A Sermon on BIM Process (for Designers)

As a BIM person sometimes I forget how my point of view can be totally different from those that do not work in BIM regularly. I still go to BIM presentations and roll my eyes when they start to talk about how BIM is a process. I think to myself "Are we still talking about this?". This might be a foregone conclusion for me, but my interactions with others is a healthy reminder that this is still not the belief of the majority of people in the AEC industry.

If you ask pretty much anyone in the AEC these days (anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock), they will generally agree with you when you say BIM is a process. There has been enough education in the industry to get us at least nodding in the same direction. But as Billy Sunday says, just going to church doesn't make you a Christian. A process is defined as a “continuous action, operation or series of changes”, while a task is defined as something finite, “a piece of work as part of one’s duties.” They are clearly not one and the same. So, if you find you are one that nods in agreement that BIM is a process, yet still approach it as if it’s something to be dealt with like any other item on the list, I suggest you may be trivializing the matter a bit too quickly.

So in an attempt to clarify, for those that are still confused by this idea, I will try to elaborate on what BIM is not. But in the interest of keeping this article a reasonable length I will focus only on Designers today.

The misinterpretation of what BIM is in the design world was a total shock to me. How could a sector of the industry that uses BIM tools the most be missing what was sitting right in front of them? It's like choosing to drive a Toyota Camry in a race when you were holding the keys to a Ferrari. Both are going to help you get the job done, one is just going to do it faster. The most common misinterpretation of what BIM is in Design is that it is the creation of models and their supporting elements. That BIM is the act of creating models and the technical problems associated with their creation is BIM. Can anyone see the issue here?

Let's go back to the fundamental question: Is model creation a task or a process?

(I can't wait to hear the responses to this question)

It was when I started to investigate this question that I realized why so many designers get the answer wrong. It's because task and process are so closely related here. That's why it is so easy to miss. But there is only one right answer. The act of creating a model is a task. But the method by which you create it is a process. So why is this subtle distinction important?

It is important because if you think BIM is the task it only represents one part of what designers do. If you think of it as a process it is actually the only thing designers do. BIM is the process of how designers execute their core business function. BIM is the process of collecting your design ideas, the owners needs, and all related requirements and using that information to perform the task of creating contract documents.  The model and the software play a very small part in that equation.

This confuses people because they think without a model how can you do BIM? They forget that the model needs information if it is going to be created correctly. Organizing the collection of that information so that it works with your particular software is BIM. That means your contracts = BIM. Your meetings with the owner = BIM. Your design from napkin sketch to hand drawn renderings = BIM. But this is only true if all of those things I just mentioned are planned so that they contribute to the end goal. It's a process. These things need to fit together because all of them are pieces of a puzzle that when put together represent your product.

So is it really different from what Designers have always done? Fundamentally, no. BIM is not supposed to be a different way of doing things. It is supposed to be a technology-based enhancement to your entire process. The major difference is that there is now no part of your business where you don't get to consider technology. Do your contracts align with the way you will apply technology? Once you have collected your Owners' requirements are you quickly able to integrate those with your technology? Do you know how your design (however its created) is going to be consumed by your technology?

If you can't answer these questions then your are likely battling with contracts, your owner, and your design within the context of a BIM process. You either need to get up to speed with the technology, or make sure that you have someone who is up to speed on hand to help you deal with all of these other items. Otherwise you're not performing a BIM process. You're just making models.

11 Comments

  1. This might be my first time to your blog and love what I am reading. My husband works in a window and doors company and I would love to do the Social Media for them, because we learn so much about it lately. You gave me just the right information for it!! Thanks!!

  2. Nice! I sure did came to the right place. I havent found an article about BIM like this. Very informative. Thanks!

    http://fischerdesigngroup.com/

  3. To put you all at ease, for past ten years I referred to BIM as methodology, for a very specific reason. It embodies number of processes, best practices, rules etc…
    This article might be helpful toward directing this discussion towards less biased waters.

    http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2010/07/design-is-a-process-not-a-methodology.php

    Rest of my commentary will follow when I get out of making, yet another BIM as a methodology, presentation.

  4. We have a winner! It looks like you got it Antony. The goal of this post was to get across what you said in your last sentence. It seems to me the step from design to creation of documents is broken. I'm just trying to raise awareness.

    I try to steer clear of telling designers to use a BIM process. What they do is pretty much a complete mystery to me so I can't say much to that effect. But whatever they do it should integrate with the next step of their business process.

    I agree that they could use BIM processes. I have seen some amazing stuff recently on actual projects where designers are using BIM software to create designs that automatically feed to their downstream software for document authoring. It's not only doable, but its being done.

    I like your comment about people having to sacrifice their individual profits for the greater BIM good. That should never happen. I have always approached my projects with the philosophy that I will only consider it truly successful when every party involved makes money and the client is happy. We are all in it to make money.

  5. l have to admit whenever I read ''BIM is a process" it raises my hackles. It is usually by people trying to flog BIM standards like IFC and pseudo BIM software like Bentley.  
    They are trying to create the impression that software doesn't matter. But the fact is BIM is an IT process and the software you use is critical.

