Thursday, April 26, 2012

Moving the Sustainability Frontier: The Macleamy Cruve

Many architectural firms have reached some level of Revit use. Now we need to start looking at gaps in the process that result in redundant modeling and wasted time/money. The main gap architecturally is inside of early design but sometime this fractured workflow bleeds all the way through DD. Making your CD milestones extremely difficult to reach. We have all seen it, the Macleamy curve, more work up front and a nice easy taper into the end of CDs.

I was one of those people that knocked down the Macleamy curve saying that it doesn't really apply to the realities on completing projects. Basically that workload always crescendos at the end because of the necessary reliance on 2D views and documentation embellishment as well as inevitable last minute changes. If the models we created were infused with all of the detail information and annotation then yes, I could see that. But I have not seen a Revit model that even nearly qualifies. To me that is an unrealistic expectation. So instead of looking at the Macleamy curve in hours or workload I look at it now as decisions. That is when the curve becomes clearer to me. More decisions up front so that the model calms down and construction documents can be mostly about documentation instead of active modeling. This would also greatly benefit the other disciplines that are using the architectural model to complete their own model and subsequent documents.

So what is going on during the ebb that we see in the curve during the SD and DD phase? Information input and decision making reliant on analysis of that information. In other words, modeling. Model early, model schematically, don't redundantly keep up multiple models. Streamline so as not to fork your curve.

Ask yourself: What is the first 2D form your project takes? What is the first 3D form your project takes? What kinds of questions can I ask to make better design decisions? What kinds of input do I need to answer those questions?

I am not suggesting that designers exclusively design inside of Revit. Designers should design where they are comfortable. I am suggesting that designers need to be aware of how far they are modeling the project and for what purposes.

This might seem a far cry from the Sustainability Frontier subject but I assure you it is not. In later posts I will delve further into using these early design models to drive better decisions and workflow considerations during this transition.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Is Navisworks It?

Right now the interest that we are seeing in Navisworks has expanded exponentially. I attribute this to a handful of reasons. The Autodesk's Suites have increased the overall reach of Navisworks by putting licenses in the hands of Revit users at a fraction of the cost compared with purchasing completely separate packages of software.  Navisworks represents an extremely important platform for a BIM. We can now rely on the strengths of Navisworks as a near universal model aggregation tool, including integration of DWF or DWG sheet files. Navisworks can truly hold all 2D and 3D intelligent information and even "connect the dots" digitally between the different file formats of the same project. There is also several tiers of Navisworks that allow for the users that need to run and track clashes to have access to a deeper version of the software, and those that need to view and markup a free tool to do only that.

Get it? The Clash
Most new users want to use the Clash Detection tools inside of Navisworks Manage to collaborate digitally prior to construction. This, above all other functions, is the most valued of Navisworks and only available in the Manage version.  The Timeliner tool is a distant second in unique functions although, considering the improvements in 2013, it has the ability to pick up many construction simulation modelers looking to more seamlessly integrate data and geometry inside one comprehensive tool.  Plus, there are more applications that can tap the data into other formats (e.g. e-SPECS for Navisworks) for many different uses of the model. 

The backbone of the solution is the bevvy  of formats that read well into Navisworks. Keep in mind: geometry fidelity and the quality, organization and consistency of data inside of the geometry can make the difference between a easy integration or a process that is much more manual. Simply put, it all depends on what you put in and what you are asking it to do. Just because you can doesn't necessarily mean it is worthwhile to do. Pick your battles. There are also security features to Navisworks files that protect intellectual property and can serve as reliable record copies.

The simple tools for complex projects  that Navisworks packs, as well as the increased saturation in the AEC market, creates a real need in the industry to know the simple strategies to get the most out of the tool. This usually comes in the form of simple tips and ideas around setting up an iterative approach and generally getting your ducks in a row for digital coordination.

The point is Navisworks has the potential to be the platform for model aggregation for BIMs of all shapes and sizes, from all different locations. It has both a free solution, it has a comprehensive solution. 2D, 3D, 4D, 5D. Seriously. I remember the first time I told people that I work in software that goes to the 5th dimension they looked at me like I was an idiot. And while it is an overly clever way to say "time and data" on top of the 3D, it is true.  I would prepare for Navisworks to become a fixture in the digital design, construction, and facilities management practices for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Sustainability Frontier

Today I am speaking at HKS's Green Week on BIM and sustainability. During the preparation for this event  a number of topics that seemed a good fit for this blog were uncovered. So this is the first in a series of posts on Moving the Sustainability Frontier with Software.

