The Modern BIM Manager: Human, Machine, or Team?
By Christopher Rossetto for Autodesk University
Reliance on complex software is becoming continuously heavier in the construction industry, but are we investing enough resources to support this increased usage? This article will explore the traditional BIM management role, and how that role is adapting and expanding in today’s industry.
We’ll demonstrate how to implement and manage a design technology support team in your organization and enhance the level of support provided to your users. We’ll focus on various automated and team-based strategies to help enhance productivity, decrease the risk of software failure time loss, and help users get the most out of their software in both the local office, and across a global organization.
The job title of BIM manager has been present in the AEC industry within most disciplines for at least a decade, but even today we’re seeing vastly different levels of BIM being implemented on projects and within organizations. In addition to this, quite vast discrepancies can be seen in the role and responsibilities of the specialists who have assumed this universal title of BIM manager, with many organizations investing in this person with varied or little understanding of what this individual’s role actually is.
We’re going to dissect and define the role and responsibilities of a typical BIM manager (if that exists), define some key priorities, and look at some proven methods to improve and enhance BIM support in your organization. If you’re an experienced BIM manager, you can probably relate, compare, and feel confident in the knowledge that you’re familiar with this information. If you’re just starting out, or looking to make the leap, there’s a huge amount to learn from BIM managers internationally who are generously sharing their knowledge.
Understanding Your Role
Almost any BIM manager working in AEC has been asked at some point, by staff ranging from junior architects to directors, “What do you guys actually do?” The role today consists of such a multitude of tasks that it’s a difficult question to answer verbally, or even written in job description.
“I lead and support the use of digital technology on architectural / engineering / construction projects.”
A response such as this gives a vague idea of the role, but a BIM manager can find themselves regularly bouncing around between tasks related to project support, teaching, IT, quality control, coding, and more. Of course, a BIM manager understands what their role is, but the sheer amount and variation of tasks can make it difficult, even for experienced BIM managers, to keep track of everything, make progress and not feel regularly overwhelmed.
A useful exercise for any BIM manager in this scenario is to collate all of the numerous factors involved in the day-to-day support, and categorize them into components. Below is an example used at Grimshaw to understand all of the components that form our ‘BIM ecosystem’ — the various components that to varying degrees rely on one another in order maintain a productive BIM environment within our organization. In essence, this combination of elements allows for the production of BIM models by our architects.
Having your BIM ecosystem documented is not only a useful tool for effectively communicating the BIM management role/setup internally within your organization, but it can also help the BIM manager plan, resource, and develop initiatives within those areas. Having everything diagrammatically represented on a single page also gives surprising clarity to the bigger picture and reduces the feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer number of things that need to be fixed, implemented, or developed.
Once we’ve established all the components of the ecosystem we can start to see the various degrees of how they relate to one another, and which components have a wider impact than others. You can see in the example below that in our ecosystem, everything is somehow related to the ‘BIM execution’ component. Perhaps obvious in hindsight, but it demonstrates that everything feeds into BIM, which is the external output of models that all the other components support the creation of.
Providing and Enhancing Project Support
In the previous section we already established a multitude of tasks that a BIM manager needs to juggle in order to create a BIM environment within their organization and provide the necessary means to produce quality BIM models. However, there’s still an additional duty that is generally the most time consuming of all.
What Are the Issues?
Revit is an incredibly advanced tool (in comparison to its predecessors such as AutoCAD) that allows its users to achieve some amazing feats of advanced project coordination and delivery. That also comes with an inherent level of complexity that many in the industry still don’t fully appreciate. Whereas in the past, a concise series of line tools could be used to represent most building elements, we now have a different tool for almost every element.
These elements are much smarter and faster to draw/manipulate, but require a lot more knowledge to create. This means that a junior level architect or engineer may require significant exposure to the tools before being effective, and that even after two or three years on projects a user might still have significant knowledge gaps, with even the BIM managers still learning new tricks quite regularly.
Most architects/engineers will always require ongoing training and guidance, simply because knowing everything about one software platform isn’t the primary function of their job. Project support can range from simple troubleshooting in Revit to establishing complex modelling, deliver and automation workflows. Any BIM manager with more than a couple of demanding projects (on top of the implementation of their BIM setup) will quickly find themselves overwhelmed and time-poor, simply unable to address all the requests for help.