    But I know that is not what you mean. And you are right,  design  firms tend to think of BIM as a task separate from the other things they do. To the point where they use BIM capable software to just produce drawings. (my – admittedly unfair – dig at Bentley is based on their 'BIM' offering being an add on to a CAD product, which means it is all too easy to fall back to bad habits).
    Even simple things like using BIM software to generate schedules is still quite rare.

    Another reason it raises my hackles is that "BIM as process" is used to describe the BIM process in its entirety. That all participants are expected to submit to the greater good (read profitability) that it brings, even if it reduces their individual profitability. 

    So I see an assumption here that designers are supposed to be responsible for what others do with the BIM they create. That their role in a BIM process is not to provide the fruits of their expertise in a BIM deliverable, but to be the supplier of BIM products for others, complete with information they require and in a format they can utilize without effort on their part.

    To me the problem, and the solution, is much more local.
    Rather than chastising designers for not contributing to the total BIM process the issue is why aren't designers utilizing a  BIM process for their own purposes, to create and manage the fruits of their area of expertise.
    If they use a BIM process their deliverables will be BIM by default, and will contain the fruits of their efforts.
    Then others can take that information and use it for their BIM processes.

    For BIM to be practical it needs to be considered a series of interrelated BIM processes, not a single unified centrally managed process.

  6. I think the "BIM is a process" meme is not intended to counter the concept of "BIM is a task" but rather "BIM is a product" or "BIM is a file format". For many, many years, the man in the street equated "CAD" with "AutoCAD". And DXF/DWG was "a CAD file". It might seem that AutoDesk has been trying very hard to make lightning strike twice now with BIM. So "BIM is a process" is intended to counter this over-simplified market perception. As for CAD vs BIM, all BIM is,is "3D CAD/PLM for the AEC industry", innit? I think it's disingenuous to make up new TLAs for things that already have descriptors. The reason people have to continually re-define BIM is -precisely- because BIM was born as an artificial marketing term…

    • I think that BIM is not just a 3D CAD/PLM for the AEC industry. Those items are not necessarily tasks in my BIM process at all(depending on the project).

      BIM is about data organization, extraction, analysis, and reporting. Those are the common elements of any BIM process. Models just provide a convenient medium for those efforts.

    • Yes, Connor, but "data organization, extraction, analysis, and reporting" are also all common elements of 3D CAD/PLM workflow. So I'm still confused by the semantic pedestal that you seem to be placing 'BIM' on…

    • I'm just suggesting that BIM actually has applications outside of 3D CAD/PLM that are defined by "data organization, extraction, analysis, and reporting". That would make 3D CAD/PLM a subset of BIM not an equivalent. I don't want to limit BIM to just a couple of it's uses.

      I know the post can seem like it's all about semantics but I suppose I hold those in high regard. I believe the way that you think about things will determine your actions towards those things. So if you limit your personal beliefs about what BIM is to just a few of its uses you will not see its other potential uses and benefits even if they immediately obvious.

      In a way that is really the point of the whole post. That designers are causing a significant amount of their own workflow problems by simply thinking about the application of their technology in the wrong way. Change the way you think about it and the solutions to your problems will present themselves.

  7. BIM is a replacement TLA for CAD.

    A 3D design toolset to assist in the design, documentation and construction execution. You agree that the process has always been, so drafting, CAD, BIM are just different tools used for the task of generating design documentation, albeit in 3 dimensions.

    The fact that many construction industries worldwide have 'lost' their process through a combination of misunderstood tools (CAD) financial and time constraints (Greed), and mans (since y'all got biblical) arrogance in thinking there is always a better & faster way, shouldn't detract from the reality that no matter how many tools you involve in your process, if the process has been broken, the outcome will be broken…

    I would pick the Camry as I would get to my destination steadily, surely, reliably, and 10 years after the Ferrari is broken beyond repair, the Camry will still be delivering decent diesel miles, with plenty of spare parts at a decent price, with numerous options for mechanics at a decent price.

    Why are the BIM salesfolk trying to sell faster & cheaper. Why don't we start with 'BETTER'? The processes need to be mended before any additional tools will offer any relief or solution.

    • Tim,
      You make a lot of good points. You're probably right about the Camry. It may have not been the best analogy.

      But I do think you are mistaking BIM for the modeling portion of the work by comparing it to CAD. If you only think that BIM is about the creation of documents you should just call it 3D modeling.

      The point of BIM is to streamline information flow. Humans are honestly terrible at handling large quantities of data. And projects have more data now than ever before. BIM is about the management of that data. We need technology to help us manage that data.

      The real issue with BIM salesfolk is that they are not informing people that they need to mend their own processes. The processes become broken the minute you buy new software while ignoring the fact that you don't know how to transfer information to that new system.

      It's not CAD. It does not consume information like CAD. No one needs to change what they do on the front end. But they do need to adapt it to fit the back end. Right now that issue is being completely ignored.

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