Building Design

BIM Coaching Pays Off

1 Feb, 2007 By: Scott MacKenzie

Creating a winning AEC team starts with basic training in new technology.


The AEC industry has created a new sport: BIM (building information modeling) training. Played worldwide and with millions of dollars at stake, BIM is a new drawing technique used to produce construction documents and presentation drawings. Transitioning to BIM requires the production team and the management team to change their workflow process. The old workflow process, known as CAD, is being phased out for the more realistic, more efficient approach that BIM provides. CAD games will soon be available on the AEC Classic Channel.

The object of BIM training is to build the prowess of a production team in an AEC office to a level needed to produce high-quality construction documents within budget and on time. Success is determined by project performance. Performance is measured by whether or not teams can keep their consultants productive and their clients pacified.

Instructor Versus Student

Good trainers are in high demand and not everyone is good at training. Baseball players who can hit and pitch well produce victories for their teams. Well-trained BIM production teams will win work for their offices. Good trainers ultimately mean success for your team.

“I have heard of firms being out-bid by firms who were able to propose a BIM approach,” says Nicole Shumaker, director of BIM market development at Applied Software. “And if they win, they are on the hook to deliver, and training absolutely becomes the linchpin. It is still relatively early in the game, and though few projects are being specified this way today, the momentum that we see could start to crest soon. We advise our clients to learn and understand and make the decision that is right for their firm for the time being -- no sense jumping in just because everyone else is. That being said, those who are ahead of the curve are sometimes able to influence the client and distinguish themselves from the pack.”

Timing Is Everything

Good training results depend on good timing. If the student can‘t practice soon after his or her training, then it was mostly a waste of time. This problem can kill the perception of training and its value.

You want an all-star trainer to train your staff. If you have all-stars on your production team, does it make sense to take them off the field so they can train their other teammates? Don’t all the major sports have full-time trainers and coaches? Why do think that is? Because they want to keep their best players in the game and beat their competition, that’s why. It’s not just a game; it’s about competition in the real world.

Get Off the Bench

Training is no longer an option. It's mandatory if a team wants to compete and win jobs. If you don’t take training seriously, you will probably lose work and maybe your best employees.

To project managers and upper management: Get in the game and play hard! If you want to successfully implement BIM, you must train your team and train them well. Your CAD managers can’t handhold and nose-wipe every CAD staffer all day. And your CAD manager will need training too. Don't you want a well-trained, lean, mean fighting machine?

Treat training budgets with respect. Money for your production team’s training should be a high priority if you want to successfully implement BIM. Sure, you can sit on your hands and think that you are protecting your little bonus pool for your vice-presidents and principals who know nothing about what’s truly important for your operation. Then wonder why you keep losing projects.

Architects and engineers dive into a new software tool and use it like the old tool, so they may or may not learn to use it correctly on their own. “A very small percentage of designers know how to model buildings accurately using BIM,” explains Angi Izzi, president of Design Integrations. “Too many people jump into the software without proper training only to find themselves in trouble in their first project. Dropping back to 2D [CAD] for construction documents should not be a choice if you are really using BIM."

Personal Stats

In one of my former positions, I had an all-star architect who took the reigns of our first Revit project using BIM. He carried the project through the design development phase practically by himself. This was no small job, either. It was a five-story university building that went through several major design changes. He was savvy with the software and a good architect too.

We had some basic training and worked together to get the documentation to look good and match our graphics standards. It was a smooth process until we added more players. Some of the new players were afraid of the change and quick to complain if they could not figure something out. Because my architect and I tackled the process successfully on our own, we figured that everyone else could, too. Well, that was not the case.

This process requires tighter communication and a gentler approach to the building model than what people are used to. Any change to the model can affect the whole project. The building is literally built in a 3D parametric environment. This means every addition and subtraction makes a wave. This wave can ripple throughout the whole building and cause havoc if the players are not careful.

In retrospect, we should have invested much more time and money into training the production team. The project was not a good financial success, but according to the project manager, we would have lost a lot more money if we had done everything using the CAD technique.

I’m now on a team that is getting aggressive with BIM training. Our first big BIM project is behind us now, and we learned a lot. The architects on the project were new to the process and had a hard time shaking their CAD tendencies. They put too much detail into the basic structure of the model. The software and hardware quickly reached its limit, and our team was dead in the water for a short time. We overdosed our project because we did not use BIM correctly. But we did not abandon ship. We kept moving forward and figured out how to make it work.

It’s still not easy, however. We are faced with the challenge of conquering the new technology faster than our competition. If it weren’t for the all-star training and support that we hire from outside the office, we would not be as successful as we are today. Every day there is something new to learn, teammates to christen and injuries to mend. But it’s worth it.

Train Like a Winner or Get Put Out to Pasture.

Any AEC company that is serious about staying ahead of its competition needs to play the training game and play it to its fullest potential. Success won't happen if you sit on the bench and procrastinate. If you equip just a few of your team members with the skills they need and expect the new knowledge to proliferate through the production team by osmosis, you will fall behind in the standings. Unless everyone is an all-star, your players won't take it upon themselves to self-train and stay up to date with new technology.

The drawing software industry is changing so fast, it is very hard to keep up. So get serious and invest some time and energy into some well-crafted training. This isn’t your father’s drafting room anymore. Now get out there and play hard!


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Lynn Allen

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