Tag Archives: BIM

The value of time off…even from blogging

Maldives - Fesdu: favorite place  40.098 by Juergen Kurlvink, on Flickr

This week, I’m taking my own advice from my last post – Why is delivering on time so hard – and I’m taking a vacation, not from work, but from writing a blog article. There has been so much discussion and feedback on this post, I’ve spent a fair bit of time reading and responding to comments on Linkedin. Discussions have ranged across diverse topics including IPD to human nature and technology and fee bidding. Below are links to a couple of the discussion threads.

BIM experts
Revit Users
Design Managers Forum

My other reason for doing this is that I needed to use my usual blogging hours to spend sometime to contribute to the Collaborate working group I belong to, we are preparing a white paper on Levels of Development, the draft of which will be released soon and I’ll discuss it on this blog when it is. In the meantime, you can find out more about Collaborate and volunteer to contribute at their website.

In the meantime, I’m attending the Refurb and Retrofit conference in Sydney today and tomorrow, and I’m sure I will find some inspiration for my next blog post there. If you happen to be there too, find me in a break and say hi.

Image credits:
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License by Juergen Kurlvink

Why is delivering on time so hard? Is it that architecture, engineering and time management don’t mix?

Time Jumper by h.koppdelaney, on FlickrThis week I’m struggling to find the motivation to write – not because I don’t have anything to say, or even that I don’t have time – but because my brain is currently in a state of post tender lethargy. I’m sure you are all familiar with it – the stress and extra hours leading up to issuing architecture, interior design or engineering documentation for tender seems to be a routine part of working on the consulting side of construction. Design programs seem to get ever shorter, staff numbers always reducing and the complexity of projects increasing, it is a scenario that just seems to get worse and worse. Personally, for me, I find it’s not actually the hours that get to me – even if I don’t work really long hours in the lead up to a tender – it’s more the stress of will be on time? Will all the team deliver on time? Does being late impact the end date for the project? How annoyed will the client be if we are late? Will we be able to issue an addendum?  It’s worrying about these things that gets to me. I care about being on time – whether that’s arriving for a meeting or delivering something on the date I’ve promised – and for me when this becomes impossible or outside my own direct  control this is the biggest cause of stress.  And I don’t think this is just me, I know a lot of colleagues agree (and many former colleagues who went over to the client side to avoid it!)

Why does it seem to be impossible? Is this deadline driven stress something we just have to accept as being part of our industry?  I’d like to think not. But I’m not sure how we change this. One loyal reader (Thanks Jase – he also asked me to make this post controversial) suggested that its a lack of planning and felt that no post on the last minute nature of delivery in architecture and engineering could be complete without the 5 Ps – “Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance”. I agree there is a lot of poor planning goes on by all parties involved in construction – and it all begins with the client and the fee proposal.

At proposal stage (where ironically we usually have to be on time or we are disqualified), the client typically sets out some sort of milestones that they have in mind for their project. Sometime these are ‘real’ and fixed milestones such as a lease end, a university teaching holiday period or a certain date on which staff are returning from off site locations. At other times the milestones are not so much functional fixed requirements and may be based on internal performance measures or arbitrary dates (or just plain silly things like government money that somehow evaporates come end of financial year).

Often the dates set at this stage are crazy – the client has left it too late (due to poor planning or process at their end, or even simply not understanding the time these things take) and suddenly they need a new office for 200 staff in less than 6 months (I mean seriously – you did have a 10 year lease…). But of course we architects and interior designers can sort this out – we will do anything to win your project. And the bigger the project is the sillier we are likely to become.

So we have agreed to your program –  actually at that point it shouldn’t be too bad should it? We will have planned for this right? Allocated extra resources, thought through the minimum time frames things will take, the interactions that need to take place with the engineers, when and who would be doing design reviews, what software and technology could help us and we would maximize our efficiencies at every step of the way. Maybe we have…and maybe we haven’t.

