Friday, July 4, 2014

How long should it take to build a ‘functioning’ BIM team from scratch?

I have a good friend; she works as a senior HR recruiter for a medium size developer company operating in the GCC. She’s been with them for over 4 years.
We don’t often talk work when we see each other but recently she’s been given the portfolio to recruit an entire team of ‘BIM people’.
Following a couple of friendly chats, I asked her if she would mind me putting some of her story into my blog. Contrary to what many think – I’m extremely careful when and how I reference people in my writing that have confided in me in any way.
I also offered to just write on the topic without any of the specific data related to her included, but admittedly hoped she would not mid me use her case.
She was cool about it. As long there was no mention of the company, she thought the story was not that unique to them anyway, offhand listed half a dozen other, similar work-places she knew of that tackled the same issue in a pretty similar way. She insisted though, that I give her the credit for where it’s due, I obliged.

The company started on its BIM journey with big ambitions about 3 years ago. At the time they were advised by a particular software provider how to get into BIM and that quickly saw them part with enough cash to purchase a dozen of BIM-suites and train a matching dozen of BIM modellers by the same provider. The modellers beavered away for a while in a largely non-BIM sympathetic environment and with not a lot of strategic direction to follow, to gradually give up on swimming upstream and leave for other companies that looked a bit more BIM friendly. At least at job interview levels. Exactly 2 years after the launch of the First BIG BIM programme, the last modeller left, coinciding with their (now abandoned) BIM tools turning 1 year out of date, as nobody bothered upgrading the software.

A blissful non-BIM year was enjoyed by all – the initially over-specced computers got caught up by time and became almost obsolete used by CAD users churning out design drawings by the tonnes (this developer has its own design team);
Any 3D stuff needed, like fancy visuals and flythrough-movies got appropriately outsourced, mostly to India, some to South America and occasionally to a very eager sole-operator working from one of the backwaters of Russia.
These years of ‘BIM attempt number 1’ followed by ‘no BIM at all’, saw my friend stay oblivious to BIM, spending her time searching the globe for talented and suitable experienced, but above all keen to come to the region candidates for the rotating-vacating roles of project-, design-, planning- and occasionally construction managers.

Then, suddenly, about 3 months ago something happened that rattled both the company and my friend’s career a bit.

There was a conference. The GM was invited. She would not normally go to such events, but there was a government official on the speakers’ list that she was keen to catch up with.
So, she attended. A pretty average gathering it turned out to be, the government official cancelling in the last minute to top off the disappointment.
There was one thing that got my friends GM slightly anxious though.
A hell-of a lot of talk about BIM.
Everyone was doing it, everyone was praising ‘it’ and could not stop talking about what wonders it had done for the business and everyone was better at it than the one speaking before.
And it was not only the presenters that tried to outdo each other with their BIM accomplishments, she got caught in two almost totally identical, yet non-related break-out talks where a number of very-high managers laboured on outshining all others with how many ‘D’s their companies were fluent in. Unaware about anything going above 3D and scared to be put on a spot herself, she left the conference before closing and spared no time to brief the leaders of her HR team, my friend and her boss: the company was going to go BIM. Urgently, BIG and in a ‘mature’ way.
And, yes, NOW!

My friend’s boss is a good manager and while there were another 2 junior recruiters on the team too, he gave my friend the honour to take on the prestigious task given to them by the GM.
There were very few specifics accompanying the assignment and those were included in the ‘Strategy’.
The ‘Strategy’ was no more than the minutes of the quick management meeting rectifying the basics of the SECOND BIG BIM plan that the GM mastered to arrange between initially briefing the HR team and giving the full ‘go-ahead’ a week later.
This time, the ‘BIM Strategy’ was all about the ‘right’ people. A dozen BIM Engineers will be recruited quickly, to form the grass route resource; a BIM manager will head the team.

Armed with the company’s BIM strategy and supported by her boss’s further directions (get them urgently, make it cheap! Look at India maybe the Philippines, the manager can be westerner but not an expensive one. Keep the lid on at 40k/month for him – 150 or thereabouts for the lot) my friend got on with the job.

And, she performed splendidly.
She managed to source the entire team for not much over the initial budget and with only 6 weeks stagger in their starting days with the company. Between them they supposedly knew all of the 6 BIM software packages currently on the market and at least one of them had seen a construction site at least once. Half of them have boasted of a clash-detection record of ‘over a thousand per a single project’ and a third had done D’s well exceeding the mainstream 3-4-5, my friend was also very familiar (by now) with. All pronounced the American ‘Revit’ in a European way and only two of them did not know what a construction simulation was but promised to learn by the time they’d start. The manager was a really good find, a cool dude, full 3 years of experience after engineering school, knows everything there is about BIM and comes dirt cheap. Also very much into extreme sports, can’t wait to try skydiving in Dubai.

My friend has known me for a long time. She’s been aware of my struggles with trying to tame this ‘BIM thing’ for at least a decade, but more likely two. She never really understood my difficulties, the big drama of it all.
Now, that she had successfully pulled together a ‘fully functioning BIM team’ in a record time, her willingness to listen to my troubles is even lower.

I really don’t mind this at all, she may well be right.
It could really be true, that I overthink things far too much and it is really not a big deal to get a working BIM going, after all.
That in spite of what I say, there are many capable BIM people in the industry that can be ‘plucked off the shelf’ and a team built from scratch and in no time.
That talent and good looks (see newly hired BIM manager) mean more than experience and professional wisdom. That having a good understanding on what really is BIM, is overstated and a good BIM seed-group will just organically transform a large company, like theirs is.
That 2 years ago they failed with their BIM because it was ‘too early’ and not because they had no clue, strategy or real commitment.
That this time they will succeed even though they still have no clue, strategy or real commitment.

Following my friend sharing her BIM success story with me, I was going to do a serious analysis on what a recruiter should be looking for in a BIM-mer, and had a special interest in expanding on the topic of cost-and-value relationship of these resources.
Still, decided to leave that heavy topic for another time and share her story almost as is.
So, for now, all credit to my friend for a job well done!


  1. I suppose that the qualifications of the team begin and end with the proficiency in a certain software package? That's no BIM.

    Plan and strategy first, infrastructure second, staff later. Knowing the region, it is "the cheaper the better" mantra all over again? Wrong. One good BIM guy for 20 000 will do more than 4 guys knowing how to handle the software at 5000.

    It's like driving is not the same as operating a car. Learning where the steering wheel and the pedals are, how to start, turn and how to stop does not mean that you know how to drive. It's only the basic skill set that is required for driving.

    Good luck to your friend. I do hope that her job will not be affected when the new BIM team shoots down in flames ...

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