Learning BIM on the job

  |  by Janine Strachan, DSA Architects

We are “BIM-ready” is what I tell myself every morning when I arrive at work. However, the truth of the matter is, we are not BIM ready, we are not even “3D-ready”. So, how do we go about getting there?

After months of going back and forth with the directors and staff, we at DSA Architects finally agreed that building information modelling, or BIM for short, was worth looking into.

BIM adoption faces resistance because of an unwillingness to change, which stems from several issues. The first issue we encountered was the notion that “we have done it like this for years and it has gotten us this far, so why change?” However, in order for us to stay competitive in an industry which is continuously changing and improving, we need to break this rigid routine we have fallen into. Our second and most crippling obstacle was training. New software, workflows and protocols require retraining staff, which leads to a loss in production, which has a financial impact on the company. The amount of time spent away from producing designs and working on drawings just did not make good business sense to those making the decisions.

We needed a plan. I came across an article by Autodesk’s Louay Dahmash, called “10 Steps to BIM”. We decided to use this as a starting point for our BIM implementation road map.

Fig. 1: Louay Dahmash's 10 Steps to BIM.
Fig. 1: Louay Dahmash’s 10 Steps to BIM.

Using this as a starting point, we developed our own five-steps-to-BIM process. We first focused on 3D software implementation. The transition from 2D to 3D can be a disruptive change in an organisation. 3D software has a steep learning curve, and its mastery is not linear. These 3D tools are extremely powerful, but their true potential can only be exploited once the user has gained a solid year or two hands on experience. We looked at the process as 3D first, from which BIM will follow.

Getting to know BIM

Implementing BIM is a journey. BIM is a methodology, a way of working, rather than something that can be bought. BIM implementation requires you to look at your staff dynamic, processes workflows and outputs to bring them together in a meaningful way for a collaborative environment. For us to collaborate successfully with our consultants and clients we, as a company needed to be “BIM-ready”.

Communicate change

When you type BIM implementation into Google search, you are bombarded with articles explaining the what, how and when of implementing a BIM workflow. What you do not find are articles explaining how to deal with the who. BIM is made up of people, processes and technology. The processes and technology are easy, and there is plenty of information available on it. You just need to take this information and adapt it to your current office workflows.

Fig. 2: DSA Architects’ five-step BIM implementation plan.
Fig. 2: DSA Architects’ five-step BIM implementation plan.

Often overlooked is the people element of a BIM implementation, which comprises 80% of the implementation process. Only once everyone is committed and you have full buy-in from the management team can you expect to achieve BIM adoption.

We provided a clear line of communication to all staff as to why and how we planned to implement Autodesk Revit software and a BIM workflow in the company. This allowed us to bring about effective change in our processes and made the transition from 2D to 3D less disruptive.

We had to reassure the staff that we were going to retain the things that are valuable in their usual way of working. We made it clear that we were not changing the process, but rather improving it.

Pilot project

The pilot project was the first project we carried out using Revit as our authoring tool. Starting a team on a pilot project gave us a controlled environment to learn and document how we use Revit, which provided a clear indication of where and how we can improve the production process.

Implementing BIM is a long and painful journey, and while our management team were aware of this they did not fully understand the implications. In the early stages, our office experienced a loss of productivity due to lack of experience with the software. Familiarity made the traditional CAD process look more efficient and faster, and became a temptation and fall-back for staff members who were not fully committed to the new BIM workflow.

With the approval and support of the management team we were able to overcome this obstacle and continue with the pilot project. It was important to allow our team enough time to learn the BIM process while at the same time implementing a schedule for deliverables that would avoid the possibility of postponement.

Document preferred processes and change management

Completing the pilot project is the first big step of a successful BIM implementation. Everyone was asked to document their use of the BIM software during each stage of the project. This identified areas which needed improvement as well as the processes that made the project successful. It also provided the basis for creating best practice workflows and helped in setting up BIM component libraries for the rest of the project teams.

We have regular feedback sessions with each project team to discuss any difficulties as well as achievements in implementing BIM on new projects. This process needs to be ongoing. Each new project brings new challenges which helps refine BIM workflows and enhance BIM models. This all forms part of a long-term BIM strategy. The pilot project becomes the baseline from which we measure improvements.

Training project teams

The next step was to provide training to other staff members who were about to start their first BIM projects. We decided to tailor the training for each project team. Each team went through fundamental training before the project was started. This included how to start a BIM project, where and how to save the information model as well as basic office protocols to implement. Again, weekly training and feedback sessions for each project proved helpful.

Continued input from the pilot project staff members proved to be highly valuable. These BIM champions advocated the adoption of BIM across the organisation, and were able to answer questions and provide support to the rest of the teams who were assigned to BIM projects.

The way forward

With the built environment constantly evolving there will always be better, faster, more effective ways of doing something. To make the most of these, it is important to keep up to date with the latest software, technologies and workflows. This is easier said than done, but it is possible.

The collaborative nature of BIM forces one to work together and share knowledge. This allows us to better inform our clients and make the production process as pleasant as possible. This collaborative mindset also means we remain on the lookout for workshops and training sessions to connect with other BIM professionals to improve our knowledge.

The BIM destination might remain in the distance, but every journey starts with the first step.

Contact Janine Strachan, DSA Architects, janine.strachan@dsa-arch.com