But to compound the situation we then allowed you the client just 1 or 2 days to review and make decisions. And you forgot to tell us that there is a certain person who must be consulted, a board meeting the design must be presented to, or someone in IT who needs 2 weeks to provide feedback. But of course that’s only a small area of the building isn’t it? That need not delay the whole program right? Wrong. All of a sudden we have lost some of our efficiency in how we work and the order in which decisions are made and parts if the project documented.

Its even worse the project goes on hold and staff are reallocated to other projects – it can be difficult to get them back when suddenly the client says (without warning of course), here is that feedback and signoff – so when can the tender documents be ready – next week as planned? No, we can’t usually do 4 weeks if work in 1. I’m sure all my readers know, it gets to the point where throwing more people at the project just isn’t enough. Things still have to be done in a certain order, particularly if the client would actually like the engineering to consider the architecture and vice versa. (and it would be a strange project if this wasn’t a client requirement, much easier though!). It would also be nice for us to have time so that the documentation can be checked, and cross checked properly, so we can minimise errors which inevitably result in extra costs (and potentially time) on site.

Of course this isn’t every project and clients aren’t the only people to blame. Jason’s comment on proper planning is a big issue. We need to better plan reviews – doing them at the right time by the right people. We need to better understand what is a review and what is a design change. We need to respect the work of other members of the team, be they architects, engineers or interior designers. We need to incorporate buildabilty, engineering and cost earlier in the process of design to help reduce last minute changes (and clients need to understand some of these things too). We need to spend enough time and resources at the briefing and concept stages to better think through the design solutions at the point when we do have the time and we are not making quick decisions without thinking through the implications. We need to better understand and leverage off the technology and the process of automation. We need to embrace BIM for the productivity gains it brings, so our reviews can focus on construction and coordination instead of detail reference checking. Autodesk needs to make Revit less buggy and prone to doing strange things on the day tender docs are due (much as I love Revit – somehow it knows and conspires against you).

Revit (or other BIM software) changes this design and checking process in other ways too. For those that don’t understand the process of modeling, early drawings can seem rubbish and not worth checking. For those of us who use scheduling, the temptation is there to think the schedule is just being generated as things are modeled, without any checking. The process of checking changes and the worst thing is to throw too many people on the job in the last week. Final checking should move forward and all sorts of coordination, clash detection and checking should be ongoing throughout the process. It’s not really any different to what should have happened using CAD, it’s just that BIM highlights process deficiencies.

Maybe some days we just need to admit we can’t do it. That this tender won’t be on time.  But not the day after it was due. Nothing annoys me more than when team members haven’t delivered on time and I am calling the next day to ask what is going on. Then I have to start building contingencies into their delivery dates, further reducing the time they have – and I know that the project managers and clients are often doing this to me too. But because we are all late way to often, I can understand why they do.  Maybe if we could reliably deliver fully coordinated documents on the planned day the builders could afford have a few days less tendering or on site building, giving us a few more days working?

Whilst for many of us its true that deadlines can motivate and drive us, we function better when we are not stressed and tired. No matter how much we love our jobs most of us have lives outside of work – partners, kids, hobbies, the need for sleep and exercise. Maybe if we all accepted this of each other then our documents would actually be more accurate…and maybe we’d all have the time and inclination to do other things – blog more! Or teach and mentor more, or contribute to our industry more – and maybe this would help improve the quality of what we do, how we are treated by our clients and the inefficiency of the construction industry generally. Now that is revolutionary – could we improve our productivity by taking more time off? (Controversial enough?)

I certainly noticed when I was not working and was pretty relaxed,  when I sat down to do anything ‘work’ (like write a blog post or prepare Revit models for conference papers) that I did it a lot more efficiently than I’d expected, and with less mistakes.  I’ve always noticed this on a smaller scale in relation to my stress levels/working hours in the office too.

What do you think? Can we make on time stress free quality delivery a reality for architecture, interior design and engineering? What do you think we need to do to achieve it? How can our industry change? And does time off make you more productive?

