Will Asian Women be the BIM Industry Decision Makers of the Future?

On the way to the deep jungles of Cambod by Stuck in Customs, on Flickr

This and other very many important questions were pondered last week at the Australasian Revit Technology Conference held in Auckland.  One of the things that I love about the conference is the wide variety of sessions conducted from the very technical to the very philosophical.  The title of this post came from a session very much of the philosophical bent where Chris Razzell (HASSELL) and Jason Howden (RTV Tools/ Woodhead) posed a series of questions to each other whilst sitting on a velvet couch with a sequined  cushion and then creating info-graphics based on audience votes.  Now the question posed was actually, who will be the decision makers of the future? And Chris’s answer was asian women – but really it was an irresistible  blog title wasn’t it?

Anyway Chris was suggesting that due to population and development growth potential, Asia will over time become the drivers of the construction industry and potentially of BIM and that women should be more involved in all kinds of industries. I’d like to think he was also suggesting that if more women were involved in decision making in BIM then the industry would be further advanced and the arguments of BIM execution plans would have already been solved?*** Whilst over the 5 years that I have been attending RTC the number of female delegates has increased, there is still a clear dominance of males within the BIM world, both as conference attendees and speakers. There is also an absence of interior designers as well, a concern for anyone working in this field I think. As an interior designer (or an architect or an engineer) you are going to need to understand BIM or you will be left behind – I think it has become clear that BIM is not an industry trend, and no matter which package or software we use -the way that the design and construction process works is changing significantly due to all kinds of technology.

Embracing Change was the theme of this years conference and I wonder if it was this theme rather than an industry trend that meant there were a lot less presentations focussing on integration this year? Or have we learnt to integrate? I hope we haven’t given up on integration (I didn’t get that feeling from any of the discussions I had).

I thought the choice of speaker for the keynote speech was an unusual one, prior to the conference I was trying to figure out what a child psychologist might have to say to a bunch of BIM managers (it happens that my own partner is actually a child psychologist). But Nigel Latta spoke about change, how to deal with change and how to deal with difficult people who are resistant to change. A keynote speech which was very appropriate to the theme, but also with something for everyone to take home – just in case you are stuck in a woodworking shop with a murderer, now you know how to handle it.

Whilst this is the first RTC where I’ve learnt how to deal with a murderer in a woodshop, one of the things I like about RTC is the variety not just of approaches but of disciplines, techniques and tools – from very technical talks about families and parameters, to using Revit with a variety of plug ins and add ons and through to the industry update and business talks of the principal’s stream. There really is something for everyone – even for ArchiCAD users (there was one in attendance, as well as a comparison of Revit and ArchiCAD by Rodd Perey from Architectus). However, if you want to know about the detailed variety of the talks, I can’t really help much – I realise now I spent half the conference listening to either myself, Jason, Chris or Rodd speaking. No wonder I felt like I hadn’t seen much variety this year!

In reviewing the overall program this year there was a focus on adaptive components, family building and using Revit and Excel together. Even if I could not attend everything there was always the opportunity to either browse the session materials online (the new app was great) or discuss with other conference participants during the breaks. One of the main questions discussed over drinks was Is there a use for an elephant in my next Revit project? Marcello Sgambelluri (John Martin Structural Engineers) has become famous in the Revit world for his classes on building crazy Revit families including elephants, cows and human faces. This then lead many onto the question, can I use adapative families for anything useful? One which was apparently answered by Tim Waldock (PTW) in his session which demonstrated various uses including egress paths and fencing that worked over terrain models. Even if I can’t use it, I’m still looking forward to seeing Marcello’s promised peacock next year, it is great to see people pushing the boundaries of Revit rather than saying Revit can’t do that!

