A collaborative BIM project is not a simple undertaking. This is especially true if the project in question is a large facility (e.g. a high-rise building or a major hospital), the project participants lack the necessary experience, or the BIM requirements are not clearly defined. This episode will discuss three main criteria for the primary consultant, the project manager or the independent facilitator to consider when initiating a collaborative, model-based process.
When a project team is engaged to jointly-deliver a BIM product/service, they’re actually being requested to coordinate their processes and to lower their exchange barriers. This is not too difficult a task provided the following criteria exist:
- The BIM goals are clearly defined by the Client
- Major project participants have an adequate level of BIM competency, well suited to meet the defined BIM goals
- There is common willingness to collaborate and a clear understanding of how to exchange information and data
If the first criterion is missing, it is realistic to expect that the project will be an exercise in patience, compromise and outright inefficiency. However, if the Client happens to be well-informed of the BIM deliverables available to him/her, and the requirements for each of these deliverables, then the project’s brief can be clear and concise. Below is a summarized mind map of potential BIM deliverables organized according to Project Lifecycle Phases (refer to Episode 10):
Fig. 1. A summary of model-based deliverables (collapsed mind map, click to expand)
To satisfy the second criterion, the BIM capability of service providers  must match the Client’s defined goals. For example, if the Client (aka Owner) requires the delivery of a coordinated as-built model to tie into a facility management/maintenance system, then the relevant project participant must have that ability. If the Client expects the model to be used for offsite manufacturing (e.g. precast panelling or steel detailing), then the relevant project participant must be able  to deliver exactly that. Any mismatch between the Client’s BIM requirements and the BIM abilities of service providers is a gross inefficiency - an unnecessary cost incurred by the Client.
Even when the BIM goals are well-defined and the project participants are individually competent, a third criterion needs to be satisfied – common objectives and workflows. That is, for a Large Collaborative  BIM Project (LCBP) to be successfully initiated, the project team must be willing to communicate, to share risk, to modify processes, and to exchange knowledge. The project team must also know/learn how to work together: what to model (or not to model), what to exchange (or not to exchange) and when to exchange it. Reaching a common understanding of the most efficient modelling/sharing tools, processes and protocols is critical and cannot be overstated. This common understanding can be ad-hoc (issues resolved as they arise) or well-planned, executed and monitored. It goes without saying that a planned approach can be infinitely more efficient than ad-hoc practices especially if collaboration workflows are clearly mapped, reasonably comprehensive and well-tested.
A SAMPLE WORKFLOW
To provide a concrete example of a structured approach, below is a sample workflow representing the first ‘step’ towards initiating a Large Collaborative BIM Project:
The workflow pool above  depicts what a BIM Facilitator  may use to initiate a model-based collaboration effort. The workflow is subdivided into three lanes  and includes a set of events, tasks, data objects/stores, and gateways which describe a logical progression to clarify Client Goals, Establish BIM Competencies and Define Common Objectives and Workflows. While tasks (rounded rectangles) describe the main activities expected from the collaborating team, data objects linked to these tasks hold an extensive set of information which are either requirements (input objects) or deliverables (output objects). These data objects can take the form of guides, manuals, checklists or any other type of structured information that facilitates the sharing of knowledge and the exchange of data.
Workflows like the one depicted above vary according to organizational, contractual and market-specific conditions. However, they can be instrumental - even if generic and incomplete  - in clarifying objectives, defining incremental steps and, more generally, increasing the efficiency of a collaborative BIM project at its first and most critical phase.
When a project team embarks on a model-based collaborative project, it is important to keep in mind the following key principles:
- Planning is important for the successful completion of any construction project. It thus goes without saying that detailed early planning is critical for Large Collaborative BIM Projects (LCBPs)
- LCBPs are, by definition, complex undertakings. This complexity must be reduced significantly if the benefits of BIM are to be maximized .
- One excellent way of reducing complexity is through simplified diagrams, mind maps and visual workflows. Using a structured language (like BPMN) has its advantages; however, any type of clear graphical representation will do.
Finally, initiating large collaborative BIM projects can be excessively demanding with the absence of goal clarity, participant competency and agreed know-how. Clarifying the Client’s goals as early as possible, assessing/aligning the BIM competency of project participants, and the utilization/development of clear workflow plans can significantly reduce project complexity and increase its efficiency.
 The term Service Providers refers to architects, engineers, builders/contractors and sub-subcontractors while the term Project Participants refers to a wider set of BIM players including the client/owner, operator and project manager.
 This visual workflow is based on Business Process Modelling Notation (BPMN) – a structured language suitable for process management and automation (Wikipedia link).
 A BIM Facilitator is a term describing a new emerging role different to that of the Model Manager. BIM Facilitators can either be internal champions or external advisors. A separate, future post will be dedicated to BIM Facilitation.
 This workflow is depicted at high-level and can be subdivided into different pools and additional lanes to suit project roles as appropriate.
 These steps can never be considered final or complete. They are intended to be continuously optimized to suit emerging technologies and knowledge/project management best practices
 For a discussion of the Relationships Between Project Complexity and Communication, refer to CIFE’s recent technical report - TR196, released January 2011 (PDF Link, 1.42MBs)