Image credits:  “Timejumper”

What’s in a Room: Room Data Sheets and the briefing process

DollhouseA room can be considered the container for interior design. The elements of an interior – walls, flooring, joinery, furniture, services, lighting, graphics and signage all belong to a room or a space. In the briefing process, room data sheets are the container for information about the room or space. Particularly for more complex architectural and interior design projects, room data sheets have long been a key part of the briefing process. I am a firm believer in a rigorous briefing process, and have long used room data sheets as a part of this process for all but the most simple of projects. Lately I’ve been thinking about how this process can be improved – both from an efficiency and automation point of view through the use of BIM tools, but also if room data sheets are in fact the best tool for capturing and communicating this information.

Within an architectural or interiors office you can frequently find a whole array of room data sheets depending on project types and client requirements. They may be in Word or Excel, or even occasionally Access. For larger projects there are a range of softwares such as Codebook, dRofus, Building One and the like dedicated to this space planning and briefing process. The dedicated software systems have extensive integration with BIM software such as Revit and ArchiCAD, but tend to be expensive and complex requiring dedicated staff and training. For this reason they are infrequently used for anything but the largest projects. However, for any size of project there would be obvious benefits in having some level of link between the room data sheets and the BIM model. Currently much information is entered (at least twice) – once into the room data sheet and then again into the model. As a simple example, room names and room numbers. If this kind of information could be linked, immediately time is being saved and the potential for errors is being reduced. An ideal use for BIM.

One on the interesting things I found when I first started to discuss the concept of room data sheets with BIM managers was that (depending on their background) many saw a room data sheet as being a document which listed everything in the model. However this isn’t the purpose of the room data sheet. The room data sheet is a briefing tool. The room data sheet is the document which records what has been agreed with the client. It is a work in progress throughout the early design phases, but at some point, the room data sheet is signed off by the client and frozen and becomes the final brief for all interior disciplines. The aim is that at 100% documentation completion the model contents will match the room data sheet contents. One of the biggest potential benefits of being able to link the room data sheet and the revit model is the ability to check for discrepancies. One of the challenges to checking for discrepancies is that the room data sheet, by its very nature, as a briefing document, will have a lesser level of information and development than the model. For example the room data sheet is not the place where colour schemes are usually proposed, although material types will be. So for example we need to check that the room designated in the room data sheet to have resilient flooring has some kind of vinyl or linoleum in the model – not a particular material type.

At the same time as I have been considering these technological and software issues, I was also wondering if room data sheets were in fact the best method for communicating with clients and the design team. The point of the room data sheet is to transfer information between the architect or interior designer to the client and then back to the wider consultant team. The problem is that you hand a client a stack of 50 room data sheets and ask them to review all the details and (unsurprisingly) many do slightly freak out at how much work they have to do to review all of this. It is also hard for people whose brains don’t seem to cope well with picking up small discrepancies and errors in a pile of data presented in this format (and I admit to being one of them myself). Whilst many clients have trouble reading plans, I find there are just as many who find the visual communication of the plan more effective than the numeric/data format room data sheet.

Another issue is that as rooms or spaces become larger and more flexible with multiple zones or activities taking place within a space, does a room data sheet work anymore? Is a room data sheet going to function for a whole or even half a floor dedicated to activity based working? The amount of information on the sheet and the level of uncertainty about where within the floor an object is required means that it is probably not going to work very well. I think the room data sheet has to become an activity data sheet, but I’m not quite sure yet entirely how this would differ from a room data sheet. Much of the information would be the same, but somehow it seems more flexibility might be required.

The risk with room data sheets is that such a process can sometimes be too regimented. Its not so difficult for a laboratory or a hospital room where the room contents are more rigidly fixed by the functions and understood by both client and designer. But in a fast tracked project or more design oriented projects, it can be hard to manage the process of sufficiently developing the design to the level needed for the client sign off on the room data sheets. At what point in the office fitout design is it determined that reception will have a lounge versus armchairs versus an ottoman. Is that level of detail to be included in the room data sheet? If its not it means that the client hasn’t signed off on the idea, but if it is some detailed decisions may be locked in too early compared to other parts of the design process. I have to say I don’t feel like I have the answer to this problem.