This can lead to several issues such as the feeling of being ineffective, frustration amongst users who didn’t receive timely support, and conflict with project teams who felt let down, but couldn’t comprehend why the BIM manager was unable to help or lost track of their issue. Being under-resourced is an issue faced by most BIM managers at some stage in their career.
In the next section, we’ll focus on establishing a BIM support team that can provide an adequate level of Revit and BIM support to your organization.
The BIM Support Team
Teams of dedicated BIM experts are slowly becoming more common in AEC practices today, and the job title of the individuals in this team is typically know as BIM coordinator. The reason for this is there are now many new tasks involved in exchanging information (such as preparing, issuing, and receiving models weekly) that require additional time and knowledge from the team on top of their typical tasks in producing drawings.
Knowledge transfer is one of the key priorities and benefits of the BIM coordinator role, as this person is working closely with the team and imparting their knowledge.
In comparison to a BIM manager, who manages the BIM support team and the overall big picture of BIM implementation within the organization, a BIM coordinator is dedicated to specific projects as a resource, and works closely with the project team both internally and externally to ensure that a high standard of BIM is achieved. By working closely with specific projects, the BIM coordinator can establish a strong knowledge of the project deliverables and the design, rather than just knowing how the model works. Below is an example of the typical (summarized) project tasks of a BIM coordinator at Grimshaw:
- Project Model Setup
- Issue/Receive Models
- Consultant Engagement
- Coordination/Clash Detection
- Dynamo Task Automation
- Advanced Modelling
- Model Auditing and Repairs
- Revit Guidance and Support
- Content Creation
- Drawing/Schedule Management
- Data Extraction
- VR/Enscape Visualisation
- Knowledge Transfer
Knowledge transfer is one of the key priorities and benefits of the BIM coordinator role, as this person is working closely with the team and imparting their knowledge. This type of role can be frustrating and is not for everyone and requires a certain attitude and mentality. Organizations often try to supplement the role as an additional duty to a BIM savvy architect or engineer which is often unsuccessful.
When seeking someone for the role, the following type of person is worth considering:
- Someone who is proactive in identifying issues and problem solving.
- Someone who seeks full understanding and is always looking for better ways to do things.
- Someone who can find balance between adhering to standards and the best interests of the project team.
- Someone who is always willing to learn new things.
- Someone with a great positive attitude.
Justifying a BIM Support Team
The biggest challenge for most organizations is taking the risk to invest in new staff, particularly in roles that didn’t previously exist on the payroll. There is a solid business case for this however, but first of all in making it happen, the BIM manager will need to gather support within the organization:
- Identify shortfalls and knowledge gaps — Demonstrate training requirements that are unable to be met, and risks involved without sufficient quality assurance on models being shared.
- Identify value and need — Demonstrate the opportunities for winning work, ability to bid for projects with mandatory BIM requirements, forming good relationships with consultants.
- Management representative — Find a member of the senior leadership group to back your proposal, there’s usually one who is supportive in the importance of technology. It’s also a great opportunity for that leader to acquire responsibility for overseeing technology in the practice.
- Projects in the pipeline — Identify upcoming projects that will require a significantly higher level of digital delivery and that can immediately justify the resourcing of a new BIM coordinator.
It may only take the appointment of the first BIM coordinator to establish a proof of concept and the confidence from management to expand the resource across all projects. It comes down to the simple scenario of risk versus reward.
Resourcing a BIM Support Team
The approach to resourcing is a critical element in justifying the existence of a BIM support team within the organization. Having three or four technology staff as overheads simply just isn’t feasible for most practices. These (and partially the BIM manager) need to be fee-earning, and be able to clearly demonstrate the value of their output to the project team.
Determining the client’s contractual BIM requirements on projects is an excellent opportunity to establish a basis for resourcing. These can sometimes be misunderstood or ignored by project leaders, but if intercepted by the BIM manager, it provides the opportunity to advise the team on potential risks and determine deliverables that will require BIM-specific tasks or knowledge.
