25 July 2016

What makes a good Office BIM Manager?

Many professional design firms and construction sub-contractors are being forced to become BIM authors, with the expectation they can manage and provide BIM deliverables.
They have to use BIM software, which is only efficient if it is genuinely managed. If used properly many things can be done quicker and with less error, but if not project teams can find themselves trapped in a nightmare of tedious tasks, repeating work and redundant effort. Leading to missed deadlines, error filled documentation and very unhappy clients.

There is gradual appreciation of the need for the skills of an Office BIM Manager, but not much understanding of what the role entails.

The role of Office BIM Manager is different from an FM or construction BIM Manager, who manage BIM coordination rather than BIM creation. Of course they are vital for BIM success, but their role, tasks and responsibilities are different.

Unfortunately not all AEC firms appreciate the need for an Office BIM manager, nor understand the benefits a good Office BIM manager can bring.

Often a recent graduate who is "good with computers" is given the role, or a young drafter who has recently used BIM software in their course. These people may become good BIM managers, eventually, with experience. But for now they have no understanding of the profession they work within; what core services the office provides (unless it is a drafting company drawings are not a core service), what the purpose of deliverables are (what is being communicated), and that the number of people and the time a task takes is important (to profitability and therefore their firm's future).

As with any role there are those who are better at it than others. But what I see at the moment is a lack of understanding about what an Office BIM manager should be, and could be, doing.

BIM is not CAD

It has been common practice to simply change the title of CAD Manager to BIM Manager, without changing the role or responsibilities.
But CAD has only ever been about drawing production. CAD can make drawing production more efficient but can do little to improve accuracy or consistency of information. Whether a drawing is hand drafted or computer generated, it is still a drawing.

Drawing and CAD - same information, just neater

But you can't issue a hand drawn BIM model (or a CAD file as a BIM model for that matter).

BIM contains more information than drawings
Nor is there enough data in CAD for automated QA processes. CAD doesn't manage cross referencing or revisioning. You can't query a CAD file to check if any doors are lower than the minimum allowed under regulations; nor colour code fire rated and acoustic walls, as well as the doors in those walls. And CAD does little for the efficiency and accuracy of schedules, including ensuring consistency between drawings and schedules.

BIM introduces new processes that CAD never had to deal with, and the traditional CAD manager was not involved in. For example QA. You can't give a BIM model directly to a senior designer for them to mark up with a red pen. QA has to be part of the BIM process itself.

CAD Managers have been around for 30 or so years now, so there is a lot of experience. But not all make the transition to BIM. They can in fact be an impediment to BIM as they bastardise BIM software to implement CAD workflows and practices. Introducing complicated workarounds that achieve pointless results, sometimes making BIM processes impossible to implement.

Initially this is seen as a positive. The office, particularly project leaders, designers (including engineers) and directors can all continue working as they have always done. They can can ignore BIM.
But soon it becomes apparent the expense BIM software and powerful new computers the office paid for are not producing the efficiencies they were promised by the BIM evangelists. It seems to take more time to do things, not less. And the documents produced are no more accurate than they were when CAD software was used.

Then the office gets hit with a BIM deliverable. The client wants Navisworks or IFC deliverables. They expect coordination to use clash detection. They expect the to be able to use the model for costing. The client has been told all this is possible if BIM is used.

The office is using BIM software so made claims in their (successful) submission that they use BIM. But the BIM (CAD) Manager is now telling them it will require additional resources to deliver BIM requirements.

Accusations starting flying. The client is unreasonable, the BIM software is useless, BIM is an unnecessary impediment forced onto the industry by inexperienced academics...

But just maybe, maybe, BIM is not being managed properly.


BIM software was never intended to merely produce drawings or 3D models. It was intended to provide a single resource for documenting - explaining and communicating - a designed solution.
If you are only using it to produce drawings you are using a fraction of its capabilities.

Much is made of external BIM requirements; owners using BIM for facilities management, contractors using it for clash avoidance, estimators using it for costing. But there are a lot of BIM capabilities that can be utilised internally, within the office that authors it.

And here is the secret to BIM - if you use BIM yourself, for your own purposes, it will also satisfy external BIM requirements.

If your schedules come from the BIM model then there is sufficient information for owner's FM, if you model in 3D it is suitable for clash detection,  if you include materials for tagging and scheduling it is suitable for costing.

That is not to say owners and contractors won't still make unreasonable demands.

Although the data for a COBie deliverable for FM may be within your model, creating the COBie output is not part of designer's core work so is extra. Modelling every bolt and nut, every penetration smaller than 25mm, or concrete construction pours is unreasonable. Including the Quantity Surveyor's cost codes in your model is you doing their work for them.

But if all your core deliverables are being produced using BIM processes these extras are easy to identify, and to justify as extra.


Another thing about BIM software is that is was not designed to produce BIM outputs for others. They were designed to increase the efficiency and accuracy of the user.
BIM wasn't on anyone's radar when ArchiCAD was developed in the 1980's, even when Revit was developed in the late 1990's BIM wasn't talked about (Revit is an amalgam of "Revise it" - software to make revising a design easy). BIM became the rigeur de jour only after a critical mass of users existed and the collaborative possibilities began to be explored (and AutoDesk, then buildingSMART, started using it as a marketing tool).

So at its core the BIM software you have is designed to make your work more efficient and with less error (unlike BIM standards - but that's another story).

