Building information modelling (BIM) is all the rage. But does it work, or does an alternative approach provide better results? Are your current practices good enough?
The recent application of ‘design thinking’, borrowed from the manufacturing sector, has helped provide some answers to these questions.
The design of a system that operates without BIM principles is providing business owners and senior managers with the most convincing case yet for what works well and why. By distilling the key workflows and outcomes of a structured information process, the project used an unusual design technique, which clearly identified the logic of how best to secure the benefits on offer. So was the resulting system, following ‘design thinking’ principles, BIM or not BIM?
Considering alternatives is a necessity when designing products for manufacture. An extreme technique to do so involves defining product features and outcomes that are the opposite of what is intended. This approach turns the design process on its head, seeking first to achieve undesirable features, then using these to inform what steps are needed in a fit-for-purpose solution that seeks to reverse poor outcomes to secure instead clearly defined benefits. By first defining bad outcomes and undesirable features, designers can more clearly identify benefits and focus on how to realise those objectives.
This ‘design thinking’ approach has a lower adoption rate in service applications and perhaps little known in the AEC sector. However, the concept applies equally well, so a good way to design a system is to plan the wrong outcomes, then reverse the process! By applying this same technique to the management of information in our design and construction projects, the failings and merits of each approach become crystal clear.
Designing Bad Outcomes and Undesirable Features
In trying to find an easy-to-understand way of testing the BIM process, clients were first asked to describe how they currently approach each stage of their information workflow, and to characterise the results.
Without realising it, clients described a system that consistently produced the opposite results to those it intended. It was as if the process was deliberately designed to fail.
The exercise provided startling clarity on where and why things go wrong. Embarrassed and concerned by the results, clients were galvanised to improve things, and quickly.
Analysis of the poorly designed system revealed that it failed to follow fundamental BIM principles. Consideration was not given to important steps that would lead to the desired results, delivering information to achieve key project objectives. Instead, the gaps in the process or flaws in the tools used for each step led, almost inevitably, to the wrong result. Current ways of working were Inadequate.
“a good way to design a system is to plan the wrong outcomes, then reverse the process!”
Stage of Process
Undesirable features and outcomes of a badly designed process
Your projects and your business
Take a close look at the undesirable features and outcomes of a badly designed process. Experienced any of these? Recognise any of the issues?
For those of us spending a career in the industry, this sounds all-too-familiar.
Of course, no-one would deliberately design such a system, or seek to implement it. Yet consider the outcomes - who can honestly say that some of its features are not still present in your projects, continuing to cause problems in your business? Few, if any.
So, if it isn’t already the case, perhaps developing, or improving systems that manage information through your projects should become a priority. The risks are too significant and the rewards too great to ignore.
“It was as if the process was deliberately designed to fail.”
BIM: A case for or against?
Building information modelling (BIM) is often misunderstood, perceived by many to be just 3D design, or seen by others as consisting mainly of software use for the production digital data.
In truth, BIM is part technology, part process, part culture shift. But whilst much of the media ‘hype’ relates to the development of technology, businesses engaging with BIM report the greatest rewards in adopting its structured process. Developing workflows for information production, exchange and application can address several of the issues faced for many years by architects, engineers and contractors. Information is often at the root of these.
Whilst the switch to digital information and the rise of more sophisticated software may enable change, it is really the development of a clear information workflow that reaps the greatest rewards as BIM is fully implemented.
These process adjustments provide the scope for a more collaborative approach that can fuel a culture shift towards even greater efficiency and superior outcomes for all.
A BIM compliant process is far more likely to meet information deliverables and contractual requirements than a system that does not follow its principles. If you doubt whether BIM works, try designing a process that doesn’t follow its principles. The outcomes are unacceptable.
“For those of us spending a career in the industry, this sounds all-too-familiar.”
Changing the Process to Achieve Better Results
BIM is an information management process, broken down into stages that reflect project workflows, fitting with familiar structures such as the RIBA Plan of Work. The BIM framework provides the basis for a workflow that can aid organisations in avoiding the age-old issues brought about by information that is:
It sets out a process that can directly address these issues and help provide:
- Greater productivity in the production and management of information
- Firm foundations on which to work collaboratively, with integrated workflows and systems between organisations, to further increase efficiency
- A significant reduction in risk and the root cause of many issues, ultimately improving performance and profitability.
For help with your BIM process, please contact us for support.
“If you doubt whether BIM works, try designing a process that doesn’t follow its principles. The outcomes are unacceptable.”
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