Everyone’s “special”

"We all need to understand what it generally means, but still appreciate it means different specific things to different people, and on different projects."
Practical BIM Blog

I like the Practical BIM blog. In fact, here is a link to the blog. That said, it doesn't mean I won't disagree with him and be sparked for another posting in reply. So here is a shot across the bow.

Many adverse things can happen to derail and destroy the BIM process with the above quote, I'll take it easy on Practical BIM and only talk to two of them.

First, opening a can of worms by saying "it has different definitions for different people" will cause the whole BIM efforts to succumb to the dreaded "BIM Ego". This is the personality that we pretend doesn't exist but in reality has taken root in too many firms. The BIM Ego is the person always coming up with new ideas and new ways to build a better mouse trap; but turns in to a two year old in the sandbox who doesn't want to share. They think there way is the only way and you just have to do it like I do; but I'm not sharing. Why does this happen? Because BIM, LOD, DOD, insert your favorite acronym here has different meanings to different people on different projects.

Every project, firm, and person is "special" no two are alike. Flag on the play, I call BS. Why? If everyone does their own thing because they are "special" all you have are incomplete processes, plans, and standards. So when does a project, firm, standard, or person become not so "special?" Is it when there is more than one? When two or more processes overlap? So if all those items are "special" then standards and best practices lose all of their power because everything and everyone is fricken "special!"

So what's another way this mindset is going to kill BIM? It will destroy the collaboration of BIM within the industry. How? Because everybody is "special" and because of that everyone is hiding from the accountability lion like a herd of gazelles. In doing so only the weakest plans, processes, and people are culled from the herd. In reality what needs to happen is the herd needs to come together as a pack and not a herd to be stronger than the lion. Predators don't often attack other predators even if they are out there all by themselves. But everything is "special" and our accountability lion is different than your lion. So in the end no one can be held accountable for anything outside their own walled up little world.

If that's the case, let stop saying BIM will do all these thing and then look at how it can be used downstream. Why? Because it's all a bunch of BS because everyone is "special!" That might work in side shows but it needs to stop in our industry. I know BS is the glue that holds the world together. If we didn't have it we wouldn't be forced to implement innovative ideas our business development people sold, I get that. This is the great industry Okey-Dok. Everything sold is true to some degree and can be proven but 40% of the time it's just BS. So to protect ourselves from the BS we build walls. of course the walls are just BS stacked up but they make us feel "better" and "safer." Until it rains and they start to crumble. We as an industry need to tear down these walls now and break out of our happy places where everyone is "special!" We as an industry have a duty and obligation to commit to bettering what we do and play nicely in the sandbox with other sharing each others tools. At the end of the day we want everyone to see our beautiful sandcastle.

Don't spin in circles; stop being "special" and get ready to become a member of the pack.

And Mr. Walled-In BIM World; tear down that wall!


  1. John… I read it. Still, not agreeing with it… that's all. Writing your point of view does not make it truth for everyone… just for you.

    One would think that if MEP folks were true bimmers, we would adopt fabrication software rather than design software… but we are not constructors… we are designers. And collaboration with other designers makes it easier to use Revit in our case than say CAD MEP+, etc.

    It would also be GREAT if we would hire drafters that are ex- pipe fitters and hvac technicians who have actually installed systems in real buildings rather than rely on drafters with no build experience whatsoever… so that the designers actually know how it all goes together, whether the head engineer does or not… would go a long way to making better designs that are 100% buildable and clash detected, and value engineered for estimating.
    Without that background, the only other option is to do the same with a contractor starting in the DD phase of design… which in my experience almost never happens.

    So what is the solution? I am all ears…

    • I don't know if this is a solution, but what is happening on the ground is that owners are turning to using Design & Construct (D&C) type contracts. I'm working on a $200 million office building. All services are being designed and documented by D&C contractors, who employ their own engineers. There are consultant engineers, but they are providing advice only – checking what the D&C contractors are doing.
      Consultant engineers have not been traditionally paid to provide shop drawings, which is what BIM has become, so those who traditionally did them, the contractors, are now doing the BIM work.
      I see a future where consultant engineering firms shrink as they become advisors and checkers only.
      Interestingly the D&C contractors use BIM software (mostly Revit), but don't use its BIM capabilities for everything. For example the electrical contractor only uses it for cable trays, hydraulics contractor just uses Revit for traditional CAD drawing production. These firms are purely profit driven so I suspect this is not because of a lack of experience or knowledge, but because it is currently the most economical use of BIM software (or at least Revit). If this is the case the only way to expand BIM deliverables is to change the deliverables demanded.

  2. IHN references part of the difficulty in full adoption. As an owner, I'll request what I need (collaborative design to reduce change orders and keep on schedule, plus an editable file to keep up for the rest of the building's life) in the bidding and contract, but, the problem is evidently the chronic underbidding to land jobs or the lack of communication about things they may be expected to do (such a model the piping instead of putting a 'similar' note).

    So, the engineer's price should go up in comparison to the increase in work, and as the fabricator/contractor/installer is saving so much time, their price should go down in comparison to their saved time and reduced waste. Overall, the price for the owner might still be higher, but, we will be getting what our contract specifies… an operating building and living documents to help in the lifecycle.

    It's a much bigger problem than any of us, re: the underbidding. Everyone does it, so everyone else has to do it or they won't get the work. Obviously, no one has a solution how to change that, and it's a big part of the problem re: value and perceived value and a lot of hard feelings, imho (wait, I think John just said essentially the same thing in his last post).

  3. @InHisName you should read my post Did you pay me for that BIM. Due to the economy we are all our worst enemies when it comes to cost. We sell the world that we do BIM then say just not that BIM. We under cut each other and enter into the stupid zone on fees and the complain about the fees and use the afore mentioned argument.

