Friday, July 29, 2016

Doing BIM right: My way or the highway!

If there is one advice I would like anyone to take from me on the topic of BIM, it would be:
Do it my way or don’t do it at all!
Now, that is an arrogant statement even coming from me, someone that over the last couple of years has become more-less known in this field of Global BIM for putting out subjective, flippant statements that the BIM majority did not like and often publicly declared as simply ‘untrue’.

A couple of days ago, my middle daughter turned 20th.
This fact brought home the realisation, that it is exactly 20 years since I bought my first ArchiCAD licence. That date did not mark my introduction to (what much later become) BIM, for a number of years before 1996 (about 5) I dabbled with 3D AutoCAD (fully modelled buildings with it in DOS).

So, this birthday became the trigger for another realisation, that it is time to stop being the ‘Nice Girl of BIM’ – pussyfooting over the ‘herd of elephants’ in this field that Global BIM is and once for all, write up my list of 5 musts for a BIM system to work at any scale.

The following 5 points cover the essentials of the ‘who, what, how and what with’ of a working BIM system. There could be variations on the build-up (yeah, yeah, the devil is in the detail)  of the system, but these are the fundamentals:

1.       Main, modelling tool must be ArchiCAD; Revit is a dog, and if you are not going for Revit for political reasons, might as well go with the best tool still on the market.
2.       Your workflow must be set up for constant cross referencing of 2D-3D data. No matter of the level of ‘mandated BIM’ on a project of any reasonable size, most of the data will keep on flowing on PDF’s. Your modelling tool must be able to handle PDFs well – and many of them in one model. Again, you must use ArchiCAD.
3.       Ignore any meta-data until you model with construction integrity. This applies to Cobie and other super-duper ‘i' strategies. They all sound good, but if the foundation of your BIM is shaky because of your model integrity, you will be wasting a lot of money with very little benefit for anyone. (hint: employ someone to manage these magical ‘i' flows, but keep them away from the ones that are doing the real work);
4.       Your key person is your Chief Model Manager and you must not have more than 2 people sitting  in that role even at the biggest of projects. (2 people will give you the redundancy you need to manage the risk). Your Chief Model Manager must be a fully hands on modeller and interested and  know how buildings go together spatially and logistically.
5.       Don’t burden your Chief Model Manager with writing or implementing mainstream type BIM plans, get someone else do it, if mandated by the project.

There. You are welcome.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Want a BIM Manager’s Job in Dubai? Just be very enthusiastic!

Now, this is not a job-ad.
Not even a crafty-title designed to entice into reading the post those that are currently feverishly looking for a new position in BIM field in Dubai or around the region.
Anyone that has lived here for a while knows that jobs come and go – or more precisely roles are gained, held and lost at regular intervals for just about anyone regardless of place of origin, work-type or skillset. So, at any time – a number of people I know, both BIM-mish and not, are looking for work here in the UAE. Therefore, I do not like to make fun of job searchers, I do support those I know and respect in searching for new positions. But, being an enthusiastic BIM practitioner seems to be the winning ticket to those out of work in the GCC these days.

OK, that was an over-simplified statement, but where I was going with it, was setting the scene for the next statement: that even as construction roles are thinning out a bit around me, and many poor souls are left out of work at a short notice, needing to scramble all their strategic connections to secure a new, albeit often just as precarious ‘lilli-pad landing’, BIM Manager jobs seem to be still coming on offer in oodles in the UAE.
Me, not actively on the market, still get approached at least once a week, offering to be put forward for one of those.

And this is the interesting part of the story. While I am still a bit ‘underground’ when it comes to BIM and am mostly impersonating professions in real life where BIM is not part of the core curriculum, I get intrigued but these roles, so I poke into them a bit.