Anyway, over several months of thinking about these issues and discussing with colleagues, I decided that I would set myself a deadline for my exploration of the automation of room data sheets – I submitted a talk for Revit Technology Conference on this subject, What’s in a Room: Revit Models,Room Data Sheets and Interiors. You can download it here.

What’s in a Room? from Ceilidh Higgins

At the same time as looking at the linking of room data sheets to a BIM model, I explored how I could use this data in more visual ways, displaying room data via coloured floor plans. At this point, it would be quite an efficient process to be able to produce both plans and room data sheets as required depending on the project stage and client requirements. Its also probably a useful workflow for design and construct projects where full detailed documentation is not being produced by the architect. The process is pretty simple using Revit, BIMLink and Excel to create a bi-directional link between excel room data and the Revit model.

The outcome is that the workflow demonstrated in this presentation is a very practical one for the many projects that currently use room data sheets and a BIM model. Whilst its not a perfect solution to integration, there are many efficiency and accuracy gains. I don’t think I’ve come up with the perfect alternative to room data sheets though, and certainly haven’t solved the problem of managing more open design problems or larger activity based spaces.

I have added an extract from the slideshare presentation with a  room data sheet example after a request in the comments.

Do you use room data sheets? Do they work as part of your design process or do you think there is a better way? Would you like to integrate your room data sheets and your BIM process?

P.S. I’ve started work full time again after enjoying a long sabbatical. I’m at Daryl Jackson Robin Dyke Architects. The Midnight Lunch will continue, but posts may be a little less frequent than before.

Image Credits: Original colour image by

BIM-onomics: How will BIM change the business of design?

Money by Tax Credits, on FlickrDoes BIM cost your design practice more? How does BIM impact your fee proposals? How does BIM impact your business? These were some of the questions I was recently asked to address in a presentation at the Revit Technology Conference held in Auckland.

Partially as a result of my previous blog posts Architecture and Interior Design is a business, isn’t it? And The art (or is that science?) of architecture and interior design fees, I was invited to address the topic of the economic and financial impacts of BIM on a design consultancy – I think due to being among the relatively small group of industry professionals who understand both BIM and the business of design. I convinced another such individual Rodd Perey – committee member of RTC Australasia who had invited me to do this talk – as well as Principal and Group Design Technology Manager at Architectus, to join me in discussion of this topic.

One of the most interesting things about preparing the talk, was that whilst Rodd and I come from very different practice and BIM backgrounds, much of the time we agreed on the issues affecting a design practice who are using BIM by themselves and for their own benefit. We termed this Lone BIM – as opposed to the benefits of using BIM as part of a larger project process in conjunction with clients, sub-consultants and contractors. This Lone BIM, the efficiencies and impacts on practice, and its opportunities for reducing project risks, were the focus of our talk.

I have attached the slide deck to this blog via Slide Share.

BIM-onomics slidedeck from Ceilidh Higgins

As you will see from the slides, one of the repeated messages was that practice directors, principals and anyone costing or managing design projects need to firstly understand what BIM is actually being used and produced in their office and secondly what BIM outputs will be delivered to the client. How can you calculate your fees if you don’t understand your deliverables?

Right now in the industry and even within individual practices BIM can mean different things to different people. It’s important to understand which BIM deliverables and processes are additional services outside traditional services, and which ones can help you improve your efficiency in providing traditional services. To model every part if a building at 1:1 with full operational and facilities data will certainly cost you more than traditional documentation, but is that what the client has actually contracted you to deliver?

