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October 23, 2011 / Brendan McFarlane

Top 10 Tips for a Successful BIM Implementation

Normally I do not like these top ten lists, they are a clichéd method of generating web traffic on commercial blogs, and widely despised by internet old hands like me. But as this blog is not commercial, just a vehicle for my rants and random commentary, I am going to put aside my prejudices, and deliver a top ten list of my own, just because it is a handy way of getting across the concepts.

Developing an effective BIM implementation is not just about loading up some new software and getting everybody trained how to use it, it demands careful planning, the patience of Mother Teresa, and the ability to change attitudes and overcome the fears of the many people who are affected by it. There are no silver bullets, no simple formula to success, but there are some basic ideas which you can use to help you ensure that the implementation is a success, and that lasting, long term benefits are delivered. So here they are then, my top ten tips, in no particular order:

1. Senior Management Buy In

The motivation to adopt BIM must be driven from the top. In larger organisations, the initial idea to adopt something new will come from the lower ranks, engineers, coordinators and middle managers who follow industry trends, and can spot an opportunity to make their own life a little easier. However, if this enthusiasm is not matched in the boardroom, or on the executive floors, the chances of the implementation being a success are limited.

Implementing BIM requires commitment from every level of the business, but nothing will kill a successful roll out faster than a lack of support from senior management. You can’t do BIM on a shoestring, budgets need to be found, people need to be trained and normal business activities will be disrupted. Managers need to be given a realistic view of the impact of the changes, as well as the potential benefits, so that when the going gets tough, as it surely will, they are prepared to go the extra kilometre to make things happen.

Make sure you clearly spell out all the risks involved in the implementation process, as nothing will scare a senior manager as much as the fear of the unknown. So sell the concept on the benefits, but make sure that you get the buy in by highlighting the risks involved in getting there. Only then will you get the support you need.

2. Find Your Champions

You can’t do this all on your own, not unless you are Nikola Tesla or are working in a very small organisation. In a large company you may find that setting up a steering committee which oversees the process and involves colleagues from other departments is an excellent way of sharing the burden of implementation, and creates a core team of committed individuals who take ownership of the process in their respective sections.

Finding the right people in the first place can be difficult, especially if you are a new hire, so ensure you choose your allies wisely, people who are enthusiastic about the concept, and willing to use their powers of persuasion and authority to drive the implementation forward. One bad apple, or negative individual can create a lot of problems for you, and cause delays, so try and resist the imposition of troublemakers by management (a tactic favoured by some management types to keep the brakes on).

3. Standards – Set Them and Make Sure They are Followed

There are a number of very good project implementation guides and standards available, developed by trusted organisations such as NIST, Penn State and the US Air Force. So there should be no real need to develop your own from scratch, unless none of the published works are appropriate for your organisation. Adapting an existing standard is much less effort, and you draw on a wider experience base than your own.

Standards for the way in which the models are created, the internal processes used and the technical and representational standards that apply to the deliverables are also essential. Analyse all the processes you will be using in delivering BIM, and document them thoroughly with supporting diagrams and reports.

Once standards are set, put in place procedures to ensure that they are followed, develop quality assurance and control systems which make it easy for everyone to follow the correct methods.

4. Motivate and Mentor Staff

The success of any BIM implementation will depend heavily on having a great team of individuals to develop and manage the models and modelling process. You will probably find there are already quite a few enthusiastic guys in your organisation that want to get involved in BIM, and that the highest levels of enthusiasm frequently come from those on the shop floor.

What you will also find is that people’s understanding of what BIM is all about varies from the “it is Revit” to “I haven’t got the faintest idea“. So you are going to need to establish an education programme or potted presentation which you can use to get everyone aligned in their knowledge of the principles of BIM. I have a 90 minute session almost memorised by heart that I use to do this, and it is a very useful tool to have in your arsenal.

Of course, good training for anyone using BIM tools is essential, but you should also make sure you keep everyone’s motivation levels as high as possible, build the team and create a buzz around what you are doing. Identify key individuals who are showing real aptitude and encourage them, provide them with one-to-one sessions and keep the information flow consistent and interesting so they grow as future BIMers. These guys will become your greatest assets and will develop into the top flight coordinators.

5. Choose Your Weapons Carefully

Choosing the right set of tools to use for BIM can be difficult to get right, and is often influenced by things which do not directly relate to the practicalities of producing BIM models efficiently. Ideally, you should always default to choosing the best of breed solutions, tools which deliver the most value in the process. It should be the BIM team’s job to make sure the tools work together efficiently, and that model data is shared without loss of fidelity.

For example, the best structural tool may be X and the best architectural tool may be Y, but as they are from different vendors, will they be able to share model data effectively? You may find that you have to spend time working on these model exchanges, debugging the file transfers to ensure that information is not lost or corrupted in the process. When the benefits to the individual trades are high in using the best of breed solution, it is worth investing time and resources to find a way of making it work in your organisation.

Don’t immediately jump for a single vendor solution without exploring all the alternatives, as you could be missing out on productivity and quality gains which will pay off handsomely over time.  There may be commercial pressures and in some cases, strange (sometimes bizarre) solutions proposed by senior figures in the organisation, which are based not on technical merit, but personal association, and you are going to have to deal with these in the best way you can. I’m not suggesting this has happened to me, but I have heard stories of this happening elsewhere…

6. Get the Process Right

The biggest mistake made by most people new to BIM is to assume that BIM is all about technology, and so focus all their efforts on mastering the technology rather than considering the impact that the application of this technology will have on the processes of the business. When CAD was introduced to construction in the early 90’s, it was a simple translation of the drawing board concept onto the computer screen. It didn’t really alter the way projects were designed and built, just improved (and some still disagree with this notion) the quality of the production process.

