Managing A BIM Project : It's Not As Easy As It Looks!

October 18, 2016



Before becoming a BIM implementer and shifting my focus to Digital Practice at Stantec I was a Project Manager for many years.  Truth be told – I really didn’t enjoy project management but unfortunately I was pretty good at it.  And then BIM came along and changed everything (well, maybe not everything) but enough.  Being an early adopter of Revit as a Project Manager I had the rare opportunity to learn the software, the change in process and the impact it all had on managing a project at the same time.  I’ve carried this experience with me in my role today and one of my passions has been to help Project Managers overcome the various challenges that BIM presents.  There is no shortage of information about the benefits of BIM but with every benefit comes a challenge to manage expectations of all stakeholders and ensure delivery.  Try finding information on how to do that if you’re a Project Manager.

Where do I start?

For those of us immersed in BIM the transition to a model-based workflow from our traditional 2D workflow seems like a no-brainer.  We’ve all had our “ah-ha” moment when it all clicked working in a BIM platform like Revit.  But for those that haven’t experienced the software platforms first hand, it’s a different story.  I’ve likened the transition to BIM to the transition to parenthood.  You can read all the books you want but nothing really prepares you for that first night (or 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 LOD’s or the need to embrace new roles on projects such as Model or Data Managers but until you’re actively engaged in any of these, you can’t fully appreciate their value or importance.  For many of us the logical answer in the past was, “Let’s train our PM’s how to use Revit, that way they’ll see what we’re talking about.”  Unfortunately this was about as successful as having someone carry a bag of sugar around with a diaper on it and pretend it’s a baby.

It’s all about the process not the technology


So drawing from my experience and that of others, we’ve developed a comprehensive BIM training program for PM’s.  A key ingredient is addressing the importance relationships between Project Management, Design and BIM have on delivering projects and the synergy required between the team members leading these.  Using Stantec’s defined culture around Project Management and our established Practice Frameworks for project delivery as a guide, we’ve built relevant content covering everything from marketing and proposal writing to work planning and collaboration strategies.  Learning how to master these aspects of project delivery is what makes managing a BIM project look easy, not picks and clicks in the software.  Intrigued?  If so, here are some things I’ve learned along the way…

Work Planning – A New Approach


Go to any BIM conference and you’ll hear a lot of talk about front-loaded design, early modelling, model fidelity, model management, spatial coordination, data integration and that the drawings are merely a by-product of these activities.  This is all true but since drawings are still our main deliverable, who is doing all of these tasks that are so integral to the drawing content and are they the right people?  I’m sure I am not alone in hearing numerous comments 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 or engineers.  Project Managers need to know how to bridge these gaps by understanding a team’s knowledge and putting that knowledge to the right use.  At Stantec we’ve developed various tools from skills matrices to new ways of managing task assignments in BIM.  Gone are the days of figuring out how many hours per drawing to accomplish the work.

Collaboration ≠ Coordination


We want to encourage leveraging the 3D environment for more than just design authoring.  Unfortunately collaborating on a design is too often replaced with running clashes to see who put what in the wrong place.  Effective collaboration strategies are required to enable efficient coordination so we focus on clearly defining model ownership and claiming space early to encourage the interaction of Project Managers and Design Managers with the modelling team.  We strive for collaborative development of building systems to enable efficient Coordination.




And Finally the BIM Execution Plan


Regardless of what it’s called, a BIM Execution Plan can only be successful if it is integrated as part of the overall Project Plan and it’s not treated as just a box you check to say you did one.  Otherwise it isn’t as much of a plan as it is shelfware.  At Stantec we have developed a comprehensive BIM Execution Plan Toolkit that acts not only as a resource for all project stakeholders but a collection of resources to help our project managers navigate all of the changes in process.


We firmly believe that BIM isn’t a sidebar activity to a project; it is what can make the project a success or failure; that a BIM Execution Plan is meaningless if it isn’t developed as part of the Work Plan; and that an effective Work Plan requires input from the Project Manager, Designers and BIM Manager to properly address everything from schedule to scope, deliverables and staffing.  Our Project Leaders training was very much developed around Stantec’s culture and approach to Project Management.  We’ve opted for training Project Managers on how to lead a team in delivering better design in BIM and ditched the “let’s just show them how to open Revit and print drawings” approach.