make that trek more quickly and less painfully. 

All users new to BIM will experience various levels of frustration: it is unavoidable. The cause is a form of “2D CAD Brainwashing”. All users new to BIM need time to break themselves from their past 2D CAD habits. In fact, one should not be surprised to hear comments from green BIM users such as: “I can draw this faster using 2D AutoCAD”. Don’t worry. If you tell them to persevere and you give them the opportunity to get through this very steep learning curve, they will get through it and become believers of BIM. Again, be sure to seat your team properly to reduce the frustration they will experience.

BIM’s Return on Investment       

Again, the BIM learning curve is steep. There should be no expected ROI from a user’s first project. In fact, the project might break even or require additional time to complete. However, once a user has gone through a DD and CD project experience, the start of their next BIM project will be the start of ROI. So, depending on the size of your projects, it could be five to seven months before a ROI is seen.

But keep in mind: if your first BIM project is well built, you should see a savings during the construction administration phase of that project. Again, if the essence of BIM is “a coordinated document set”, then CA should be a pleasant surprise with few change orders. 

Moving forward, once the team members have been given the opportunity to experience BIM on at least one completed project, a dramatic saving of time will be realized. The BIM project teams will not require as many people, they will produce models more quickly and they will be able to create 3D visuals at a fraction of the cost of sending it out of house. And again, there will be the added bonus of a smooth CA phase.

One more recommendation for offices ramping up with BIM: Most BIM products have all kinds of “nifty” features such as rendering, animation, photo realistic imaging, marketing graphics, etc. While the team new to BIM might start off attempting to focus on these advanced features, they must be told their primary focus for their first BIM project is a “coordinated document set”, nothing more. Time and again project teams spend precious billable project time on 3D graphics and lose sight of their primary focus.

Going Forward with BIM

One final thought: For years we have been numbed by all the promises we have heard concerning what 2D CAD will fix. BIM is now here and it could not be more exciting. During the time your office is bringing BIM online, it is recommended to request your business partner, your project managers and your production staff to avoid sharing any details about the use of BIM at your office to folks outside your office.

That’s right. You should not tell your colleagues, your competitors and especially your client or contractor about the details of your BIM usage. Time and again a project manager proclaims to his or her client the virtues of BIM and when the client demands results a week later, the production users are unable to perform because they are still green to BIM. Many firms have waited months to a year or more while preparing their staff before announcing their use of BIM. This is an important point to wait until your office is fully entrenched in BIM before making any formal announcement.

BIM’s ultimate impact within an AEC firm is the call to bring the three major parties of a project more closely together: the Owner, the Architect and the Builder. BIM’s effect to a three way contract, known as “Integrated Project Delivery” is the pinnacle of contractual collaboration. Recognizing IPD’s momentum, the AEC industry is providing new contractual documentation such as the AIA document: C195 Single Purpose Entity Agreement for IPD or the Consensus Doc 301 for IPD. These contracts consider the implications of allowing the owner, the contractor and the architect open access to the BIM project. This accessibility hopes to keep projects on time, on budget and with reduced construction errors. However, one must also consider the liability of a BIM as well as the potential exposure not only of all the data in the model but also of all the inherent BIM standards of the firm, in itself representing a substantial investment. Moving to BIM is a sobering endeavor; one which involves support from the owners, Executive staff and a well thought out plan of action.  The benefits of BIM far outweigh the challenges and bring the patient user closer to the real building, allowing a more complete view of the model. There is no doubt BIM is here to stay and will continue  to impact the business of design and construction for years to come.


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