The World According to BIM, Part 3

20 Aug, 2009 By: Pete Zyskowski

Careful assessment and planning can position your firm for a fool-resistant transition to building information modeling.

Foolproof is a loaded word. I have found that there is always some fool who is so foolish as to fool your foolproof plan into becoming a flummoxed failure. (Now, say that ten times fast, and with feeling.) My team works every day to help people implement all three flavors of Autodesk Revit, and although we aim to develop foolproof plans, we're happy if what we achieve is fool-resistant.

How do you ensure a fool-resistant BIM (building information modeling) implementation? So many variables are involved in a full Revit implementation that it would be impossible to present an approach that covers every possible scenario and works for every firm. Instead, I'd like to share a general overview of the important considerations you'll need to address as you work with an implementation consultant to prepare for the process.

This wraps up a trio of articles I have written for Cadalyst about understanding — and readying your company for — the leap to BIM. See also Part 1 and Part 2.

Step 1: Define Goals
The absolute first thing you must do as you gear up for a BIM transition is define your goals. When I begin to speak to most companies, my first question is, "Why are you interested in making the transition to Revit?" This is a terribly open-ended question, and it's meant to be. I want to begin to dig down into your thought processes with this one question. What are your challenges? Are you trying to compete with other firms and market yourself as cutting-edge? Have you heard about efficiency gains and want to harness the ability to do more with fewer people in a down economy? Do you already have an understanding of your workflow and see inefficiencies in using multiple platforms for different parts of the design process? Do you have quality control or CAD management issues that a clean transition would solve?

Whether your reasons are clearly defined or fuzzy, meaningful or shallow, I need to know them and your entire team needs to buy into them from the top down. If there isn't enough buy-in, you will struggle and perhaps even fail. The team needs to believe in the change, be convinced that it is happening for the right reasons — and commit to it.

Measuring success. Once the goals are defined, we then need to determine how to gauge success. This can be very difficult, as some things just can't be tangibly measured unless we have prior metrics on similar project types. Sometimes it's enough simply to feel that the goal has been accomplished. I have had conversations with many owners, principals, and project managers that couldn't tell me in numbers that the move to BIM was for the better, but still they knew that it was worth it because the project was thought out better, the processes felt smoother, or the team was simply functioning more efficiently.

Will you find success on your first project? We'll try our best for that, but probably not. There is a learning curve not just for the new program, but also for the workflow and process changes that are ahead of you. It may take a project or two to adapt to that.

Other goals. Business goals are only part of the equation. Are there other goals or expectations that we need to know about for the implementation? How much downtime can you afford to have for training or for general learning curve–related slowdowns? Are there any other things I need to know about? We are usually starting a long-term relationship here, and I need to know these things.

Step 2: Assess Your Current Situation
Many firms don't do it, but assessing where you stand now can be extremely useful to both of us. We get to spend a day or two together, you and I, conducting interviews, collecting data, and reviewing samples of your work. These are some things that you can start to analyze and prepare before your implementation.

Evaluate user skills. Regardless of which CAD program you are currently using, it is nice to know where your team stands regarding its current CAD use. If you are moving from your current platform to a vertical program, assessing skills can help identify and fill in existing gaps before moving forward. If you are moving to an entirely different platform, this will give you a baseline to identify any difference in efficiency between the two.

One way to gauge users' skills is through one-on-one interviews with the users themselves. Testing is another option. Autodesk resellers offer certification exams that grade on how well your team members understand the methodology of using the program. Other companies, such as CAD Smart, offer online exams that are graded on speed and accuracy, but not methodology.

Identify concerns. Everyone has them. If you weren't a little frightened about moving to new software, I would be concerned about your sanity. This is the tool that keeps your firm producing the necessary designs and documents that keep your business running. Gather a list of concerns and challenges that your team would like to address before or during training. Many people only want to know that they will still be able to do what they need to do and that the process will be just as easy as — or easier than — it was before.

Understand current workflow and processes. If you have an established workflow, it is useful to have it documented. Many firms have an idea of how things happen and who does what during a project, but it is amazing how the inefficiencies become extremely apparent when written down or put in a flowchart. Your process will change when you migrate to BIM. Be prepared by understanding what and how you do things now, and the job of reworking your processes will be more efficient.

Anticipate changes to CAD standards. As with workflow, it is helpful to document your CAD standards. Many firms have these documents, but just as many do not. If you do have stringent CAD standards, any documentation you can supply will come in handy as you begin the migration process. This will help identify any changes you might face in your standards.

Keep in mind that not everything can be made to look exactly like it did in your previous application. This is OK! Relax and breathe. You are getting an application that will track changes and coordinate the drawing set for you. Who cares if the elevation callouts are square? Is it legible, documented, and understandable? If the answer is "Yes," then move on.

Assess (and upgrade) your hardware. Revit is hard on your hardware. Period. Although the RVT file format itself is fairly efficient, when you are working with a BIM model, you are looking at an entire building instead of a single floor. Working floor by floor makes it easier to tolerate inefficiencies inherent in other CAD files. If you were to take all the DWG/DGN files for one building and lump them together, I guarantee you would find the resulting file much larger than the Revit model's RVT file. That being said, you will still need to ramp up your RAM, upgrade your graphics card, and even purchase faster, larger hard drives. Every CAD and BIM application is resource-intensive. A lot of information is processed when you move a wall, including all the subsequent changes required when you do that to a building design. A better graphics card will not improve your rendering performance, but it will speed up panning and zooming around a view. A larger hard drive means your system will serve up a model more quickly and will support users who will be relying on local files. Unlike CAD, Revit is not meant to be used purely on a network, so local drives will be used quite a bit. I won't offer specific hardware recommendations here. Take your own preferences into consideration and consult the system requirements published on the Autodesk web site. Determine your needs early and budget hardware upgrades into your implementation.

