Make Your CAD Resolutions Stick, Part 2

9 Feb, 2010 By: Robert Green

You resolved to be proactive about BIM in the coming months; now it's time to start doing your homework.

In the previous two editions of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I made some predictions about things to come, and shared a few resolutions to help CAD managers navigate the New Year. In this installment, I'll share some strategies for executing your BIM-related resolutions. Here goes.

Basic BIM Resolutions

Resolve: To learn everything you can about BIM, and plan for how you'll implement it in your company when the time comes.

Resolve: To stay in touch with the firms you work for and with, ensuring that you know what their BIM plans are so you're never surprised.

Change is Imminent

I've become convinced that unless you work in a discrete manufacturing environment, you'll be confronting BIM sooner or later. My reasons for drawing this conclusion are as follows:

  • Architects, structural engineers, and building system contractors working on large projects for government agencies will be compelled to use BIM as government entities specify BIM data formats in project contracts.
  • More architects and design/build firms are starting to use BIM in their marketing departments to appear more "technically progressive" to clients.
  • More analysis tools for applications like energy consumption, passive solar impact, and landscape modeling are being targeted for BIM environments.
  • Even if you don't perform any of the above roles, you may be a subcontractor or supplier to somebody who does. (For example, while you may use a custom duct-bending system to fabricate air-handling equipment, you'll probably have to provide BIM-ready 3D envelopes to the HVAC engineer.)

Like it or not, BIM is coming for us all. Since this development is unavoidable, it pays to be ready for it — especially if you're the CAD manager.

Preparing Your BIM Strategy

OK, so if BIM is coming, what can you best do to be ready for it? I'll share a strategy that I've used over the years for 3D software adoption that seems to work just as well for BIM as it does for any other type of environment. You can use this strategy as a starting point and modify it to suit your particular needs.

Step 1: Do Your Homework

Before you buy any software or make any commitments, immerse yourself in learning everything you can about BIM tools for at least a few months. Here are some hints to help you complete this crucial research:

  • Talk with CAD managers from other firms who've already taken the BIM plunge.
  • Read magazines, blogs, and anything else you can get ahold of to better understand the BIM software you're interested in.
  • Take a short training class using a BIM software tool to achieve instant immersion in the new software.
  • Ask your reseller for demo software copies so your training investment can be maximized through real software usage.
  • Join a user group to get other users' perspectives.
  • Ask your reseller for a list of reference accounts, and talk with those companies' CAD managers to see how they handled the BIM transition.
  • Ask any customers or suppliers you need to interact with for sample files so you'll know what's expected.

None of this is rocket science, but it is amazing how many companies just buy a BIM software tool without doing any research, then wonder why they have trouble implementing BIM!

Step 2: Start Small, Test Small

Don't start out with BIM by designing a Taj Mahal–sized project; begin with a typical "easy" project for your firm. The test project should be something your firm already knows how to do so that you can focus on understanding the software involved rather than on solving weird design problems. And if your need for BIM is to supply data to or receive data from another firm, make sure your test simulates those processes.

As you perform this initial small testing phase of BIM implementation, take care to get other users involved so you'll have a core "power BIM user group" established once BIM becomes more common. You know you'll need allies later, so use the testing phase to build those allies from the get-go.


Step 3: Debrief the Test Participants

One of the greatest technology implementation organizations in the world, NASA, believes that no test is ever completed until you've talked to all the participants and cataloged all their comments for later analysis. BIM should be no different. In fact, your initial BIM users can be thought of as test pilots who can give you invaluable feedback on how the test went. Here are some debriefing questions I always use when implementing new software:

  • What was hard to learn?
  • What didn't work well?
  • Where did you have to "work around" the software in order to get results?
  • How could the new software best be explained to new users?
  • What would you change about how the test project went?
  • Do you have any general complaints about using the software?

These debriefing questions allow you to draw powerful conclusions about the BIM test as follows (in the same order as above):

  • What should be made simpler.
  • What should be fixed.
  • Which processes are inefficient.
  • How to train users effectively.
  • How to better organize BIM projects.
  • Where problems lie that you may never have thought of.

Step 4: Redesign and Test Again

Taking into account everything you've learned from the first BIM test project and the debriefing feedback you've gathered, try another test project. This second test can be more complex, should contain more standardized processes and training examples, and should simply "flow" much better than the first test. If these objectives aren't met, then you've missed something during Step 3.

As the second test progresses, take note of the following data collection goals:

  • Training hours required per user to achieve proficiency; this information is necessary to set accurate training budgets.
  • Project delay (as compared with old tools). By estimating the initial productivity drop when new BIM tools are rolled out to the masses, project managers will have realistic expectations of learning curve costs.

If, and only if, the second round of testing is successful, you are ready for large-scale implementation. Always remember: It is better to test again and be right, than to not test and be wrong!

Step 5: Roll Out!

With testing behind you, you'll be ready to roll out BIM when the time comes. Ultimately, the time to roll out BIM is when the tool is needed and users can actually use the tools — business conditions will dictate when the time is right for your company.

Summing Up

The more BIM implementation I see, the more I believe that it is only slightly different from any other 3D design paradigm. By keenly observing how your processes work, recording user reactions to the new software, and thoroughly educating yourself on the topic, you'll ensure that your BIM implementation will go as smoothly as possible.

I'm not suggesting that going from a 2D-focused work method to BIM is going to be easy — I'm simply saying it is manageable, provided you follow a coherent strategy. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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