Implementing BIM, Part 3: Staff Training

14 Jan, 2005 By: AIA ,Rick Rundell Cadalyst

Adequate software education for your design team helps ensure success with building information modeling

This is the third and final installment of a series of articles on best practices for implementing BIM (building information modeling) solutions. In Part 1, I highlighted success factors for transitioning to a purpose-built BIM solution like Autodesk Revit. In Part 2, I identified process and organizational changes inherent to BIM. (Click here for 1-2-3 Revit archives.)

Now let's turn to the very practical matter of training.

System training tends to be a balancing act for most firms -- teaching the right skills to the right set of people with minimal disruption. There's no magic formula or right answer for BIM training. Size of a firm, existing expertise, rollout strategy -- all these need to be factored into your BIM training plan. But here are three training takeaways to consider.

Training for Change
BIM means change. I explored this concept in the first two installments of this series, but the key points to reiterate are that BIM leads to changes in work procedures, changes in staffing needs and project organization and changes in how a firm uses the information contained within the building model.

Because change is potentially disruptive to on-going operations, it needs to be addressed head-on, prior to implementation. Education and awareness about BIM are key tools when tackling the natural resistance to change, particularly in large firms where organizational structure and disparate locations make communication more complicated. Large firms should preface their launch of BIM with a series of corporate presentations, tailored for different levels of staff, explaining the reasons to consider transitioning to BIM, its potential benefits and the changes it may bring about.

Productivity Payback
When an application seems fairly easy to learn, like Revit, it may be tempting to just skip training all together. Avoid that trap. BIM is very different from CAD, and without some sort of training, users will try to force the BIM solution to work like their CAD system did -- and with poor results.

The loss of billable hours during training is always a concern. But keep in mind that productivity paybacks will quickly offset that loss. A recent online survey of Revit customers reported that although there was an average productivity loss of 25-50% during the initial training period, it took most new users only three to four months to achieve the same level of productivity using Revit as they had with their previous design tool. Building on that statistic, the estimated long-term increase in productivity as a result of migrating to Revit ranged from 10% to more than 100%, with more than half the respondents experiencing overall productivity gains of more than 50% and close to 20% experiencing productivity gains of more than 100%.

Just-in-Time Training
When introducing software, time constraints often force firms and staff to keep moving ahead on productive project work while learning the new system. In these circumstances, on-the-job training -- the ultimate just-in-time training -- is a good answer, and it happens to be a very good learning environment.

For small firms, this may mean that to get started, your users spend a day or so running through the self-paced tutorials or Web-based classes that software vendors usually provide with the software. Then, complete your training by working on an existing project. Think about starting with a project that your staff already knows, so there's only a single dimension of learning.

Larger firms may want to combine the self-paced training with instructor-led training for some percentage of users, then let those users dig into a live project to complete their training. Another training option is role-based classes, wherein users receive training content that targets their specific project role. Most firms don't try to implement the entire spectrum of software functionality -- rather, they introduce functionality as needed. The same theory should be applied to training: Not everyone needs to know everything. Focus your initial training efforts on must-have functionality, then roll out the rest on an ad hoc basis.

It's also a good idea for larger firms to have dedicated solution experts providing over-the-shoulder product support and coaching during this period. These super users will need to be specially pretrained for this mentoring role, usually by attending classes offered by your BIM software vendor or reseller. These experts will most likely be assigned to project work of their own; however, making their expertise available to other staffers can be essential during the ramp-up period and can prevent the design team from getting stuck on some software feature during a critical phase of the training project.

Tip: Set aside time to produce project templates based on your office standards and have them available for your project training. This allows your users to learn the software in a familiar context.

Customer Example
The Stubbins Associates is a 100-person design firm located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Las Vegas, Nevada. The firm's building projects tend to be large and fast-paced within six market sectors: hospitality, health care, laboratory, corporate commercial, college and university, and government and institutional. As a rule, the firm utilizes advanced technology, including 3D modeling, on all projects. For several years, Stubbins has been investigating BIM solutions. In the spring of 2004, the firm rolled out Revit on two initial projects, a 200,000 ft2 tenant fit-out for a high-end advertising agency, and a 360,000 ft2 hotel.

Figure 1. The Stubbins Associates used Revit to design this building.

Stubbins used a combination of classroom and on-the-job practice during its Revit implementation, immersing new users in two weeks of training. Users received classroom training in the morning and then applied their training on project work during the afternoon.

"Software training is a catch-22," reflects Jeff Millett, AIA, director of information and communications technologies for Stubbins. "You can't learn it without using it, but you can't use it without learning it. We felt this half-day split of just-in-time training was a good balance for us. Although the hours weren't billable, we were able to move the project forward and our staff could immediately apply the concepts they learned on a real project. The key is to get people using the software straight away."

Stubbins is weeks away from delivering the construction documents for the tenant fit-out project, and will soon be completing design development for the hotel project.

What Not To Do
Don't forgo BIM training. A variety of training options can mitigate its cost. Your dip in productivity will be short-lived. On-the-job training will keep your firm productive while learning the new system. And there's light at the end of the tunnel.

"Now that we've got a couple of projects under our belt, we plan on starting our new projects in Revit," reports Millett. "It's sad to see an architect drafting in CAD -- such a waste of talent and energy. Revit is an exciting tool and we're looking forward to having our staff designing in a whole new dimension."

About the Author: AIA

About the Author: Rick Rundell

Rick Rundell

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