I read this a while ago and it really stuck with me, the sustainability frontier  is a repurposing of the article referenced below:

"The productivity frontier is the sum of all existing best practices at any given time or the maximum value that a company can create at a given cost, using the best available technologies, skills, management techniques, and purchased inputs. Thus, when a company improves its operational effectiveness, it moves toward the frontier."

Porter, M. E. 1996. What is a strategy? Harvard Business Review (November-December): 61-78.

Sustainability Frontier
The sustainability frontier is the sum of a firm's best practices at any given time or the maximum sustainability that can be designed and measured at a given cost, using the best available technologies, skills, management techniques, and purchased inputs. When a firm improves its operational effectiveness, it moves its frontier.

The key difference between Porter's definition of the productivity frontier and my repurposed sustainability frontier besides vocabulary is the productivity frontier is determined by all existing skills, practices, technologies and is absolute across an industry sector. The sustainability frontier is a frontier set per firm that aligns with their specific goals. The sustainability frontier will then move not merely by more technology or skill being present but how a firm  chooses to use whatever resources they have at any given time. Business move toward a constantly changing frontier, an AEC firm moves its own frontier as new methods and technologies are implemented.

I want to finish this first installment regarding the Sustainability frontier with a concept I stole from Bill Gates TED talk on reducing our carbon footprint through the use of renewable energy generation.

Number of People x Services per person x Energy per service x Carbon per unit of energy

The idea is that is we need to get any one of these at or near zero. The number of people is increasing, the number of services per person is increasing; these things can't really be effected. In the AEC industry we have a real opportunity to effect energy per service by using high efficiency materials and systems as well as using our design expertise to drive a more efficient form. Carbon per unit energy is also something we can impact through the use of PV panels and wind generation.

Stay tuned for more on this subject in later blog posts.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Conversations about BIM are funny. Even firms we are there to help can come across a guarded about heir BIM process and experience. I used to think it was a distrust I was sensing, after some contemplation and a lot more experience I believe it has much more to do with trying to manage a perception of BIM experience in an industry that is supposed to be inundated with it. I can tell you that mostly the industry is not inundated. There are very progressive groups and very  intelligent/experienced people, but a vast number of firms are posing as BIM savvy or even worse "fully BIM Implemented". Actually now that I think of it I'm not sure which is worse.

I cannot tell you what damage that does to the industry as a whole. In fact it makes it almost impossible to manage expectation and turns a provable credential into a magic show of smoke and mirrors. Even those that really seek to maximize their BIM benefit are forced to exaggerate the ease of BIM and downstream benefit.
Unfortunately I don't have the easy button about this one, its just a problem. Around the Dallas IMAGINiT office, we use the term "BIM-washing". The "yeah, yeah, we do BIM" that so many firms respond with when pressed. These are usually the statements of leaders/executives in a firm who have in the past purposely distanced themselves from the trenches of software technology integration. This is a GC and Architect problem mainly, it is much harder for Structural, and MEPF to hide this skill gap when they enter into a contract.

This is an oldie, but it fits so well. Hilarious part is that this character's name is Tommy Flanagan (I'll be quick to point out it is a different spelling and pronunciation, hilarious though).
Those firms over promise, under deliver, and in many cases under bid when the modeling scope expands but they don't know any better. Generally they bring us all down. Now I know I'm preaching to the choir a little here, or a lot. But maybe it is time to force the hand of every firm to put their experience out there. Maybe its time to stop selling BIM to owners and start educating owners about practicality and honest benefit without expanding the scope 5-fold. I'm just riffing here but this is a major frustration of mine. When "it" hits the fan we are the guys they call. It usually goes like this: "Hey, I won some BIM work, so I need BIM. The project starts in a week, when can I get in a class? The class comes with the software right?" In a sales environment this seems like a perfect situation but it is not. They put us in the same  somewhat impossible situation that they have stumbled their way into.  It isn't a switch you flip, there are many caveats many things to understand, many things to discover for yourself. It takes time. Even if you hired us to come to your office every single day, or hired 1 or 2 experienced people full time, it just isn't that easy. Ok well now I'm just venting.