We felt that there were a number of key aspects to using Revit (or other BIM software) within your practice that improve your “BIM-onomics”. Aside from understanding what BIM you deliver, you need to leverage the information and automation aspects of the BIM – for example scheduling, keynoting and proper use of materials which allow consistency and automation across the project. Directors and principals need to have some understanding of these concepts so they can question the outputs. However its not all about BIM either – continuous improvement, ongoing training and debriefs are necessary to capture and spread the learnings across your organisation. This needs leadership.

Then we get to really the key thing – BIM impacts all areas of your business delivery model. BIM impacts upon your project workflows, your resources, your programs and your QA. Are these things you are just going to leave to drafters or modellers? You can’t leave your practice to the “revit robots” nor can you buy in the revit “A team” to solve your BIM implementation problems (though it will help). Economically successful BIM relies on the knowledge of your team, the mix of knowledge between software, design, construction and business. Everyone is part of the BIM team. The senior architects and managers may not be on the tools, but need to be able to speak a common language and communicate with someone who can understand both the BIM and the business. Someone needs to direct the BIM process to ensure that over modelling and over servicing is not occurring, a common reason for cost overruns on BIM projects. But one that is more typically related to management practices than the BIM software itself.

BIM will change your project programs. As Rodd pointed out though, that most overused of conference graphics the MacLeamy curve is wrong – what consultant in their right mind would sign up for a process that makes you do the same amount of work earlier in the process, when the client is still most unsure? Both of us agree, that whilst BIM does put some of the workload forward, it will be overall less work – and the project examples we used demonstrated this (the graphs come up later in the slide deck).

Your quality checking procedures also have to change – again this isn’t one for the junior revit modeller in your office is it? But it is another opportunity to leverage your information – you can use BIM to check your BIM. Examples shown include using auotmated drawings to check precast panel details and smoke/fire compartments. The more uses you can find within the BIM itself the more valuable the BIM becomes. The BIM becomes also a risk reduction tool – you get in right during design and spend less time on site, you think things through and solve problems in the design phase. But again senior and experienced project staff need to be part of this process – they need to know what is possible with the BIM, and then they should be asking for it in their own offices.

Both Rodd and I presented a set of comparison projects with an analysis of an AutoCAD project versus a Revit project. Unfortunately it is impossible to ever directly compare 2 projects as every design project has different factors, but we both selected the most similar projects we were able to find. In Rodd’s case, 2 hotel redevelopment projects on the same site for the same client, and in my case 2 office fitouts of a similar size for similar client types. As you can see on the slides Rodd and I examined slightly different project metrics based upon the information we had available. The one metric in common though was the percentage difference between the number of hours and the number of drawing sheets. We both proved the Revit project to be significantly more efficient based on this metric, and amazingly we came up with figures within 5% of each other!

A question from the audience worth repeating here, was how long had the teams been using Revit? For both Revit examples it was between 2-5 years, and it was certainly not a case of having a super BIM team and a crappy AutoCAD team – both myself and Rodd considered the teams also to be comparable. To get a good return on investment isn’t going to be an overnight process.

BIM is a process you need to manage the whole way through your projects – right from fee proposal stage. Its pretty straight forward really…define what you are providing, what others are providing (such as point clouds, parts of models/existing models, BIM standards) and understand what you are costing. If you as the person costing a job don’t understand all the technical aspects, talk to someone in your office who does. Build the understanding between the technical people and the business people – or find people who are able to do so and bridge the gap, becoming the translator and teaching at both ends of the equation.

In conclusion – does the BIM-onomics stack up? If you manage the process, manage the risk and are delivering the same it should cost you less.

Do your BIM-onomics stack up? Do you know by comparing projects? If your BIM is not yet economic, what are the challenges and issues you see as stopping it? If you are a practice director or principal do you know your BIM? If you don’t, do you have someone who can translate for you? Have we missed any factors you consider critical to the economic success of BIM in your practice? Do any of my slides not make sense to you? (if so comment)

You can find my other RTC presentations – What’s in a Room and InforMeDesign on Slideshare.

Image Credits:

. http://taxcredits.net/