Is Field Experience Critical to a BIM Manager’s Success? 

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No doubt you know firsthand how hard it can be to transform a plan into reality. Especially given the fact that while building information modeling (BIM) is supposed to create an accurate reflection of the physical building, it takes a great deal of know-how to make it so. 

So, we were curious: Before someone makes a change or adds content to a model, how much should they know about its constructability in the field? Similarly, with the increased demand for BIM managers, how often, if at all, are field personnel recruited for these roles? We received some very interesting feedback from members of The Big Room in our regular blog series, Overheard in the Big Room 

The Big Room is our online community for collaboration, ideation, and growth between construction professionals and those who regularly use Autodesk Construction Cloud. Interested in joining? Whether you’re new or a seasoned veteran, you have a voice in The Big Room. 

Field Experience & BIM: A nice-to or must-have?  

Today’s Overheard in the Big Room topic is the nexus between field experience and BIM success.  

First, let’s start with those who believe field experience is a necessity for any BIM manager to be successful. That’s not to say they can’t come from different backgrounds or have different skill sets today. However, these respondents believe that field time completes the BIM manager’s outlook on the job. 

Field Experience: A Vital Tool 

“I feel that field experience can be vital to a BIM Manager. And can be an extremely valuable asset to the office team. There will always be issues that arise, and only someone with field experience can solve those issues. It can be a huge advantage with expediting deadlines and accuracy.” – a BIM specialist 

Modeling Is Not Building 

“I’m only a PM, but I will say that working with drafters and engineers that have no experience in the field is a huge issue for us in glazing. We’re pretty specialized and work in much smaller tolerances than a lot of other trades, with a whole different set of constructability issues than, say, framers would have. I couldn’t imagine a BIM modeler not having field experience, at least in some capacity. Just because it can be modeled does not mean it can be built that way.” – Kira Vander Zanden, Junior Project Manager at Pacific Glazing Contractors 

Field Staff Make the World Go Round 

“I think there is a need for them all across the board. As we engrain more data and information into the models, we need the expertise of navigating and harvesting that data for those that need to use it.” – Steve Rollo, National BIM/VDC Manager at Graham Construction & Engineering LP 

Experience Is the Secret Sauce 

Many respondents pointed out that field experience, while perhaps not a necessity, brought something to the table that they couldn’t get anywhere else. 

Specialization Matters 

“It’s been almost six years since I finished my BIM Manager specialization. Looking back, it’s easy to see that this doesn’t mean that someone could be a BIM Manager with only that background, but it’s important to have some field experience. It might look like we only manage data, but in the end, it’s much more than that.” – Eduardo Flores Schoenau, BIM Manager at SSEN Transmission 

Don’t Forget Estimators 

“This applies to estimators too. Sometimes a general square-foot formula is useless when you’re looking at a specialty install and having field experience would help make that really obvious.” – Kira Vander Zanden, Junior Project Manager at Pacific Glazing Contractors 

Use the Force 

“It is like putting a paintbrush in the hands of a painter. To quote Darth Vader, ‘the circle is now complete.’” – Chris Brown, Visualization Services 

An Opportunity Mindset 

Field experience does help, but you can use other tools to mitigate the issues that might arise. Think clash detection meetings or recruiting internally, as some respondents suggested below. Also, if a BIM manager lacks field experience, they can make up for it by leaning on others' expertise. 

It Takes a Village 

“So, personally, I know I lack the field experience in my role. However, I am extremely lucky to have wonderful PMs who all have field experience and let me lean on them for their knowledge. I came from the electrical engineering side over to construction. I had to learn constructability but have been leaning heavily on my engineering experience to help facilitate a better design-build process with our field on the front end.” – a BIM coordinator 

Internal Recruiting for Happier Employees 

“I recently went to a local CEO breakfast and the speaker talked about recruiting internally at your company. Why not give people opportunities to try a different position in a department instead of always hiring someone external? She made a great comment that if our people aren’t happy in their job, another company will give them an opportunity that will improve their quality of work. I think this discussion of bringing field personnel into the office is a great example of this. We need to change our mindset and think of opportunities instead of finding the negative in a situation like this.” – Melissa Schulteis, Virtual Construction Lead - Self-perform at Miron Construction Co., Inc. 

Multiple Risk Management Solutions 

“I have had this situation come up and it seems like this will become an issue going forward. In the office where I currently work, we design and do construction management. Having field experience really helps with modeling and constructability issues, but I also have weekly clash detection meetings with all disciplines to avoid issues.” – Nick Smilek, Senior Structural CADD Designer & Revit Structural Designer at Moffatt & Nichol 

Uniting Technology and Knowledge 

Yes, technology is amazing. But we must have a foundational understanding of construction or the technology we use can’t be nearly as effective–and may even be misleading. Many building professionals today are taking the time to ensure that tech and know-how go together. That means field experience matters to resolving issues, but it means that in-office work is critical for quick resolution and on-time projects as well. 

Where Rubber Meets Road 

“Field experience is and will be essential and mandatory for everyone involved in the world of building an office. You cannot fully master the theory and knowledge from a computer or electronic device if you don’t also know, live, and direct what is administered, controlled, designed, ordered, drawn, and so forth.” – Jonas Alberto Vidal Valdivia, ATC Cubicomp 

Technology is Only a Tool 

“We’re at a point in our industry where two different generations are colliding. We have a generation that knows how buildings go together but has not grown up with all this tech and how fast it moves. The other side is a generation of users that know technology really well but might not know how buildings go together. When we find a middle ground where both generations can help each other, we have the chance to build a true powerhouse team. 

Technology is an amazing tool. However, if we trust it without knowing how it’s doing the calculations, then we’re in trouble. When I worked for a large GC as an estimator a while back, I learned this the hard way. When I was going over the estimate with an owner, I trusted the software calculation without knowing how it was getting the number. They pointed out that a few of the numbers were crazy high. They asked how I was getting to those figures, and I said I would need to get back to them. It’s a balancing act: we need technology to make our lives faster, but we still need to know how things get done.” – Mark Austin, Subject Matter Expert at Autodesk 

A Computer Isn’t Everything 

“The colleagues I have worked with that have field experience bring so much to the table and encourage everyone to get out in the field as much as possible. When you look at a computer 99% of your days, the practicality of the actual ‘roll-out’ becomes more and more unrealistic.” – a design manager 

Field Experience for Virtual Too 

“I have come across a few BIM Managers with no field experience at all, which had me thinking that this was a title used loosely by firms trying to win projects. I even had a case with an engineering firm’s lead engineer on a project who had no field experience. I believe that there is no way one should have access to certain positions and jobs with no field experience, especially an engineer. in my honest opinion, no one should be constructing with no field experience under their belt, be it virtually or in reality. So for me, a VDC Manager should have quite a bit of field experience. Coordination of details is no guessing game. 

I’ve had the conversation with many colleagues in the AEC industry and we unanimously agree that field experience is a necessity, period. Whether it comes from curiosity or obligation, whether you’re a simple draftsman or an experienced architect, at some point in your AEC career you should acquire some field experience. Being in the field is such a beautiful thing and a wonderful experience all-round.” – Frederick Charles, Président / Ingénieur Structure at BTP Concept 

Keep Tabs on Cutting-Edge Construction Topics with Overheard in the Big Room 

If you don’t want to miss out on more cutting-edge insights in construction, feel free to keep an eye out for our ongoing series, Overheard in the Big Room. You’re welcome to simply listen in the background or jump into the conversation and contribute your own insights. 

Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.