Let's stop BIM-washing together. Help me figure out how. Help yourself. Help the industry.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Long Lists: The Death of Revit Productivity

Revit project files are massive repositories for information. Views, data rich model geometry, annotation elements, schedules all existing in one location putting a stunning amount of information at your fingertips. This amount of stuff to understand introduces some productivity challenges. These challenges are not overcome without some well practiced methods and a deep understanding of where your model bottlenecks for the users. One of the most tangible metrics to measure a progressive Revit process and standards adherence is to look at the length of the different lists in the project file. This is about ease of use and standardizing your views and content.

Type Selector  - Lists seem to bloat for a couple of reasons: There are a ton of objects loaded into the model  including duplicate types and Type properties have been used to define important, schedulable object properties. Purging periodically works as long as you don't have the duplicate types placed somewhere in the file. The other thing to consider is if type properties have been used too heavily when an instance property might provide a useful flexibility. There are pros and cons to shifting your parameters around so do so where benefit is most easily gained (e.g. door schedule)

Line Styles - Even in a default template this list starts longer than I would like with few options to delete or rename the out of the box line styles. One can only hope to intelligently order the line style types so that they easily and logically sort themselves. If you begin the custom line styles with a number (e.g. 1-Solid, 2- Hidden) they are easy to sift through and order themselves at the top of the line styles list. Tip: The number doesn't have to directly correspond to the specified line weight, reserve the thinnest line weights for patterns and items in the distance.

Project Browser - There are a few areas here to pay close attention. First duplicating view types (in 2013 available for Floor Plan, Ceiling Plan, and 3D views) was always something that worked well for architectural sets. Many firms have a custom view and sheet browser organization often utilizing custom parameters sorted. My only tip here is not to overload your views with multiple view purpose parameters. Keep it simple with Discipline, and Sub-discipline, and duplicated view types to shorten up those view lists. The Project Browser can also be useful when placing families because they are all organized by their object category. For instance, when placing a component from the type selector you have a list that includes plumbing fixtures, generic models, planting, etc. all in one place. The project browser allows you to see the list expand by category you can click and drag the types into the view to place an instance.

Detail Components - These components are all the same object category so you have to be very mindful of naming conventions as you populate you model with these 2D components. These lists can be very long and without a naming convention to sort the list of components users will really struggle to work quickly and consistently with these.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

BIM is Software: Part Deux

One of my very firsts pots on this blog ended up being one of the most viewed and commented on, BIM is Software. Admittedly I was looking to ruffle some feathers with the title alone and the minimal amount of promotion of my blog I did on Twitter quickly uncovered an adamant population seething over my "silly" assertion. In my first afternoon on Twitter my idea was called "stupid" and I was mocked as a "so called expert". I found myself in a heated exchange with strangers over something I was trying to point out was simply a disagreement in semantics. This was somewhat of a baptism by fire for me on the social media side of things.

Here we are a month later and I wanted to revisit the post, amend, and prod further. The practice of archtecture, engineering, and construction is not defined by the tools they use. BIM is NOT any one of those things. That being said BIM-ing happens in software, the BIM exists in a piece of software, process can be refined in and out of software but it is about how BIM enables through software.

The three pillars of these types of change are People, Process, and Technology and you might say that technology is the only thing that relates to software and I adamantly disagree. It is all software. The software is often easy to learn and use, understanding how to leverage the software tools to their maximum benefit is much harder and requires knowledge of a firm's unique goals, skills, and existing workflows. But in the end it is about the software.

There is art and science at the heart of the industry's time tested practices and I am not trying to change that. What BIM does requires software to benefit the art and science already in play. To see the software a simply  a tool is  fairly shortsighted, it isn't just a better instrument it changes the medium. To summarize art is art, a paintbrush is a paintbrush, a hammer is a hammer, BIM is software.

Finally I do want to give credit where it is due. I thought TroyGates summed it up best with his broad definitions of the 3 major acronyms of our corner of the industry: BIM, VDC, IPD.

IPD - Relationship
Integrated Project Delivery is the arrangement of parties into a unified team to deliver the project, sharing together in risks and rewards to remove the adversarial relationship between the owner, builder and design team.

