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Don't Hit Eject! 4 Tips to Getting Your BIM Pilot Project Off the Ground

By Jeff Yoders, June 23, 2014

Article first appeared in Line//Shape//Space
Reprinted here with permission

Have you wanted to make the transition to 3D Building Information Modeling (BIM), but just haven’t found the right first BIM project, or know how to get your small firm’s staff on board?

Changing tools and processes should not be considered lightly, but a growing number of firms are making the switch because the benefits to whole-building design, construction delivery, and operation offer productivity enhancements beyond those available through typical 2D CAD. If your clients are already on board, the internal transition could be the only thing holding you back. Here are four tips to help you get your BIM pilot project started.

  1. Change Management. Before you even think of starting a BIM project, it’s important to identify and empower BIM champions - individuals who have bought into the BIM concept and have the enthusiasm to deploy design technology so that all your employees buy in. Your BIM champions not only have to be enthusiastic enough to bring along those willing to make the change to 3D drafting, but they also must be diplomatic enough to assuage the fears of 2D holdouts who are not yet aboard the switch or who, honestly, don’t want to learn new processes at this point in their careers.

In some firms, your champions could be a working group, but in most of the small practices, it will likely be only one or two people. It may have to be you as an owner/principal to demonstrate buy-in. Your transition should not be seen as being driven by IT at the expense of the design staff. Most of all, your BIM champion needs to know how to motivate his or her coworkers to make this shift. Watch the speech scenes in Gettysburg and Glengarry Glen Ross to see applications of both the carrot and the stick.

  1. Set Expectations. Once your champion or champions have ensured training and transition to your new work processes, you can start thinking about your BIM pilot project. Don’t be too ambitious! Your small firm is going to be dealing with issues such as constructability and more detail that it’s never had to tackle before. Pick a project that will allow your team to successfully navigate those new and sometimes choppy waters. Flexing your 3D design muscles on hospitals or other complex projects can come later.

There are several ways to go. You could have your staff complete a fictitious project or competition, redo a recent project as a comparison, or - and this is usually the best way to learn - start a new live project for a client. All are valid and will depend on the acceptable level of risk and manpower available to undertake your current work. Just remember that real projects with real work are going to have to be tackled eventually.

BIM Maturity Levels

  1. Be Bold...But Not Too Bold. Some suggestions: Confine your pilot project to a single story; reduce complexity and avoid too much ornamentation that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe wouldn’t like, anyway. New steel-frame buildings - not renovations - with a consistent column grid and regular floor plans make excellent pilot projects.

Whatever you decide, set your own criteria and your own goals - no two firms are alike - and hold to the standards and goals you have set for the project, whether they are elimination of clashes in design. This is the time to consider a BIM Execution Plan such as the one developed by Penn State. Execution plans detail what information needs to be in a model at each exchange between architect, general contractor/construction manager, engineer, and other members of the project team.

  1. Define Your Level of Detail. The issue of how much detail is appropriate needs to be addressed at this point, as well. Some projects require detail down to the quarter-inch for construction, but if you’ve chosen a reasonably straightforward pilot project, you can probably be a bit more flexible. Remember, the objective, at this stage, is to complete a project according to the goals you’ve set, not to set 3D modeling and complexity records.

That being said, if one of your primary goals is to assist in detection of interferences between multiple disciplines, then you will need sufficient detail in those areas. Define expectations at the outset and stick to them. Are you seeing a pattern develop? Remember, BIM and virtual design and construction are just new work processes. The information you create and how you communicate it to other members of your project is what’s really important. Set achievable goals and then push them a bit more on your second BIM project. Before you know it, you’ll be delivering clash-free designs with prefabricated systems. Don’t hit eject!

About the Author

Jeff Yoders has covered IT, CAD, and BIM for Building Design + Construction, Structural Engineer, and CE News magazines. Jeff has won six American Society of Business Publications Editors awards and was part of the reporting team for the 2012 Jesse H. Neal Award for best subject-related series of stories.

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