My findings are somewhat odd.
For a start, with these roles, like with most others, the ‘predetermined’ package size (i.e. salary + benefits) is the king.
I was called last week by someone looking for a top BIM person for an X Billion Dirham (even when divided by 3 the budget still comes to billions of dollars of many flavours) project, who was shopping for someone with particular software experience (unquantified) and was prepared to pay a package of a maximum X Dirhams.
When I told him what I was earning now and was looking to earn in the future, should I get interested in his role, his reply was ‘that’s a bit much for a BIMmer, ain’t it?’  (with a smooth British accent, I might add)

Now, let’s analyse this issue a bit. The guy knows nothing about BIM (he told me that) – the project is huge, the role is at the top of the BIM pyramid.
BIM must be a strategic tool of the project (otherwise, why bother) yet the HR person is adamant, that the person, that would be the right fit for that role should only earn ‘x’.

Or, more precisely he is told, that that is his shopping ‘budget’. Someone, even more knowledgeable than him, was able to gauge that the BIM market of the world would spit out someone tailor-made for the top BIM role of this X Billion strategic (BIM) project in the UAE for Y AEDs/month.

Cool. I am impressed.
Oh, yes – did I mention that this ‘just right BIM person’ will be on the job within a short notice period?
Naturally, meaning no one should question that the HR company’s client, the winner of this super-duper high budget project with super-duper BIM requirements has no  ‘ready to plug in’ BIM person on offer to start  the project with.
Roughly in the same time when the above mentioned BIM-HR approached, there was another call to interview for me, this time with a classy consultancy shining in the GCC, BIM oozing out of its pores.

I was no fit for them, thankfully turned out – even though I realize this before I was told – too jaded, realistic – not enthusiastic enough.
I should have known from the start of course, not waste at least 3 people’s time, they talked about a CEO that had magic insights of the industry, he was often quoted of recognising that the ‘AEC was behind other industries in taking on technology’ – (have I heard this one before?) – and their in house BIM manager was just wonderful. He was so full of enthusiasm he could hardly be contained.

What? I claimed to not like Revit? Well, that was just too bad wasn’t it, the super consultancy was soaked in it up to the top….
Could hardly wait to get out, back to my pretend DM job.

And I did.
But the term ‘enthusiastic’ stayed with me longer, I thought a lot about it, for days afterwards.
What does it says about a mature professional of any flavour to be labelled, first and foremost ‘enthusiastic’ about his core subject?
Not experienced, knowledgeable, skilled, proficient  or competent, but enthusiastic?
What does that say about the company? The industry?
When the main characteristics that stick out about a person competing for a role are not any of the above listed, nor even the lesser valued one of software knowledge (i.e Revit), gender, age or nationality but the apparent level of ‘enthusiasm’ that one expresses about a topic.

Little encounters with BIM in action like the snippets  described above these days makes me even more worried about the future of BIM in this industry than I was before taking on my self-imposed BIM abstinency.

But, I can not help coming up with an appropriate looking suggestion to the people I described above:
How about hiring BIM people on weight? Ask your HR people (if you must hire BIM managers) to get the most kgs of BIM for AED (or other currency) that they can.
Could turn out to be quite satisfying approach for all.
I am also rounding up nicely in case someone takes up the idea.
(can’t really ramp up the enthusiasm any more).

Friday, July 1, 2016

The fat controller that knew nothing about trains – BIMmers vs Project Controllers

With the birth and rapid rise of Project Managers within the AEC industry, including an almost full takeover of it by them, over the last 2-3 decades, came also the approach of managing Construction projects the ‘hands-off way’.

The technical knowledge of ‘how buildings are put together’, once an essential tool of architects (the predecessors of PMs as the captains of the industry) has become obsolete for the new stars of the show, in fact any practicing PM worth their salt would go to great lengths hiding any such capability. So, no direct relationships were drawn to their architectural backgrounds (if that was where they were infected by such capabilities) jeopardising their metamorphosis into PMs and rise within the ranks. Those PMs that were once engineers of any other sort were also encouraged to forget what they knew about their first disciplines, lest it clouded their ability to manage projects in a ‘detached’, even handed way.

Training institutions worldwide recognised this trend and jumped on it by producing non-technically contaminated PMs by the thousands. The magical title of the PMP was born too and the rest is really history. Construction Project Delivery Meetings are about tasks, percentages, numbers and completeness of drawings, KPI and MOMs.

I guess as a natural development of this ‘new profession’, an even more peculiar flavour of the PM breed has emerged and is stealing the show nowadays, the ones called ‘Project Controllers’. They seem to have the mandate of the almighty with zero tolerance for the un-measurable or subjective components of the game.

