Building Information Modeling

How to Hire a Great BIM Manager

27 Sep, 2011 By: Heather Livingston

The best leaders have several traits in common — and a few of them might surprise you.


Editor's note: This article was originally published in Advantage for Construction, a newsletter for executives and managers in the field of general contracting. Advantage for Construction is produced by Longitude Media, the publisher of Cadalyst.


Reaching the end of the Great Recession with your general contracting firm still in the black must feel pretty good. During the past few years, the AEC industry has seen considerable consolidation and contraction, but it's finally ready to start down the slow path to expansion. An excellent place to begin is by creating the position of BIM manager.

The AEC profession has been watching its building information modeling (BIM) workload increase — even during the recession — and as clients are returning, they're regularly asking for 3D modeling, 4D scheduling, 5D estimating, and other BIM functionalities. Getting your staffing infrastructure in place while your workload is still recovering to prerecession levels can help ensure that you stay competitive in the marketplace and even improve your bottom line.

But you may be wondering, what exactly does a BIM manager do? What do you need to look for in a candidate? And what should a BIM manager do to support your business? To answer these questions, I spoke with two respected BIM experts. Jan Reinhardt is cofounder and principal of ADEPT Project Delivery, a BIM consulting business. Before founding ADEPT, Reinhardt was program manager for virtual design and construction at Turner Construction. Jennifer Lanzetti, LEED AP, is the BIM coordinator for Jacobsen Construction, leading the firm's BIM implementation and training effort for the past two years.



Beyond dealing with digital files and managing drawings, Reinhardt and Lanzetti said a BIM manager must define what content goes into models and institute company-wide and, ultimately, industry-wide process changes. The latter duty is a revolution akin to when 2D CAD was introduced into daily AEC operations.

Eight Traits of Great BIM Managers

Reinhardt and Lanzetti identified the following key traits of successful BIM managers:

1: Well-rounded knowledge of construction. Reinhardt: A good BIM manager for a construction company needs to understand construction. … It certainly helps to have seen construction from different perspectives, from the field and preconstruction and from the perspective of winning work," he said, and not to be myopically focused on project coordination and modeling.

2: Big-picture perspective. Lanzetti: "BIM is more than just [creating] a 3D model or MEP coordination. You need someone who can understand how 3D modeling works for every member of the team: architect, engineers, contractor, as well as the owner. BIM is really starting with the end in mind."

3: Stakeholder empathy. Lanzetti: "You'll definitely want someone who can empathize with the role of architect, engineer, contractor, and owner — so basically someone who's worked either with those parties individually or someone who's been in the business for a while."



4: Excellent communicator. Reinhardt: "There's so much interaction with the design team that it's really useful if the BIM manager is open to interfacing with the designers, the owners, the facility managers. … Social BIM is almost always more successful than lonely BIM, so in that respect, it needs to be someone who interfaces with others, who reaches out, who is willing to collaborate, and who values different opinions and perspectives."

5: Good teacher. Lanzetti: "When I send out the meeting invitation for training, it's to everyone — even our accountants — because BIM infiltrates every single department, every part of construction. … That's really my goal: to train as many people in the company as possible."

6: Understands the technical side of the business. Reinhardt: "If you're only a teacher and don't know what you're talking about, you lose credibility. For instance, when I was still with Turner, I had the BIM territory to cover but I wanted to be sure that I understood the real problems in the field and in the trenches with BIM. That's why I made sure I was deeply involved with one or two projects in detail and was spending at least 20 to 30 percent of my time looking at operational issues and the rest of the time teaching and setting up other projects. I think that this is one element that needs to be there: The people who teach need to know BIM and to have learned it in the trenches as opposed to from the books."

7: But not too tech-y. Reinhardt: "I've seen companies who had very technically oriented BIM managers who were great at knowing every button in the software and which one to push, but ultimately they solved the wrong problems or did not focus on the right things."

8: Diplomatic, yet firm. Lanzetti: "It's more than managing models, drawings, and BIM applications; it's managing people, whether it be the architect, engineer, owner, or our own project managers. Sounds like a normal management position, but in this case I think it's a little different because the people are all at different levels of understanding, and many of them are afraid of change. So, this person that a contractor wants to hire needs to be strong and realize that they won't always be liked, and they will likely be misunderstood until everyone's collective knowledge of BIM rises."

More Information
On the BIMForum.org web site, "Creating Job Descriptions for VDCBIM," by Bruce Cousins, AIA, offers a big-picture look at the importance of job descriptions in supporting a firm's successful transition and execution of BIM and related processes.

How a BIM Manager Affects Business

Although there's certainly a steep learning curve when making the leap from 2D to true BIM, the payback is in the potential for acquiring more work, making fewer mistakes, and increasing productivity. At its core, BIM is about nothing less than a complete process change. It opens the door to delivering fully integrated projects in which the team shares the knowledge, the risk, and the reward more equally. Hiring a BIM manager moves the needle in that direction.

After starting ADEPT Project Delivery, Reinhardt said, "We saw numerous projects that all used the same tools but had different success rates with BIM. The one distinguishing factor in all these projects was the process they were using and how they were setting up." Using the tools in a consistent way, adopting the right processes, and executing them in a consistent way, he explained, is the key to a successful BIM implementation.

As far as hiring the person to get you there, Reinhardt concluded: "The mission [of the BIM manager] should really be to empower everyone else in the company and not keep BIM close to the vest. That person should teach the organization — as opposed to monopolizing BIM and doing everything themselves — and be constantly thinking, ‘What can I do to teach others so that they can do more BIM and help the company?'"

 

 


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