Collaborative BIM – Planting the seed

BIM Marketing: In the Building Information Modelling (BIM) realm, there are many buzz words and unfortunately “Collaboration” is one of them. It is as if the meaning has been lost in the hype to an extent, in reading text abstracts you would assume there was no collaboration before BIM. Let’s start from basics. In simple words;
Collaboration: is the act of working with another or others, to achieve something.
So building owners, builders and designers have collaborated since humanity moved out of naturally made shelters into man-made structures. Thus, the bigger question is; what “degree” of collaboration construction project teams are achieving! Don’t assume just because BIM is used, there is good collaboration. During my time in the industry, I have seen projects with a strong collaborative environment, despite the project being delivered in non-BIM capable software*. Yet, today on some “BIM projects” I have seen, the collaborative outcomes are questionable. Don’t fall into the trap to think if you are sharing “the BIM**” you are collaborating.

Definition: To share my understanding of “collaboration” in a typical project team, it may include vocabulary such as:
  • team players
  • concise communication / dialogue
  •  team cohesion
  • cooperative environment
  • Problem-solving and foresight
  • shared objective
  • team perspective
  • roles and responsibility execution

Team Building: If there is one example of a secret agenda all team leaders (and thus BIM Project Managers) should have when starting a project is Team Building.  Bringing together a new team for the first time may include personality conflicts, egos, lack of trust and suspicion. Collaboration cannot take place in such an environment.
When working in Ireland, the significance of team building appeared to be understood, and Team Building activities (outings including social activities) were just part of project establishment (the major project I partook in).  It made real differences to professional relationships and dynamics within the team.
At project start-up, team building outings may not always be available; however the concepts of its function can be explored.
  • Nobody knows everything. Everyone has the right to contribute
  • Listen and understand. Ensure full comprehension of an idea before decision-making
  •  Process feedback. When proposing new processes, offer a comments and feedback period. If the process is shot down the condemning party must give a documented alternative process to meet the goal. (Note: all parties should thoroughly test new processes before rollout.)
  • Simple communication. Avoid acronyms and technical jargon
  • Don’t assume knowledge. Define and scope concepts before implementation
  •  Establish project outcomes. Comprehension of project goals will help focus people
  •  Task delegation. Sharing tasks are far better for team building

Success: When it comes to “collaboration”, BIM is a technology led process, which can help greater understanding/communication. However, unless the project team collaborative environment is established up front, BIM outcomes and deliverables can be affected. Scheduled, recurring and well organised/run BIM coordination meetings offer a stage for productive collaboration to take place. From that, regular electronic communication, telecommunications and shared desktop informal meetings add an extra forum to collaborate.
In moving forward I see far greater challenge in process change, and not technology change. We also need to ensure the technology does not get in the way of collaboration. When it comes down to it, a balanced approach will result in the greatest success.

* BIM capable software is and application which has the potential (if executed appropriately) to take part in BIM Processes. The software would typically include some of the following characteristics:  Spatial, Metadata, Object based and/or Parametric.

** The BIM. The BIM is the digital Building Information Model. It can refer to part of the model (e.g. a discipline specific model) or the aggregated models (Federated model).

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