BIM Project Management – Best Practices
While the popularity of Building Information Modeling (BIM) has been soaring in recent years, it’s still not as commonly used as the means of improving various project management-related efforts. Since one of the main goals of BIM is to change and improve information communication, the importance of that for the project management department should be obvious enough as it is.
BIM – an overview
Saying that BIM is just a piece of software a bold understatement. The main driver behind the recent success of BIM are the processes that it can create between different participants of the project.
The main purpose of BIM is communication improvement, especially between two of the main parts of any construction-related project – the design team and the construction team.
BIM is a relatively new technology, and there are not that many standards that exist around it. For example, here are the UK’s “Levels of BIM” that were introduced along with the mandatory requirement for any construction project that was publicly funded to use BIM Level 2, at the very least. Here’s what those “Levels of BIM” entail:
- Level 0. The most basic CAD (computer-aided design) software there is, with barely anything else involved.
- Level 1. “Object-oriented CAD” is introduced – 3D modeling capabilities in the CAD data.
- Level 2. Implements a set of requirements for both sharing and formatting. Includes common file formats for CAD software (COBie or IFC) and CDEs (common data environment) for better data sharing.
- Level 3. Still unclear but focuses on creating a list of standards to simplify data sharing even further. Often refers to database-first design software with multiple different opportunities for collaboration.
Level 3 is the one that is often presented as an example when talking about the benefits of BIM as a whole, although there are still a lot of people who are not even close to this level. In this article we’ll be mostly discussing the benefits of BIM for project management at BIM Level 3, implying a database-first approach to data management and collaboration, among other things.
Information landscape and BIM
One of the targets of BIM is to form a single unified source of information for the design and the construction process of the project in question – including asset information, architectural designs, structural information, and more. That’s not to say that BIM is only capable of working with CAD-related documents, either – it can also be used in scheduling, animation, clash detection, etc.
Since there’s no need to rely on the disjointed old-school design sharing, it’s easier to achieve more direct information sharing, which is especially important for cross-disciplinary cooperation.
There are no file duplicates since BIM platforms allow specialists to work on the project at the same time, implementing their changes as they appear. That way, there is no miscommunication regarding the state of the project, it’s easier to administer the entire process, and the risk of clashes is much lower than before.
This kind of information unification allows project managers to oversee the entire project much easier, with the help of intuitive 3D models that have replaced complex and disjointed technical documents. If the project manager understands more about the project – there’s less chance of miscommunication happening since it’s easier to see the responsibilities and workflows of every participant of the team.
This is what is often referred to as the “true BIM” – a user-friendly information landscape that is transparent and coherent, with all of the project’s participants having access to it.
Flexibility and new opportunities with BIM
The ability to have information about the project available for all of the project’s participants makes it easier for project managers to direct and manage those teams, as well. The entire process is made faster and less prone to errors if the specialists can deploy their expertise whenever it is necessary, making the entire project less segregated and disjointed.
That way, technical challenges can also be worked on in real-time by the design teams, making them aware of the structural capabilities of the project so that newer solutions can be developed or older ones can be adapted to the limitations. The correct usage of BIM allows different teams to continually compare their creative thoughts with the technical possibility of each of those, making it less possible for something unrealistic to be implemented.
A unified information source allows project managers to understand the current processes better, and the same goes for design teams and construction teams. This kind of understanding makes it easier to work with prefabricated materials, experimental designs, 3D printing and other less common technologies.
BIM and project management – a sea of opportunities
With BIM, it’s possible to leverage the experience of all of the different teams and specialists for the benefit of the project, even the ones that would’ve been disconnected from that process in any other scenario. As we’ve mentioned before, while BIM is a software, its’ “process” is equally as important, if not more.
A complete understanding of all of the different benefits that BIM provides is essential for all of the participants, not just project management. It’s possible to completely transform the way your teams work together – with higher efficiency and more creativity as a result.
That’s not to say that the ever-evolving technology is not included, as well. For example, there’s laser scanning that can provide accurate information about live scenes and environments, and such data can be imported into BIM to act as a remote monitor of the construction progress.
While BIM’s main driver is collaboration and communication between different teams, it would be much harder to reach the intended results without a project manager who understands all of the potential benefits and possibilities that BIM could provide. It’s a part of the project manager’s job to spread information about the changes that come with implementing BIM project management and how it can be utilized in different ways.
BIM and project managers – problematic potential
One of the main goals of BIM is to create a universal working asset. Project managers are essential to reaching this goal since they use procedures and regulations to set up a mutual environment that benefits all of the parties involved.
From a designer’s perspective, BIM’s goal is to produce a model for further production, and the cost consultant’s goal is to offer accurate estimates. On the other hand, project managers are supposed to make sure that the created output would have all of the qualities to be used in the construction process.
The construction process itself is still not perfect – it involves many different parties and entities that are supposed to work together as a single functional asset. The difference between theoretical BIM and its practical part is still there since some parties would inevitably have to put in more work than the others.
However, this gap between theoretical BIM and its practical appliance can be dealt with by proper management, which usually involves clear goals, detailed plans and a defined supply chain. Project managers are supposed to help with differentiating the real advantages of BIM from the promotional information by setting achievable expectations from the get-go – this would help with productivity increase later on in the process.
It’s possible to point out three different significant problems that project managers often see within the process of BIM integration: BIM approach adoption, BIM vision development and leadership struggles.
- BIM approach adoption. It’s essential to carefully consider the topic of BIM adoption since the failure to do so often results in unnecessary problems for the entire duration of the “newer” organizational process, often resulting in BIM being dropped entirely by the organization in question.