BIM changes the way we do things, changes how we develop projects and the way we communicate and collaborate with others. BIM is about process change, enabled by the technologies that support it, although I have been arguing recently that the technology is not an enabler but only enhances processes that would work even without the technology. So getting the process of BIM right is far more important than knowing all the options available in your favourite BIM tool.

7. Always Have a Plan B

Essentially this tip is all about risk analysis, rather than just having a backup plan. At each step of the implementation process you should analyse the risks and consider alternative strategies should the planned step fail. Software doesn’t always work as advertised, a software export or import claimed by a vendor may not function as it should, and hardware you thought would be adequate may turn out to be unusable. Plus there are all the other normal operational risks (effective backups, disaster recovery, personnel management etc…) to be considered and factored into whatever strategy you have for implementation.

8. Set Achievable Goals

You will have people who need to be trained, hardware that needs procurement and configuration, QA systems that have to be established and all the other myriad facets of the implementation that have to be put in place to reach the target. Your ability to keep all the balls in the air will be severely stretched as you work towards the goal so you should set reasonable, achievable targets rather than assuming it can all be managed in 6 months, on your own.

Having your champions in place will help enormously to remove the load off your shoulders, as you can delegate responsibilities such as training, hardware, testing, vendor negotiations and QA to others. allowing you to focus of making sure all the pieces of the jigsaw are falling into the right places. If you are so busy with the nitty-gritty of debugging an interface that you miss a deadline or fail to notice an omission in a purchase order, you can set back the implementation by months.

9. Under Promise, Over Deliver

Sorry for the cliché, but it is very applicable… To read some BIM vendor’s literature, and some of the articles in the trade press, you would think that BIM software can do everything, easily, straight out of the box. Unfortunately, management types read all this stuff and get an unhealthy impression that we can work miracles just by rolling out a few copies of WhizBangBimCad. So this tip is to ensure that expectations are set at an achievable level, so you are never put in the situation where you have to “manage expectations”, an expression which vendors like to use internally as management-speak for “bullshitting the client”.

“Can we do XZY with this BIM stuff, it says we can in the brochure?” – the management types will say to you, and you should resist the temptation to agree with the brochure-hype and explain that it might take some considerable effort to guarantee something will work, and in fact it might not even work at all. Don’t promise anything you are less than 100% confident will work, as it invariably won’t.

10. Keep it Simple, Stupid

Every step of the implementation process, every data exchange, every activity that you develop will need to be efficient and flexible, and provide improvements to existing processes. Whenever there is something new to discover, or a technology to master, the temptation in many people is to over analyse, and to come up with solutions which are hugely complicated, and often end up less efficient that the old ways of doing things.

You should never lose sight of the ultimate goals of the implementation, and review each step carefully before committing to it. Do a mental cost/benefit analysis of every process, every step of the implementation to make sure you are not “gold-plating” or imposing something unnecessary on the process.

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3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. pcholakis / Oct 24 2011 3:46 pm

    The BIM Top Ten TRUTHS

    One: BIM, in conjunction with Cloud Technology enables efficient building life-cycle management

    Two: BIM embeds robust life-cycle management PROCESSES within technology to enable rapid implementation, scalability, transparency, collabration and assure consistency.

    Three: The ‘I’ within BIM, INFORMATION, in terms of standardized definitions, data architectures, taxonomies, metrics, etc. is a core component of BIM.

    Four: BIM and CLOUD processes/technologies are disruptive and will alter the AEC sectorsignificantly. Everyone’s role changes, as well as how we work and communicate with eacother.

    Five: Owners must take the lead, they pay the bills… period. Government can play a role relative to mandates.

    Six: Efficient, collaborative, and integrated construction delivery methods are central to BIM – Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), Job Order Contracting (JOC).. the latter is IPD for renovation, repair and sustainability projects.

    Seven: BIM is NOT 3-D visualization, however 3-D visualization is a valuable component of BIM. BIM is a combination processes from mulitple domains, technology, and product solutions

    Eight: BIM is the integration of CPMS, CMMS, CAFM, ACD (Adaptive Construction Delivery), GIS, BAS, and BPM (bulding product manufactures) methods and data.

    Nine: Software interoperability is a requirement.

    Ten: BIM will make the world of planning, architecture, design, engineering, contruction, operations, and maintenance of the built environment FLAT

  2. Cristina Belderrain / Apr 1 2012 12:10 am

    Hi Brendan,

    on tip 6. Get the Process Right, could you please post a larger picture of the BPMN process model? If this particular model is protected by some sort of NDA, any other would do, even a partial one (I mean, a model that doesn’t cover the entire building design and construction process).

    I’m currently studying the impact of BIM on the building design process. I’m starting with the analysis of sample process models coming from different companies and countries. Thanks so much for your help!

    • Brendan McFarlane / Jun 21 2012 2:05 pm

      Sorry Christina, the process model belongs to a company which I no longer work for and I have no rights to publish a legible version.

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