Building Design

1-2-3 Revit: Small Firms Take On BIM

7 Dec, 2006 By: Lance Kirby

What small firms can do to quickly reap the benefits of BIM

There's been an explosion of interest and excitement around BIM lately, but that excitement is sometimes tempered with concerns regarding potential disruptions, costs and delays associated with software and workflow transition. In a small firm, these worries are magnified because there are no other offices that can take up the slack during training, no IT group to handle the minutiae of implementation and no wiggle room to maneuver if things go wrong.

But with the right preparation and planning, introducing BIM into a small firm can be swift, painless and highly effective. A previous 1-2-3 Revit column outlined general success factors for implementing a BIM solution; this month's column provides best practices tailored to small firms that are moving to BIM.

Get Ready for BIM
Moving to a BIM solution is more than just a technology or process change: it's a culture change. How projects are acquired, the workflow between team members and consultants, project deliverables -- they're all affected. Therefore, management should involve the entire team in the decision to use BIM, making everyone stakeholders in the transition and preparing them for the changes ahead. Large and medium-sized practitioners have the luxury of moving teams to BIM one by one, but smaller firms usually must commit their entire team to this endeavor.

Management should decide how to proceed as they chart the direction of the firm. They shouldn't stray from the core principles that make their business successful. If cohesiveness of the team is paramount, then everyone should develop the BIM plan together. If the relationship with the client is vital, then have the head(s) of the firm explain to the clients what the office is planning and how that will improve the quality of the clients' product.

Plan for Change
"How will the staff respond to this conversion?"

"Will we need to upgrade our hardware for this new program?"

"Where will we find the time to do these things?"

It's important for firms of every size to address uncertainties like these in a well thought-out implementation plan -- a plan that addresses obvious items such as software training and pilot projects, as well as deeper issues such as the workflow and organizational changes inherent to BIM.

For a small firm, moving to BIM requires careful planning, faithful execution of this plan and a way to measure its successes and failures. Implementation planning requires knowledge of the short-term project schedule. The software training and conversion project should be integral to operation of the office's schedule, and not a separate event. Inventing or recreating a previous design solely for the purpose of testing the new knowledge and procedures may seem ideal for measurement. However, it places the project in a vacuum and jeopardizes the firm's timetable to produce billable hours, so stick with a real project.

Every team member must be committed to being a resource, not an obstacle. Not every employee is going to agree with the decision. Unlike their large-office counterparts, the production staff in small offices can't transfer to other studios, so small firms are much more affected when a team member feels negative about the change. But if everyone is included in the transition planning from the start, even these users will understand what's at stake and appreciate their roles in the cultural shift.

Adhering to some key implementation best practices will enable smaller firms to quickly reap the benefits of BIM on Revit projects, such as the one shown above.

A Leader
Many smaller firms don't have a dedicated CAD manager or network administrator. Switching to BIM doesn't require one, but someone does need to spearhead the implementation of the new system. This person should coordinate the upgrades with a reseller, outsource the training and be trained as a typical user.

Smaller offices don't always have the budget for aggressive upgrades in hardware, but with new software, the workstations and server may need to be improved. Workstations should range close to the recommended specifications set forth by the solution provider, which may require that older machines be replaced. Unlike workstations, the network should be upgraded when performance becomes an issue. Be proactive for CPUs, and reactive for networks.

A bigger commitment than hardware and software is the time needed to move the team to the new system. Many firms, large and small, struggle with working this conversion into their process. How can the team simultaneously train, develop techniques and complete the project on time?

The loss of billable hours during system rollout is always a concern, particularly so for smaller firms with shorter project timelines. But training on a new system is essential and sometimes the delays in a project schedule are unavoidable. In some situations, this may be an opportunity for the architect to communicate the benefits of the new system to the client, such as showing them a fully coordinated documentation set and photorealistic renderings at minimal cost, and the client may be amenable to adjusting the schedule. If tensions arise, everyone needs to remember that training is an investment, and the productivity paybacks of BIM will quickly offset the short-term loss of some billable hours.

Train the Team
The spectrum of schedule delays and loss of billable hours may tempt a firm into believing that a few hours of self-paced tutorials will suffice for training. Training is a leading indicator of a successful transition to BIM, so if a small office is committed to the smoothest possible conversion to BIM, they should set aside the time needed for formal training.

As mentioned earlier, the best strategy for BIM implementation is to train the team with an actual project as a pilot. Many firms choose to train and then proceed with the project, while others begin the training and the pilot simultaneously. Both approaches work and both are more successful than unstructured spurts of self-led training squeezed in between project work.

Smaller firms, having more generalists and fewer specialists, will find it easier to develop the training schedule and plan the course content because everyone will need to receive similar training. Management should also be involved in the training, so that they understand the day-to-day scheduling of the team, as well as the capabilities (and therefore the opportunities) BIM brings to their business.

After the initial transition to BIM, firms should evaluate the gains and losses seen in the pilot projects to develop a long-term strategy for success. As the team starts to build techniques geared to a firm's work and as their confidence in the software increases, they should evaluate current and future projects to capitalize on the potential gains and additional services these capabilities offer.

Staying Ahead
BIM is a proven approach for building design. Firms of any size, large or small, can quickly reap the benefits of a BIM solution. In fact, smaller firms transitioning to BIM may actually have an advantage over their larger counterparts, particularly if they adhere to the best practices outlined above. Their size gives them greater agility to move quickly to BIM, and the luxury of making nimble decisions once they're there -- making them more competitive with larger companies and giving them an edge to stay ahead in an ever-changing marketplace.

About the Author: Lance Kirby

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