For this reason, the BIM manager should strive to be a part of the leadership group, and attend weekly resourcing meetings. This forum allows the BIM manager to be privy to incoming projects, and advise the leadership group on the specific skills, knowledge and support required by the team. The example below demonstrates simple pipeline for resourcing project BIM support at Grimshaw.
1. BIM manager determines project requirements.
2. BIM manager establishes project environment and BEP.
3. Project is supported by BIM manager or handed off to suitable BIM coordinator.
Resourcing the BIM Coordinator
How the BIM coordinator divides their hours across projects will vary greatly depending on the type, size, and demands of the projects. This may need to be adjusted regularly, and relies on a good dialogue between the BIM coordinator and the BIM manager. The BIM manager needs to clearly communicate the requirements of the project team and the amount of days support requested, whilst the BIM coordinator needs to regularly communicate back how much time they are spending in reality to fulfill the requirements. Having weekly reporting meetings as BIM support team is an effective way communicate this and compare the demands of different projects.
The example below illustrates the target ideal time-split of a BIM coordinator resource at Grimshaw.
At Grimshaw this has proven to be the ideal balance of time where a resource can effectively fulfill the typical tasks of a BIM coordinator role (as described earlier in the handout) on two projects (across four days a week) without feeling overwhelmed or unable to complete all tasks.
There is also one day a week of R&D where the coordinator can engage and develop a chosen personal area of interest or new initiatives for the BIM setup. This provides a good opportunity to develop new ideas, and work closely with the BIM manager on implementing new technology that is not directly project specific. It also provides a time buffer when projects suddenly require a little extra help.
Defining a Standard Scope
When resourcing dedicated BIM support roles to projects, it’s really helps to define a standard scope of what your organization offers in terms of digital project delivery. Depending on where you work in the world or who your clients are, you may have some projects with incredibly complex requirements for BIM, and some with little to no requirement at all. Both examples need to be resourced differently, so it’s good to have a process in place to help determine this.
A good place to start is to define in a very concise way a baseline for how the project will be delivered, regardless of BIM being a requirement or not. In Grimshaw’s standard scope for BIM we define things such as:
- Authoring platform (Revit)
- Coordination platform (Navisworks)
- Model exchange format (RVT, NWD, IFC)
- Document exchange format (PDF)
- Geometric level of detail (blanket statement — sufficient for drawing production and 3D coordination)
- Embedded data (blanket statement — sufficient for scheduling/specification)
As an organization, you can then establish that this base level of BIM on every project and will require x amount of support (e.g., 1x BIM coordinator @40%).
In a nutshell, the above is stating that by engaging our practice for services on a project, you will receive the contract documents (drawings) in a digital format and a model that is produced in Revit that has been coordinated with consultant models. If additional BIM requirements are added to this, the level of support can increase to 60–80-100% to meet the demand of the project. This may include items such as:
- Your organization is appointed to lead the coordination process.
- Data input for asset management.
- Preparing the model for sustainability analysis.
- Preparing the model for DfMA purposes.
By allocating the BIM support to suit the project and factoring that into the project bid, your organization can ensure that the additional resources and time required to provide BIM deliverables on the project are essentially absorbed. The example below shows a typical resource schedule from a bid that includes BIM support.
The Key Benefits
Expanding from a lone BIM manager to a BIM support team has some very clear benefits:
- Consistent high level of support integrated into all projects.
- In-depth knowledge of projects and ongoing positive relationship with teams.
- Clearly defined roles and allocation of responsibilities.
- Accumulated pool of knowledge and experience.
- Increased ability to implement new technology and workflows.
- Diversity of BIM skills and experience across the team (one person can’t know everything).
- Increased knowledge transfer to wider studio.
- Quality assurance and reduced risk.
- Confidence that all models being issued are managed and checked to a high standard.
Christopher Rossetto is an architectural BIM specialist at Grimshaw, leading BIM in the Melbourne studio and working as part of Grimshaw’s global Design Technology Team. Originally from Australia where he completed a Master of Architecture degree, Chris has worked with architects in Melbourne, London, and Rotterdam. Chris has 10 years of experience as both a Revit user and implementer of BIM.
Want more? Read on by downloading the full class handout at the Autodesk University website: The Modern BIM Manager: Human, Machine, or Team?