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How to manage BIM projects: 4 lessons for project managers

Will Revit training for project managers improve BIM project delivery, or is there a better way?

By David Spehar

For many project managers, transitioning to BIM can be like transitioning to parenthood. You can read all the books you want but nothing really prepares you for that first night—let alone the next 18 years—with a child. Similarly, we can talk about the benefits of early modelling for improved coordination, the importance of element ownership and levels of development (LODs), or the need to embrace new project roles, such as model or data manager. But until you’re actively engaged in any of these, you can’t fully appreciate their value or importance.

The logical answer in the past was, “Let’s train our PMs how to use Revit. That way they’ll see what the BIM experts are talking about.” Unfortunately, this was about as successful as getting someone to carry a bag of sugar around with a diaper on it then expecting them to be able to raise a child.

I was a project manager for many years and, truth be told, I really didn’t enjoy it as much as practicing architecture. Then BIM came along and changed that for me. Being an early adopter of Revit, as a project manager, I had the rare opportunity to learn the software and understand its impact on the design process and project management. Now, I’m lucky to help project managers overcome the various challenges that BIM presents.

A project manager’s uncertainty about BIM can cause them to treat BIM as a sidebar activity. But I believe that design technology can make a project a success or failure. That’s why one of my passions is helping project managers overcome the various challenges that BIM presents. Drawing from my experience and that of my peers, I`ve helped to develop Stantec’s comprehensive BIM training program for PMs. Here are a few lessons I share with project managers about how to manage BIM projects.

Lesson 1: Develop an engaged team 
The project management, design, and BIM teams must be fully engaged to deliver a project successfully. As the graphic shows, when the teams collaborate effectively, a sweet spot forms. Getting from unengaged to engaged takes a conscious effort and the project manager is responsible for making that sweet spot as large as possible. A lot goes into developing an engaged team, but the following three lessons all contribute. 

Lesson 2: Plan work differently
Go to any BIM conference and you’ll hear a lot of talk about how drawings are merely a by-product of front-loaded design, early modelling, model fidelity, model management, spatial coordination, and data integration. This may be true, but since drawings are still a design team’s main deliverable, who is doing all of these tasks that are so integral to developing drawings? And are they the right people? 

I’ve heard many people say that the design industry is suffering from a large disparity in practical knowledge between the people working in BIM authoring platforms (like Revit) and the senior designers and engineers. Gone are the days of project managers figuring out how many hours per drawing it will take to accomplish the work. Instead, project managers need to bridge these knowledge gaps. At Stantec, we’ve developed various tools, from skills matrices to new ways of managing the various BIM task assignments, from building models to managing data and creating drawings. These help the project managers assign the right tasks to the right people avoiding the “I need Revit help” syndrome.

Lesson 3: Collaboration leads to effective coordination
We all want a coordinated design—every pipe, system, beam, and wall in the right place. But how often do design team members work in isolation and rely on someone running clashes—to see, for example, who is responsible for the beam hitting the pipe—then returning to their silo to fix the problem? This is the inefficient way to develop a coordinated design.

The efficient way happens through collaboration. This means the project manager must lead the team in clearly defining model ownership and claiming space early through to encouraging the interaction of project managers and design managers with the modelling team.

Lesson 4: The BIM execution plan should not live on a shelf
Regardless of what it’s called, a BIM execution plan (BEP) can only be successful if it’s part of the overall project plan. An effective project plan—and by extension a BEP—requires input from the project manager, designers, and BIM manager to properly address everything from schedule to scope, deliverables, and staffing. If you treat your BEP as a box to check just to say you did one, the plan will be meaningless. 

At Stantec, we developed a comprehensive BIM Execution Plan Toolkit as a resource for all project stakeholders, and to help project managers navigate all of the changes in process.

We opted for training project managers on how to lead a team to deliver better design in BIM and ditched the “Let’s just show them how to open Revit and print drawings” approach.  Although not perfect, our PMs who participate in the training report that they feel more in control of their projects and more engaged with their teams.

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A project manager’s uncertainty about BIM can cause them to treat BIM as a sidebar activity. But I believe that design technology can make a project a success or failure.

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