As  a hands-on, practicing BIM-mer and the owner of a ‘Virtual Construction Company’, I once had my own ambitions to build a business around the idea of ‘full control of project information’, providing smart management of project information, with up-to date, intelligent reporting on key performance indicators (KPIs!). We went down the road of developing numerous (first in the world)  tools for nifty 3D-4D-5D information management and invested in ‘multi-headed’ people that could manage project information in true, holistic way.
We were unsuccessful, needless to say.

My husband and partner in the business still maintains his views on how the PM fraternity of our then location conspired to push us out of the business, my take on what happened is much simpler and sadder.
The way construction projects are delivered these days all around the world (apart from very small scale buildings) do not favour those that want to – need to - know things well. It is designed for and run by those that ‘can manage things, aggressively, often with procedural perfection’ but with no interest in what is actually being built, how and by whom.
In fact, they are deeply aware, that any such knowledge would prevent them being the ruthless slave-drivers of projects, deadlines and KPIs. A bit like politicians knowing too much about their constituents day-to-day lives would be unable to pull off tough decisions.

The still current, typical relationship between the PMs and BIM-ers of the industry is a very good indicator of the way the power-struggle between knowledge and ignorance, problem solving and problem managing has been settled already.
Having easily beaten the practitioners of ‘traditional disciplines’ (architects, engineers) in the 80s and 90s, some fragments of the BIM promoting fraternity proved a bit more resilient bunch. Maybe partially due to the fact that the truly good BIMmers, that I admit are few and hard to find, but still exist, have often grown out of those disillusioned architects that were unprepared to just hand over their previously held captaincies to technically illiterate PMs.

Or, those that grudgingly joined the ranks of PMs in order to maintain some presence in the industry but refused to ‘just manage’ half-blindly and continued to employ their other, despised by new PM’s, capabilities of technical nature.

In the course of my work I regularly get supplied a real PM mentor to personally lecture me daily on how I should do things the right PMP way – I often visualise theses lecturers as the Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine giving out illogical orders to the good natured Thomas crew.

This was a figure once quite liked by me.
In the past – when I had my own ambitions of becoming the equivalent of such ‘pulling together everything smartly’ figure of Construction Projects using best of tools BIM can offer – I even contemplated making it the mascot of the business that was the vehicle for delivering this dream. (I did not, so no copyright infringements to worry here – but do check a post from 5 years ago:;

My feelings about the said Gentleman have changed a bit recently, partially due to an article:
(--- Quote from: The Daily Mail ---PC controller gets steamed up over Thomas 'the Sexist' Tank Engine)

“If you thought the television tales about Thomas the Tank Engine were merely light-hearted fun, think again.
In fact, they portray a world blighted by a 'conservative political ideology' and a rigid class system which stifles self-expression. And they are sexist.
That, at least, is the view of a female academic who took the trouble to analyse 23 episodes of the programme inspired by the books of the Rev W V Awdry.
According to Professor Shauna Wilton, women are under-represented in the stories and what few female characters there are tend to have 'secondary' roles or be bossy.
What's more, she has warned that such negative messages about society subconsciously gleaned from the show might even drive its young fans off the rails in later life.
The learned professor was inspired to carry out her study after watching Thomas videos with her three-year-old daughter. While the child was enthralled, her mother was dismayed.
She was left feeling 'uncomfortable' by the way the colourful steam engines are punished if they show initiative or try to change their rank or role.
Her research also highlights the class divide, with Thomas and his fellow engines including Percy and James at the bottom of the social ladder and the Fat Controller, Sir Topham Hatt, at the top.
Any attempt by the downtrodden workers to show initiative or dissent is met with punishment, she found.
In one episode, for example, Thomas whistles impatiently at a police officer and is replaced with a different engine as a punishment for showing dissent

PC aspects of the story aside, this take on the character (especially the underlined part) did make me feel Sir Topham Hatt being much better suited to represent the masses of Project Control Managers that rule this industry then the under-dog BIM-mers I associate myself with.

Maybe he knows nothing about trains after all, and is just managing them anyway.