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BIM it Here or BIM it There, but Must We BIM it Everywhere?


The day can’t start any better. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the price of gas dropped just as you pulled in to the station (yeah, right). Your company won a high-profile project, and you’re on the team.

Maybe you’re the general contractor; maybe you’re a sub. You could be a project manager, an estimator, a job superintendent, a foreman, or any number of key construction players. Regardless, you’ve been at it for a while, and you know your stuff. You began formulating a plan for this project the moment you learned about it. One that’s tried and true, based on your knowledge and experience. When you put it into words everyone can understand, your plan sounds like this: “I’ll get the job done.”

“Yes, indeed,” you say to yourself, “Nothing can rain on my parade today. Not one single thing.”

And then you learn that your team will be “doing BIM.”

Not that you’re a Negative Nellie; after all, you’ve heard about the benefits of BIM, and perhaps you’ve seen them firsthand. There’s no doubt using BIM technology can save time, increase productivity, reduce errors, and produce a better product. We know that it can, and does all these things and more, that isn’t the question.

The question is: how, exactly, will the BIM process affect your plan?

Relax; you’re not selfish for asking. As it turns out, you’re just human. Since 1975 scientists have been studying human behavior as it relates to innovation. Their findings form the backbone of what’s known as the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), a theory that technology adoption relies on two basic factors: the individual’s perception of its usefulness, and its ease of use.

So what makes a tool useful or easy, and how do we apply this to BIM? Suppose we first consider a common tool, like the screw driver. Sure, it’ll pound a nail, but not as easily as the hammer. That’s not to say that the hammer is superior at driving screws. And the nail gun drives nails faster, but it doesn’t render the hammer useless.

Each tool, however interchangeable, is best suited for a particular application. The same philosophy applies to BIM technology. First we must examine the specific challenges of the project, and then evaluate which tools are the best for the job. Maybe it’s BIM, maybe it’s not.

What you and your team need is a mechanism with which to evaluate the tool, one that makes the process simple. Something universal, that easily explains the necessary tasks and responsibilities of the various team members. You need a BIM project execution plan (BEP).

There are many thoughts on what a BEP should include and how it should be organized. To learn more about this, visit the web. Universities, industry leaders, and construction organizations offer a plethora of information right at your fingertips. There are examples, downloadable templates, and even how-to manuals on how to create such a document. To simplify it, below are three fundamentals that your BEP should contain:

The Overview
The function of the overview is to quickly summarize the BEP’s purpose and how it is used to implement and manage BIM on a project. Keep this part as short as possible – one or two pages.

Key elements of the overview section are:

• Company’s BIM vision statement. This sets the tone for the whole team.
• Description of the high-level BIM process:
o When to have a kick-off meeting
o What will be discussed
o Who is involved
• Clarification of individual roles and responsibilities throughout the process.

BIM Goals
The objective here is for the team to determine BIM goals for a specific project. One way to do this is to analyze the project challenges and evaluate which BIM tool or process might be applicable.

Key elements used in analyzing BIM for a project:

• A list of any and all possible uses for BIM technology. Capture different perspectives by leveraging all the knowledge available, from those in the trenches, to those in the office. Leave nothing out.
• A project inventory checklist. Your checklist will depend on your trade. Are you a general contractor who is self-performing work on this project? Are you a mechanical contractor who pre-fabricates ducts for this building type? The answers to these questions will help the team narrow down and prioritize the possible uses for BIM.
• General considerations, such as:
o Company’s in-house technology capabilities
o Additional resources necessary to meet the goal
o Time and staffing requirements
o The value each BIM application brings to your specific project

Assemble these lists and questions in an interactive worksheet that the team can utilize at the kick-off meeting. After careful project analysis the team can confidently agree when, and where, it makes sense to proceed with BIM.

BIM Processes and Protocol
Each BIM use has its own detailed process which tells the individual: here’s how it’s done, here’s what you’ll do, and here’s how you’ll do it. It is referred to after the team identifies project BIM goals.

Key elements of BIM processes and protocol:

• A visual representation of how the task is completed using the BIM process, from beginning to end. It should reflect the following:
o Project timeline
o Quality control measures to be followed
o Software requirements
o Necessary supporting documents.
• Detailed BIM schedule as it fits into the overall construction schedule.
• Collaboration strategy:
o Information exchange method
o Frequency of exchange
o Document and software type
• Meeting procedures:
o Start date
o Frequency
• Infrastructure needs:
o Hardware requirements
o Software requirements
o Peripherals needed: Monitors, projectors, etc.
• Individual assignments, roles, and responsibilities.

There is no right or wrong way to present this information. Process maps, images, assignment sheets, checklists, and schedules all help. Provide examples or templates of supporting documents. Organize it in a sequential manner that is easy to follow. It can be kept electronically, or as a hard-copy reference manual, or simply handed out as needed at the kick-off meeting.

Some will argue that we shouldn’t throw BIM in with the other tools in the toolbox because BIM isn’t just a tool; it’s a way of thinking. And only when we go to the ends of the earth and back with BIM on a project, can we claim to have virtually designed and constructed it. Only then can we truly realize the radical change in thought process which BIM brings to the industry.

Maybe this is true, and then again, maybe not.

The laws of science and nature dictate that humans will adapt to change when it’s easy, and will adopt change when it’s useful. This is nothing new; it’s always been this way. Since the beginning of time, progress has often been made in small steps, rather than leaps and bounds. So if it helps to think of the big, bad BIM as a small, simple tool, then do so. And if BIM is a screw driver, you might not want to pound nails with it.

Help your team figure out what the various BIM tools are best suited for. Make the process easy by clearly illustrating each step. Take out the guess work by clarifying individual roles and responsibilities. Cover the bases by including templates and examples for reference. Take the time to develop a BIM project execution plan, and before you know it, BIM technology will begin working its way into your current construction processes.

As for supposing what’s to become of it, chew on the words of Confucius: “Study the past if you would define the future.”

Heather Kossila AIA Assoc., LEED®is a BIM specialist for a national general contractor and instructor at the University of Minnesota.