I got some great and very useful tips from presentations by Jason, Katia Gard (The Buchan Group) and Callum Freeman (Assemble Ltd). For me, like many experienced Revit users the little things we find at RTC talks can really be helpful to us back in the office. There are so many times that I feel talks either validate my own existing workflows and methods (so therefore there is no point wasting time looking for a better way) or they give me a few great and very practical tips that I almost can’t believe I ever thought of it myself (filters or phasing for your white card models). I’m also going to have another look at Sketchup following Jerome Buckwell’s(Jaxmax) talk on integrating Sketchup and Revit. Now I just need to find a Revit office to go apply them in!

Overall, a great RTC. Everyone I spoke to thought the quality of speakers was great, I didn’t speak to anyone who attended a class they thought was really poor.  Thanks to the organising committee for all their hard work.

It did feel smaller this year, partially I think due to being in such a large hotel, whereas at Wollongong last year the conference basically filled the hotel. Perhaps also due to a number of noteable absences as its appears there is a BIM baby boom (half the organising committee were not there due to babies about to or just born). The Langham hotel was generally a pretty good venue, although for some reason seemed surprised that a conference of 300 people required well in excess of 600 wifi devices to be connected – leading to internet connectivity problems on the Friday. As a speaker trying to download a presentation onto my iPad at this point, I was very relieved at how easily the RTC Events staff were able to help me and sort out a laptop for loan. And by the Saturday the internet problems had also been resolved, so points to the venue for sorting it out so quickly.

So another year to wait for RTC again, unless you happen to able to get yourself to Vancouver for the North American conference in July or Delft, the Netherlands for the inaugural European Conference in September. Unfortunately I don’t think I can so, see you in Melbourne next year (we started working on our presentation ideas on Saturday night)!

So what where the discussions and questions you remember most out of RTC? What were the great tips you learnt? Will the Razzell Dazzle index overtake the MacLeamy curve as the most overused conference graphic? Do the bars in Britomart open after midnight? (answer=yes) Can I edit my powerpoint notes on my iPad? (seriously can anyone help) And importantly how can I fit a peacock into my next project? (I reckon as an interior designer I might have more luck than the structural engineers) And if you weren’t there, why not?

***Chris provided this further comment following the conference “Much as it got a laugh, I firmly believe that women have a very important part to play in the future of our industry, particularly Asian women. We all know that it’s the Asian Century, yet many ASEAN countries still don’t treat women equally in the workplace and retain the grossly outdated opinion that women should be subservient. My wife (who’s Vietnamese) often makes better decisions than I do and if Asia is to become the super power that the world deserves, it needs to listen to it’s women.”

Image credits:
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Stuck in Customs 
(And I think its great I managed to find an image that wasn’t about technology to link at least 3 of the things mentioned in this blog together!)

Cost Planning for Interior Design Projects

6736154311_9a0a3a44ba_nA few months ago over drinks (many of The Midnight Lunch posts will probably be inspired this way…) I was chatting to a fellow lead interior designer who asked me about how I managed construction costs and dealt with quantity surveyors.  That conversation was one of the things I though of when I decided to start up The Midnight Lunch blog – how often is it that we get together with colleagues outside of our own teams and discuss and compare how we do things.  For most of us, I suspect not very often.

Particularly in the last few years since the financial crisis, project budgets have become more and more of an issue for clients and interior design teams alike.  There are some interior designers out there who believe that managing the construction costs is not an interior designers role – that it is the job of the project manager or quantity surveyor.  There are also some clients who believe it is better not to tell the interior designer what the budget is for fear that they will spend it all.  I disagree with both of these views.  It is the job of all team members to have some level of understanding of the budget and what impacts that could have on their discipline.  Is the job on a tight budget where every cent will count, or is the client more concerned with the level of quality?  Whichever the case, the client almost always has a budget constraint (I think we would all agree that an unlimited budget project would be the exception).  Clients – please tell your interior designers the budget.  We are not out to spend every cent.  If we don’t know and understand your budget we can’t use our skills to help you.