    We need to start coming together and hold each other accountable and use the tools and technology for mutual benefit. We have to also fess up and admit we are part of the problem and educate those we work with and for of the benefits. Sorry you disagree but the truth hurts.

  4. Thanks Brian. I actually thought the post from Praticle BIM was spot on about LOd. I just took issue with the item I quoted since it is prevelant in our industry. No it's not just designers but contractors, subcontractors, and even owners who use it to either justify why BIM cost more or why it just won't work for their job. Sometimes reading something sparks me to write about something loosely related.

    As to the herd and pack analogy I appologize I was in the air and medicated on pain pills and it sounded good then but I admit after reading it I confused myself but as they say –it happens. In reality we all need to hold each other accountable and my altered state just didn't get that one right. No worries after my surgery I'll be clearer.

  5. Well, something really set John off, didn't it? It's not that I have big objections to anything he is saying. One man's accountability dodge is another man's keeping his nose out of someone else's business. People sell seminars on how to avoid unnecessary liabilities. The line between teaching that and teaching how to dodge accountability is fuzzy at best. But in any event, "Not my fault, not in my scope" are the most heard words as a construction dispute brews; as true today as last year or the 50 preceding years as it is today.

    What is surprising to me is that the whole statement is presented as a rebuttal to what I thought was an excellent article about LOD. That article used the word "special" once, and it wasn't talking about anyone thinking they were "special". It was talking about using numbers other than those evenly divisible by 100 as LOD designations for "special" uses. That's really a fairly modest proposal. It's pretty clear to me that the concept of LOD has confused many, and while it has focused attention on reliability, accuracy, and completeness of information, it has not really brought much clarity to any of them; even when applied at very fine grain. Practical BIM is not alone in looking for a a better measure of these three qualities.

    But John apparently sees the article as an attempt to wiggle out of accountability by tweaking or bending standards like LOD (if LOD can be regarded as a standard). I missed that side of "What is this Thing …" entirely. Personally, I think that LOD was a hastily conceived and misapplied concept. I use it if I have to, but it does seem like misdirected effort to me. If I'm going to go to that kind of trouble, I want it to serve a purpose, or at least have some meaning. LOD tries to convey too much, and thus fails in it's mission.

    "In His Name" (is that what passes for self-identification here?) takes John's indictment to heart. He too says a lot that I agree with, but also went off the tracks to get into a defensive position. Maybe John was talking about designers dodging accountability, but I imagine his experience includes others who play that game at least as well as designers.

    The heard, pack, and lion analogy was lost on me. Accountability isn't a predator that we should be trying to outwit or vanquish. It is something the responsible animal carries, renders up freely, looks for, and expects to find in it's associates. It is a friend to anyone seeking to operate in the world honestly and efficiently.

  6. Sorry John… I am not buying in. While I do see a lot of firms saying "I'm special"… that is just themselves trying to differentiate and find ways of charging extra for a similar deliverable… and looking better to the contractors and owners (from the design side of things).

    The problem is, nobody seems to be getting paid to do BIM. Just because we use Revit or other 3d packages does not mean that our deliverable in the contract is anything more than PDFs of construction documents.

    One could argue that an architect can save lots of time and money with Revit over Autocad… and that would be true. But I am seeing for structure a similar amount of time, and for MEP, it takes MUCH longer to do the same work… unless the architect gives us 5' of clear space above the ceilings to work in… which never happens.

    Then there is the viability of the model itself. In cad, we can draw one plumbing chase and say typical in any floor above or below… drawn once…. but in Revit, people that want models want us to draw each one of them in their proper space so someone downstream can do quantity takeoffs, etc.

    It is a chnage in process and TIME. If a contractor is willing to PAY for a good model, you can bet that we are going to provide a good model. But if the contractor is not in the picture, we are not going to model stuff that takes all that time when our contract documents require 2d pdfs.

    Chances are the contractor is going to either re-draw our stuff anyway, or value engineer it so it costs less to build… and our model is not good enough for fabrication or materials takeoff any way.

    If the owner and contractor REALLY want to control the model and what we put in it and where… it would take a LOT more collaboration and fees to make that work. In the end, we might do an extra $20K worth of design to save the owner a half-million dollars, and our model might help a contractor make an additional half-million dollars… yet we get nothing??? THAT IS THE BS!

    If you think we feel special… you're wrong… we feel mistreated and tread upon… hoping our discounted fees will bring us enough work to be profitable year after year in a more and more competitive field of users of BIM software tools… yet we use it like cad because that is all we can afford to do. You can only add fees and upsell so much before your partners find someone who will do it cheaper and provide the same service. FACT!

    I have come up with some ideas on how to best-practice BIM on the design side IF we have enough time, and enough space to put our systems in, and get it mostly right from the beginning… but the time crunch defeats a truly collaborative effort on most jobs.

    The truth is… collaboration is stagnating BECAUSE of BIM. I can see problems in the other guy's models and I don't have to call them… I just work around their issues…. which can cause a LOT more issues than just calling them initially would have produced.

    This really needs to be addressed across the industry of design… how to figure out the communication barrier to BIM.

  7. I completely agree. This post can be best summed up with "I know BS is the glue that holds the world together." I'm so using that.

    You've drawn out the very things that have always plagued the AEC industry for as long as it's been around, so, of course, it will show up in the BIM process as well, naturally.

    People are probably tired of me mentioning that NIST study from 2002, but, as 2/3 of the cost of the inefficiencies from all quarters are borne by the owner, I think I have special dispensation to keep doing so. 😉

    More consistency = more transferable skills = better collaboration = more efficiency = less waste (whether time or material)

    Great topic, John, Thank you.

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