Have the BIM Truth Talk with Your Boss, Part 413 Jul, 2011 By: Robert Green
The final installment in this series discusses reader experiences with training personnel, IT obstacles, and other aspects of implementation.
In the last three editions of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I've encouraged you to have "truth talks" with your management and users about the realities of implementing BIM (building information modeling) in your company. Based on the reader feedback I've received, I see that many of you have had experiences similar to mine, and have found the advice I've given useful.
In this edition, I'll finish the series by sharing some reader feedback and my recommendations for progressing through the test project phase to implementation.
I received a great letter from a reader who teaches Revit MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) software to a variety of corporate clients. T.K. touched on many facets of executing a test BIM project, which I'll present in sections, along with my responses. I think you'll find T.K. has a firm grip on the situation, and provides a fresh perspective as an educator. (Note that although T.K. is a Revit instructor, his advice is applicable to other BIM products as well.)
Test Project Personnel
Regarding my assertion that you should select the most motivated and computer-savvy users for your BIM test project, T.K. says:
"When it comes to the 'perfect test project,' it almost never happens that way. When I teach Revit MEP, most of my students are in class because they already have a project on the table that's due on Monday and are told by management that they have to learn Revit. Almost all of my students are 'chosen' because they aren't busy or are the only ones knowledgeable of MEP at the firm. They get thrown into the mix whether they like it or not, and management rarely thinks about your criteria for selecting the staff. In my opinion the reason is that management has no idea what it's getting into."
Like T.K., I've seen these issues play out as well. The primary reason these types of training sessions happen is lack of planning on the part of senior management, which almost always means that the CAD manager wasn't pushing hard enough for the right BIM staffing in the first place, or that management simply wasn't listening.
If you, as CAD manager, don't fight for the personnel best suited to the task and the test project goes poorly, you'll catch some of the blame — and rightly so. However, if you make your case and management doesn't comply, you earn the "I told you so" card, which you can use to make management listen to you in the future.
Conclusion: Tell senior management what you need to make BIM go well! Build backup documentation by writing down your recommendations, then do your best to make your managers listen.
With respect to IT issues, I've advocated beefing up server storage space and adopting quad-core processors, 64-bit operating systems, and robust wide-area network (WAN) speeds so users can get their BIM work done. To amplify this point, reader G.S. wrote:
"Our test project pounded our network system to the limit, and it slowed us down to a crawl until someone was able to come in and tweak things enough to get us by until we could upgrade the whole network. We have also upgraded all the computers this year to get them working toward meeting the recommended system standards."
Sadly, I hear this all the time. The desire to make that old 32-bit XP computer squeak by for one more year dooms more BIM implementations to a slow death than you'd ever believe — especially in architects' offices.
CAD managers should be prepared to go to their management teams and IT departments with a hardware specification and cost estimate for BIM machines in hand. With Xeon dual quad-core machines equipped with 12 GB of RAM and a mid-level graphics accelerator running at about $2,700 each, you can now make the following business case to your management team:
"Right now, we're paying our architectural designers a lot of money to work on a machine that can't run our BIM software without locking up. If each architect costs us $50/hour (in wages, benefits, and overhead) and loses two hours per week due to computer problems, then it costs us $4,800 per year ($50/hr x 2 hr/wk x 48 wk/yr) to have him or her work on an old workstation because we 'can't afford' to spend $2,700 on a capable machine."
Conclusion: Use this financial argument and watch the lightbulb go on as the IT and senior management staffs start to understand how much it really costs to "save money" by running BIM on an old doorstop of a computer.
Use It or Lose It
After your training is completed and your test project is selected, you have to get people to work right away or the value of the training will be lost. Or, as T.K. put it:
"If management invests the time and money into sending users for training, they need to be prepared to let those users be committed to using BIM from that point on, or they will lose what they learned, guaranteed. Matter of fact, it wouldn't surprise me if those users end up needing training again if they aren't applying their new skills each and every day in the office."
This information is probably obvious to most CAD managers, but you'd be surprised how many management staffs don't realize it.
Conclusion: Resist the urge to train everybody at one time, then expect them to jump into BIM months later — instead, run several smaller classes so users are trained just in time for their first BIM project. The goal is to have each employee begin practical software usage immediately after he or she completes training.
Choose a Familiar Project
On my recommendation that your first BIM test project should pass the Goldilocks test — not too hard, not too easy, but just right in terms of complexity — T.K. offered the following:
"I like to describe a best-case scenario for my students by telling them that the perfect first project is the one they've already done. Taking a completed project and redoing it in BIM allows a new user to focus on the tools instead of the design — completely removing that aspect from the equation. Now, having said that, we know that it's highly unlikely that a firm would have that luxury unless they are not busy. The next-best situation is a small, one- or two-level building with minimal systems. Note: Soccer stadiums are NOT good pilot projects!"
I've never seen a company allow newly trained BIM staff to rework a project, for the very reason T.K. has stated. However, if users are motivated to do some self-training, it is a great idea to go back and redo a job they're familiar with.
I have seen companies that create similar design projects (schools, strip malls, convenience stores, etc.) let their BIM staff cut their teeth on designs that are very, very close to existing jobs. This strategy to decrease the novelty of learning BIM usually pays off, since the project is well understood and the users can focus on learning the software.
Sadly, I've seen far too many companies jump into BIM with a complex project in hopes of "really impressing the client," only to flounder and fall behind schedule because of the learning curve involved. These bad starts are often aborted to get the job back on track using old CAD methods, and BIM gets a bad name.
Conclusion: Tell management that by focusing your early BIM efforts on manageable projects you'll shorten training times, get billable work done, and pave the way to doing really cool BIM projects faster than you ever would by floundering around with a trial-and-error methodology.
Once your users are involved in a BIM project and learning how things work, you'll need to make sure you can support them properly. And if you, personally, can't provide all the support required to tutor new users, debug software problems, and keep the project on track, you'll need to identify extra resources. Consider contracting with an instructor or application specialist from your software reseller or an independent consultant to help you in the short term.
One thing I've learned is that you'll get no forgiveness for having a BIM test project fail due to lack of support!
Conclusion: Honestly assess your ability to provide the support that will be required, and bring in extra help if you need it!
I hope you've found this series on BIM implementation and intra-company communication informative. There's certainly a lot to think about as you adopt BIM software tools and workflows, but if you use the principles put forth in these columns you'll have a more successful transition, a much better informed senior management staff, and far less stress from implementation mistakes.
I welcome your feedback and stories about BIM implementation at your company, and I wish you all the best in your BIM quest.