Determine network needs. Your network will also need to be investigated. You will want fast switches and routers. You will want faster hard drives on your project servers. How fast? This depends on how you want to use Revit and your network. With Revit, there is more chatter on your network by default, so that is a factor in the network-use model that you should investigate. Revit will be in constant communication with the central project file on your server and with any team member who is working on the same project. Some firms opt for blazing-fast networks that are able to keep local files on the network instead of on the local hard drive. A good implementation consultant will be able to talk you through your options, but you need to determine your priorities and the ROI for various use scenarios. The faster server hard drive offers the same benefit as the faster workstation hard drive — faster drive equals faster file serving — but this configuration can be limited by a slow network. Find the balance that works for you.

Don't forget about other software. I recommend that even the most hardcore Revit adopters keep at least one copy of AutoCAD lying around somewhere. You will inevitably have to interact with AutoCAD-based consultants and subcontractors, and it is easier to look at a CAD drawing in a native application. Will any other applications come into play now or in the future? If so, this could affect how Revit will be installed, and even have an impact on your hardware requirements. Identifying these needs early will streamline the planning for the BIM installation and beyond.

Step 3: Choose a Pilot Project
All of this is for naught if you don't have a project to work on. Everything that we are about to do, from hardware upgrades to the training I am about to discuss, is worthless unless you can use it immediately. My team makes it our business to help a firm choose a pilot project if there are several to select from, or to cover the challenges that a project will present as a first Revit project. We will typically try to limit what you are attempting to do on the first project, as well. Most of us would prefer that you do two or three things really well on a project, rather than try to execute ten rigorous items that will probably lead to failure — it's just too much right out of the gate. For example, I would love for you to focus on learning to model, understanding what custom parameters you can create, creating highly effective schedules, and beginning to understand what your templates can do for you. Things like e-SPECS integration, multiple Revit model integration, and highly sculptural forms can wait. Let's get you up and running first before we try to execute the "Triple Lindy." If you can find an appropriate project to work on, the implementation will happen faster and more smoothly.

Migration. Since (as we have discussed in previous articles) Revit is not CAD, there are some migration issues to consider. Things like detail libraries can be taken to Revit, but it is a time-consuming process to make them true Revit details and may be better served on a project-by-project basis. There may be other, more immediate issues such as standard annotations, line weights, and general information sheets that can be migrated up front. I have mentioned before that most consultants can do these things for you before, during, or after training. I would rather train you on how to customize while you are learning Revit so that you can see the items that are truly important to migrate, rather than spending time and money on pieces that aren't as necessary or that Revit does just as well, but differently. Remember, not everything can carry over, and not everything should. Many CAD standards are based on a workflow or process that will more than likely change when you begin to use Revit. Think about those pieces that are important to your firm and why they matter. What should be carried over into a new platform?

Step 4: Make a Plan
The delivery model. After all of the assessment pieces are discussed, we need to schedule the actual implementation. The delivery model addresses the "what" and "when" of implementation on a high level. When necessary, we will create a statement of work to keep everything in line and allow us to check off each piece of the puzzle as we work through the implementation, but the delivery model allows us to see if we need to create templates or migrate before we begin to train. Are we going to train on the pilot project? These high-level questions were most likely answered by the discussions that we had during the assessment phase. Be prepared to think about this phasing and why you want to do the steps in any particular order.

Training. Plan for it. Understand why you are doing it. Training will get you from point A to point Z faster and more effectively than stumbling around with tutorials and help files. As mentioned earlier, if you have a pilot project, then we can customize the training to work with your project and maybe even make your training billable. There will be slowdowns and learning curve–related issues. Begin to budget for downtime; at the very least, understand how much of this your company can handle. We can work with you to figure out how to minimize some of these stresses. If you really want to implement the new platform effectively, then you must invest time and money in training.

Consultation and mentoring. The training will have you understanding the software and starting to model. However, there are a hundred pieces, parts, and problems that will have to be modeled or strategized. This is the consultation part. You will want to budget and plan to have us around for the rest of the project. How much is up to you. A day a month for Q&A or right before a delivery date to troubleshoot something that might go wrong are reasonable assumptions. You shouldn't just walk away with your diplomas in hand; as I told you, this is a long-term relationship. The consulting will allow us to be involved, understand your project, follow your progress, and even find ways to better train your firm for the next batch of Revit teams to undergo training.

Timeline and budget. This is possibly the most important topic in an implementation. How much time do you have to implement, and do you have the budget to achieve what you need to achieve? Many firms don't want to talk about this with me or I hear, "Just tell me how much for the training." There is so much more that we can do to work with a company that has limited time or funding. Have a realistic understanding of what you can spend. It's not that I am trying to sell you as many services as possible; I am trying to limit the services to what you truly need. Generally, I will still show you the entire road map of services and training so that you have an idea of everything that can be provided, but let's talk about how to phase all of these parts and create a realistic timeline and budget.

If you can't be realistic about your bottom line and share that with me, then the real bottom line is that we will fail.

Continuing education. Wait, there's more — so much more — to experience. After the initial training, after the first project is done, there are more things to learn, more add-ins to explore. BIM is ever-expanding, and the tools that work with Revit are ever-expanding as well.

Now is the time to talk about learning the Triple Lindy. What can we accomplish on your next project? How many more teams will be learning Revit? Can we streamline the training now that you have team members with experience? If you are a larger firm, will you plan on customizing a training routine to execute in-house? We can help. You will not have the answers yet, but you can think about where you would like the training and implementation to go over the next year or beyond. Then we can talk about a long-range plan to make your firm the design leader in BIM. That's what it's all about, isn't it?

About the Author: Pete Zyskowski

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