By understanding the clients budget and by the client placing trust in the design team to work to their budget, the design team are better able to present and discuss options with the client which achieve better design outcomes, meet client expectations and are realistic within the budgetary framework.  This cannot be achieved by a quantity surveyor alone as they usually do not fully understand the project design objectives and criteria, and nor is it their job to.  No one team member be they interior designer, quantity surveyor or project manager can usually understand the full scope of the clients detailed design and performance expectations.  Designers need to be involved in the discussion of overall design quality, fittings, furniture and the like and engineers frequently need to provide further more detailed breakdowns of what they are costing and specifying.  It is only through discussion of particular scope areas or disciplines can the design team leader make informed recommendations to the client, to allow the client to make an informed decision (in the end it is their money).  This is real value management, rather than value management as a term which these days has often come to mean cost cutting.

My key tips for value management and cost planning for interior designers are as follows:

  1. If a client wants a cost estimate that is more detailed that a mere dollars/sqm rate use a quantity surveyor (QS).  Interior designers should understand what the dollars/square meter rates in their area of specialisation will actually buy/the level of fitout quality that can be expected/the average costs.  Be able to compare your previous projects.
  2. Brief the QS.  I find that frequently the QS will start out costing a very basic level of fitout and needs further direction.  Room data sheets can be a useful tool to brief the QS on more detailed items such as whiteboards and pinboards that might otherwise be forgotten (look out for another blog post soon on Room Data Sheets).  Ask the QS to include allowances for things like feature finishes, ceilings or specialist joinery that you haven’t yet fully thought out but you know you are planning to include.
  3. Understand the cost of large or propriety items within the interiors package.  Get quotes for operable walls, workstations, furniture or major equipment items.  Talk to the QS about your expectations of what allowances should be made for these items.  You should understand what you intend to specify and the quality expected for the project.  I’ve just lately started looking at how this can be managed inside of the Revit model too.
  4. Understand the engineering estimates.  When you work with engineers who are good at explaining and value managing their components of the works learn as much as you can. On a future project you are then better able to question and discuss options with another engineer who might be prone to overdesign. (I know you engineers really want the client to have that super duper new blade server – but really do their management know what they are paying for?)
  5. Review the QS cost plan, preferably before it goes to the client (though that is usually only practical if you have engaged the QS).  Sometimes even with a good briefing they misunderstand your design intent or simply miscount (or maybe there are errors in your room data sheets).  If the cost plan is way over budget at this point maybe their are opportunities to pull back in a few areas before the client sees this version.  Conversely if the project is well under budget (does this ever happen?) maybe you can add more allowances in.  Make sure that the cost plan includes both design contingency and construction contingency.  Most of all I think its important to make sure the cost plan is a true reflection of the clients expectations regarding quality.
  6. Update the cost plan periodically throughout the project, continue to discuss and make value management decisions as you design in conjunction with the other design team members.  For the size projects I usually deal with (mostly in the $1 million – $5 million construction cost range), I find 3 to 4 iterations of the cost plan about right.  One at concept stage where a lot of issues are still fuzzy and perhaps some significant design options are being investigated, one at around 60% stage where the details are more developed and a pre-tender cost plan.  For a larger project this would be a more ongoing basis and the QS might even be present at weekly project meetings.
  7. Keep the client informed.  The biggest problems occur when either the client does not understand a mismatch between their budget and quality expectations or when costs go up from the original cost plan and the client hasn’t been kept informed.  It does seem obvious that if they add scope (eg double the amount of major signage/graphics) that this would add cost, but I find that it’s best for someone (which could be the PM or the interior designer depending on the team structure) to make sure of this.  I have had these scenarios occur and it led to some difficult meetings (and in one case legal action – surprisingly by us and not the client).

What are your tips for managing the construction costs?  Would you rather go direct to the construction contractor market than use a QS?  Who do you think is responsible on the interior design project team for managing the budget?  What are you best or worst stories of cost planning and budget management for interior design?  Do you disagree with any of the tips above?

Image Credits:
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  401(K) 2013