VDC - Process
Virtual Design and Construction is the management of the product, the process and the organization of the design/build/operate team to develop a complete, virtual description of the entire project.

BIM - Instrument
Building Information Modeling is the digital representation of a facility’s physical and functional characteristics. BIM tools are the means by which we harness, communicate and leverage that information.

The application of all 3 from the bottom up: Just as Revit is not required to do BIM, but is one of the best enablers of it, BIM is not required for VDC but significantly benefits it. Likewise, IPD does not require the use of VDC but is facilitated by its use and considerably constrained in its absence.

Well put Troy. You can follow Troy on Twitter @TroyGates. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What Do I Mean By Model Integration?

I wanted to take a post to explain a commonly used term that carries a lot of importance as software tools improve and interoperability increases, model integration. Model integration is the ability to take a single model and use it for design, analysis, documentation, virtual construction and finally facilities management. Each of these will be explored further in future posts but let's start by taking a look at the opportunity and challenges we face in this effort.
It is completely irresponsible of me to tell you that this is, top to bottom, entirely possible and incredibly easy. At the very least it takes a very pointed LOD document and a fair amount of model repurposing. In addition to that it might take a good deal more scope, so be prepared when the client asks for a model they can use in FM, it might mean a whole lot more modeling and data integration. There's that word again, integration.

Now let's take a look at what I consider to be the major hurdles to model integration:

Willingness to Share Models - This was a bigger problem 2-3 years ago, but the fact that sharing a Revit model means all of your content goes with it make people understandably nervous.

Consistent Modeling - If you don't know what fidelity of model you are getting how could you reliably use it? Many in the industry have taken the dive into the LOD document, but how do we make that more than just an addendum to a contract? How do we bring that into the modeling habits of the ever day user?

Entrenched Belief - In such a quickly changing industry is it impossible to assume the quality of the model you get today is the quality of the model you get tomorrow. Don't make rules that are hard to turn back on. Several years ago a General Contractor would scoff at the idea of using a designers model. The most progressive of that group would simply reply "I'll model it myself".  Now when we show contractors the easily leverage-able elements in a Revit model most can't believe what they are seeing. It won't replace every manual effort, but certainly some if not most.

Limitations of File Formats and Software Capabilities - This one mainly has to do with solutions being over sold on their "automatic capabilities". Software is software, I am not trying to change the software, I am looking to saddle it and take it for the most beneficial ride I can. Great strides have been made recently to make models more friendly to construction modeling repurposing and more is coming on integrating structural and building performance analysis. I get stuck in the "It's 2012! Why can't t do that yet." But that doesn't matter in the end. Keep in mind this is a stagnant technology, today's issues are tomorrow's new functionality. The sky is he limit.

I hope to explore more detail model integration process and issues for each of the 5 types of models during the course of this blog. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Waves of the Future?

Every year or two it seems to be something different. Another epic shift in how the AEC industry will do business: BIM, IPD, Cloud Computing, etc. Not to say these technologies haven't made a fair impact, but they fell far short of the sweeping change most speculated was to take place. Not to say things are stagnant but there is something eerily familiar about each new idea. The underlying sentiment always pursues data integration and access.  This most likely will happen at  pace that the industry can adapt to naturally as it has done with CAD and now BIM.

 A good friend and colleague of mine, Don Bauman, pointed out to me the common trend of data integration in its many forms throughout the late 20th Century and still today. Don's industry experience and longer term perspective has been invaluable to me. Not to "out" Don's age or anything but he has been at this quite a bit longer than I have. Let's just say Don was spreading the good word of technology while I was in my Spiderman Underoos playing He-man (17 was such a great age).

No matter what the technology, or the semantics that surround them, finding better ways to integrate and access data has always been the goal. People, Process, and Technology will always be the mechanisms (aka hurdles).

It does feel very exciting right now: the conversations, the challenges that are presenting themselves, and the industry professionals that aren't looking for an excuse but looking for an opportunity. When I was a kid I wanted  be a doctor, I remember thinking "there will always be something new to discover, when some problems are fixed others will arise". Now I am a AEC software technologist and luckily for me I feel the same way. Its almost as if I had followed that childhood dream just minus all the schooling, insurmountable student debt, and prestige. That and I don't have to give anybody a prostate exam or examine any sort of terrible rash which I am also grateful for.