Fear of failure, fear of change, and fear of criticism are all hardwired into the human brain as deeply as the primal urge for self-preservation. However, when humans embrace change, with its demands for flexibility and transparency, the species is capable of achieving great things.
Confronting those fears is familiar ground for Eddy Slim. Trained as an architect, he has used BIM to help design some of the most high-profile cultural buildings in Mexico, such as Mexico City’s iconic Museo Soumaya art museum. Lately, Slim has devoted his career and his company, ConstruBIM, to the implementation of BIM at design firms, construction companies, and governmental agencies—and managing the changes and anxiety that invariably come with disruption.
Slim says onboarding BIM into firms isn’t really a measure of technical proficiency with the software. It’s equally about managing changes in workplace culture that can be emotional and frightening—not too different from being a “full-time therapist,” he says. Try deploying these three tips on your firm’s reclining couch to help make BIM an indispensable part of the workflow.
1. Get everyone on board early, but bring in BIM late.
One of BIM’s biggest factors for successful adoption is a team’s willingness to collaborate outside of traditional silos. Early in the process, Slim makes sure to gauge staff’s willingness to work together. After making initial introductions with firm leadership, be sure to bring everyone else into the conversation as soon as possible. (Slim gets leadership’s permission to meet with the entire staff by his third meeting with the company.) “We need to talk to them because we can’t do our job if we have internal resistance,” he says.
While leaders at the top might be wholly on board with completely revising the way their staff works, the people actually responsible for carrying out these changes may not be as committed. Carefully specifying how each staff member will play a part in implementing BIM is a good way to give them a clear measure of accountability in the transition ahead. “What we try to do is specify roles and then tell everyone what their part is, and how valuable their part is to the other, so they can understand how they can collaborate and work together,” Slim says.
Once the team is assembled and ready for BIM, it’s best to start implementing the process on projects that have already begun, because new projects are more likely to get delayed or canceled. With a project already in midstream, designers have a baseline level of familiarity that will help see them through the uncertainty of learning a new design process—and help them see how BIM will help solve problems they had been struggling with through traditional methods. The transition to BIM might start by asking about pain points in the traditional design process and explaining how BIM can ease them.
2. Show, don’t tell.
When managers face entrenched resistance to adopting BIM, all the slide decks and promises in the world might not erode it. Instead, try demonstrating its advantages by letting new BIM adopters struggle a bit.
For one new client, ConstruBIM tried to rally the firm around a unified BIM standard, but “they didn’t see the advantage,” Slim says. For a while, he let them work as they had previously, using BIM only for 3D visualization. But of course, their merged models didn’t line up. “We couldn’t find the parameters that we need to find the information, to find the names, to structure the families,” Slim says. It was a largely unworkable effort.
“So I showed them how it was easy when we have a model that follows one standard, how we can quantify, how we can extract information, and export it back to the model, and coordinate that information with 4D and 5D visualization,” he says. “At that specific meeting, you could see everyone’s faces change, because they understood the added value of having one standard.”
3. Listen and reassure.
Managing the introduction of BIM into a company is “all politics,”—largely, the politics of disruption, Slim says. He’s called upon to fend off fears of losing professional turf, fears of job scarcity due to more efficient technology, and the fear of the unknown. Responding proactively to these concerns and worries is a key part of onboarding BIM.
People need to be reassured that BIM is most effective for saving money by cutting out time inefficiencies, not labor expenses. “Sometimes investing in BIM implementations is misunderstood as investing in workforce reduction,” Slim says. “I can see why some might think like that; but that is the wrong conclusion. BIM savings are reflected on-site, in making construction more efficient and better coordinated. BIM gives you access to more data and helps you avoid material waste and time-consuming mistakes.”
In terms of training, it’s important to identify the best staff to take lead roles in managing their firm’s use of BIM. Top-level managers might not have the time or technical abilities to take on operational roles with the new system, so lower-level employees might make better BIM managers.
“What we need to do,” Slim says, “is see the benefits of using BIM in terms of efficiency, in terms of speed, in terms of more information that we could analyze and solve prior to construction, which means you still need a strong team now—a big team—but your savings are reducing material waste in the construction, not in labor.”
The trick is to present BIM as offering a higher degree of control over projects—especially large-scale projects such as mega-buildings. This approach actually demands more labor inputs that offset time-saving efficiencies, thus offering better client service. With more variables to track and more ways to track them, the more labor is invested in the model, the more everyone will get out of it.
“When we put it that way, this helps,” Slim says. “People start actually wanting to implement BIM.” And that’s yet another reassuring way to present BIM: not as a new challenge (or aid) to designers, but as a benefit to clients.