- BIM vision development. After you’ve decided how you’re going to approach BIM implementation, it’s also heavily recommended to create a proper vision of BIM implementation that includes business-wide objectives, the processes that would be transformed by BIM, the planned timeline of these changes, and so on.
- Leadership struggles. Some balance is needed when it comes to BIM and implementation. If the suggestion to adopt BIM would simply come from the top, it would be harder to convince the rest of the team in all of the benefits. Additionally, regular workers suggesting such drastic change might not be even noticed, let alone heard of and implemented. This is why the suggestion is supposed to be pioneered by someone who can balance out the BIM leadership and the organizational leadership to convince everyone why and how it is important.
Project managers are often spending a lot of time educating clients on the topic of proper project organization. While the list of potential BIM benefits is, indeed, quite massive – a PM should be able to decide which benefits would be the most useful for this specific company and this specific project. Best practices for BIM should be advised as early as possible, and goal tracking is essential to understanding the benefits of BIM.
It’s fair to say that BIM usage makes some matters more complicated than before – since there’s now a need for the entire project to be process-driven, and more specific skills and knowledge is also required for everything to work correctly. There is no easy way to do these complex things, but there are tools out there that are capable of making the process significantly easier.
Project managers in BIM still have room for growth. The construction industry has yet to embrace BIM to its fullest, and there are still many BIM-related advantages to be discovered. BIM could easily become the way for project managers to significantly improve the lifecycle of projects and open possibilities for further innovations.
10 tips for better BIM project management
The successful implementation and usage of all the BIM capabilities can produce a lot of benefits, but it’s not an easy topic to approach, too. For that purpose, we’re presenting 10 tips that should help you understand the basic benefits of BIM as a software and a process:
- Don’t forget about the client experience. Involving the client into the project more heavily allows you to keep them informed and up-to-date thanks to visualizations, data analysis results and just more frequent updates in general.
- Don’t rush the implementation of BIM. Rushing your BIM implementation is a recipe for failure, and it’s always recommended to try out a test project of sorts if you lack experience in the field.
- Think through your implementation plan. A good BIM implementation plan details how BIM can be used by each member of the team and how the information is shared between them. It should be created as early as possible since it might affect both your schedule and your total costs.
- Use BIM templates. BIM templates are one of the easiest ways to simplify the beginning of your BIM project since templates already contain a mass of information about the project, such as the project’s layers, a number of standard BIM families/objects, sheet layouts, graphic standards, etc.
- Take advantage of analytical tools. Study your alternatives before choosing the one you’ll be using for the entire project. It’s even possible to use third-party tools or plugins to extend the analytical tools’ possibilities.
- Think about your entire process and how BIM can help. BIM is much more than just another method of doing all of the age-old processes, and you’ll have to rethink most parts of your regular process to take advantage of BIM’s capabilities fully.
- Learn about the capabilities of the software. There’s no need to have a comprehensive knowledge of anything and everything, but the basic understanding of your software’s capabilities goes a long way towards utilizing BIM as much as possible for your benefit.
- BIM – collaboration and cooperation. BIM’s effects are increased in accordance with the number of members that are utilizing it; everyone needs to be on board.
- BIM requires contract updates, or entirely new contracts. Projects that utilize BIM are in dire need of new contracts due to the sheer amount of different benchmarks and deliverables they bring to the table.
- Both data and format are important. Since it’s BIM we’re talking about, you have to know the information that your team is supposed to deliver and the format in which it’ll be delivered.
Project management improvements that come from BIM
There are several different areas in which BIM could significantly influence the flow of operations, thus increasing general productivity, among other parameters. It is possible to segregate ten main advantages that BIM offers to project management specifically:
- Better communication and collaboration efforts. A visual reference is essential to improve cooperation between different parties involved with the project. This also includes the ability for different teams to share their insights and work together to improve the project’s end result.
- Decreased costs of construction. Risk mitigation, fewer errors and accidents, reduced insurance costs, prefabrication areas detection – these are just some of the advantages that BIM offers, resulting in the overall decrease of the construction costs.
- Full visualization of the project. The ability to offer all of the parties involved an accurate representation of the project is a goldmine of effectiveness. For example, clients have the ability to figure out possible improvements as early as the design phase, and so on.
- Increased productivity. Better planning and scheduling is one of the methods of BIM to affect the overall productivity of the construction team – with less wasted time, more defined stages of construction, and figuring out possible prefabricated parts of the building beforehand.
- Better task scheduling. Another consequence of the visualization as an advantage is the ability for the different teams to interact with each other more efficiently, resulting in a general better organization for all kinds of work within the project.
- Heightened clash detection. The integration of different plans from different parties into the same system allows for a significant improvement in the clash detection department so that the changes to the project could be made before the construction part begins in the first place.
- Better building quality. An obvious conclusion of the general efficiency increase, improved project management, is the higher quality of the end products (builds).
- 4D & 5D modeling. 4D – project progress evaluation, 5D – cost evaluation.
- More acurate estimates. Determining the correct amount of materials needed substantially increases the accuracy of overall project estimates.
- Better information analysis. The visualization of different project-related parameters leads to better and more accurate decision-making. Some of the more apparent problems could even be detected automatically by the system itself.
BIM’s capabilities are vast and varied, and that includes the field of project management, as well. By understanding the way BIM works and the extent of its capabilities, you’ll be able to vastly improve your BIM project management efforts and drive your project to their successful conclusions with as little to no problem as possible.