But software is just a tool (or in the case of BIM software a suite of tools). Tools used incorrectly or inappropriately will not perform as promised on the box, and can be downright dangerous.
And it is not just the tool that needs to be used properly, the environment it is used in must be appropriate. Using a chainsaw while on the top rung of a ladder sitting in a muddy puddle on the side of a hill can be catastrophically inefficient. Like using the wrong tool for the circumstances:

handing a man hanging from a branch a saw.

Just as it is for BIM software used within an environment designed for CAD.

An opportunity often overlooked is to take advantage of what BIM software can do. How the power of BIM software can be leveraged to make your office more efficient. To do more with less, to offer more services, to produce a better product.

A good Office BIM Manager doesn't just have technical knowledge of how the software works, they organise its use to improve office work practices and work flows. They mould the environment the software operates within.

This means a good Office BIM manager must be involved in more than just technical support. They must also be involved in advising management. And not just in things like the office "CAD Manual", training, hardware and software selection. They need to be included in resource allocation, task allocation, deliverables scope, deliverables timetable, consultant appointment, consultant coordination, and most importantly QA (Quality Assurance).

In short an Office BIM manager should be viewed as a CIO or CTO, not head of software support.
And an Office BIM manager's KPI should include measurable efficiency and quality gains within the office.


An Office BIM manager does the usual things, for example;
  • Supervise technical teams and provide project support as necessary.
  • Assist Project Directors on technical delivery.
  • Development/Management of the BIM standards, protocols and templates.
  • Liaison and consulting across IT teams, systems administrators, clients and contractors. 
  • BIM training and compliance for junior members of the team.

but what a does a "good" Office BIM manager do?

A good BIM manager understands BIM.
  • Treats the model as a real world representation rather than a 2D representation.
  • Leverages BIM models as a communication tool both between those working in a model, and the recipients of the output of that model.
  • Recognises BIM models are created by a team of people working together, not individuals performing tasks.

A good BIM manager structures a team to leverage BIM.
  • Ensures no-one works in a silo.
  • Sets team roles based on responsibility, not tasks.
  • Forces people to take ownership; make them responsible for complete, not partial, work.
    (e.g. the person responsible for modelling walls is also responsible for wall tagging, wall details and wall schedules).

A good BIM manager is realistic about the capabilities of their workforce.
  • Doesn't expect people employed for their expertise and skill in building to also be experts at using particular software.
    (The reality is architects, engineers and construction professionals will never be fully proficient at the software they use).
  • Tailors work practices to the abilities of those who do the actual work.
    (Don't put someone in charge of facades if they struggle with simple tasks like wall creation).
  • Doesn't try and get designers to use particular software if it makes their primary task - designing, less efficient.
    (Getting designers to provide hand drawn sketches to those modelling is usually more efficient than getting designers to model properly).
  • Doesn't think "more training" is the only solution.

A good BIM manager recognises one size doesn't fit all.
  • Retains flexible workflows so unusual situations can be accommodated and innovative work practices are not stifled.
  • Doesn't enforce "universal standards".
    (an approach that is fundamentally flawed; it is not possible to predict every possible permutation of what needs to be done on every project).
  • Supports different work practices for individual projects based on complexity of the project and ability of staff working on it.

A good BIM manager involves themselves in real projects.
  • Maintains skills and intimate knowledge of how the office operates by actively engaging in projects. 
  • Is involved in setting up every project in the office.
  • Periodically audits all projects.
  • Steps in when required to assist, and uses it as an opportunity for training others.
  • But NEVER works full time on a single project.

A good BIM manager doesn't merely react to specific requests, they question those requests.
  • Assesses a request against the real world outcome it is trying to achieve.
  • Offers solutions that are workflow and work method based, not just technical solutions.
  • Gauges how long a request takes against the value of the result.
  • If appropriate suggests alternatives that achieve the same outcome.
  • Averts tasks that are done for no reason other than "that's the way it is always done".

A good BIM manager is proactive.
  • Uses the opportunity of introducing new software functionality to improve approaches to problem solving and service delivery.
  • Provides fearless advice, but accepts their view may not always be adopted.
  • Listens to others. (as they might just have better ideas).
  • Involves themselves in industry wide BIM issues.


The position of Office BIM manager is a relatively recent phenomena.  Despite what I said above the position does have similarities to the CAD manager role (and many CAD managers do move in to the role easily). Only now, with BIM, computer technology has much greater importance.

I.T. has become critical to the operation of AEC firms. Just as has happened with many other industries (a bank CEO famously once said he didn't run a bank, he ran an I.T. company).
As there is not a tradition of having a CIO or CTO equivalent in AEC firms (except for the very large) the role of Office BIM manager is well suited to filling this gap.

The Office BIM manager must be a part of all decision making processes. That is not to say they should be THE decision maker, just that their advice be sought and considered for all processes within the office, not just for the creating of drawings. They should be involved in practice management, project teams and job submissions. And be given responsibilities beyond just I.T., things like office QA.

However selecting the right person for the job is not enough.

Directors, designers and project leaders have to stop pretending they don't need to change the way they work, that it is only their underlings that need to learn new ways.
Those responsible for managing how the office, projects and output are done must also change the way they work for their office to benefit from BIM processes. Just checking drawings is no longer a viable QA approach.

After all even the most experienced and proficient Office BIM manager can only do so much if they have no influence over what half the office does.

BIM, and the benefits BIM can bring, don't happen by themselves. Like any process, if not properly managed it can be an impediment rather than an advantage. And a good Office BIM Manager is a vital part of getting BIM to work.