Ironic as it is, I just received my first promotion based on performance in the engineering world. Most of the time, it was a case of just taking on more responsibility or changing jobs to get ahead. That’s the nature of the technical world, which unfortunately means the design world never has really figured out how to retain and keep good people. But this time around, I was sticking around for a lot of good reasons – not as much financial as wanting to see things through. It was one of the reasons why I left the reseller channel, which is even worse at recognizing and rewarding talent. Getting to see a project completed and in use is still a real kick to me – good or bad, no matter what happens, it’s one of the best things to be able to say, I had a hand in making that happen.
So, my new role is Engineering Technology Manager – and we’re still really working out what that means, but in this role, we’re making two important changes. First was the practice of embedding technical representation on our business line practice leadership teams, and second was to regionalize these positions to help us focus on the needs of the area, rather than spending a lot of time crossing the country. We’ll still be doing everything we did before, but the focus really helps, as we can now more specifically target the technical needs of the people that do amazing work for us. The tools, as they are, should not hamstring the teams, or at best help them radically change their workflows so we can get back to the right work/life balance. It gets frustrating to watch team members working substantial overtime, or never be able to leave for vacation without taking the apron strings off.
Left to Right: Richard Binning, Eric Blackburn and Mike Massey at Guardsman Pass, UT
Over the past week, I’ve gotten to spend some amazing time with BIM managers and directors from across the country to help define what it means to be a BIM manager…or whatever the role name is, but a leader for technological change. It was really fascinating to hear all of the different ideas from people who have had this role for some time, and to really try to understand how to quantify this position. As an industry, we’ve really had a backwards view of the impact of technology. It’s akin to giving someone a hammer, who then promptly uses the handle to pound in the nail – and then have them refuse to see why what they’re doing isn’t what that part of the tool is designed for.
Throw in a nail gun – but it’s useless if you don’t understand all of the coincidental parts to make it work. Without a compressor, or a hose long enough so you’re not moving it around all day, and don’t forget the electricity, nails, and Band-Aids for when you miss). I’ve been doing some carpentry work in the house trying to get it ready to sell, so we can move to the coast and get more out of the life we seem to be stuck in today. That nail gun is a hell of a lot better hammer that my old one, and I’m getting more done with than I ever did by muscling it the old way.
This is where BIM technology is today – and the rate of adoption and adaption is accelerating at a higher rate than even just a couple of decades ago. Reviewing a project on my phone seemed like a pipe dream when CAD came out, but now a millennial expects you to provide the phone, the software and the latte’s to help them work faster in fewer hours per day.
So, my first steps are going to be step back and take inventory of what we have and do – and figure out where the gaps are. Who’s still on AutoCAD 14…who’s using their phone to do a three-way Skype call and share a project on the phone so I can help them figure out what’s happening with design options. Who’s told their users that you don’t have time for training…and who’s taking the software and laptop home at night so they can get better at their job. Too often, we spend way too much time bemoaning between the haves and have nots, and not enough time figuring out how to lift all up, instead of tearing some down. I’m a firm believer in the former – that you don’t get anywhere by taking things away from people, but instead putting the time and tools into those that don’t so they can get ahead. The only ones I’m less likely to help are the ones that won’t instead of the ones who can’t for whatever the reason.
One of the big takeaways I had from the meeting last week was in regard to identify roles and responsibilities for a typical BIM Manager. As we mind-mapped the daylights out of the tasks, we (led by my buddy Mike Massey who deserves the credit for this) came up with four key categories that address these tasks, that all add up to PIE2:
- Planning and Research – this category relates to the preparation a BIM manager needs to be doing to help move and keep a company in the right mindset for BIM workflows:
- Implementation – setting up all of the background tools, tasks, documentation, standards and more that sits behind what BIM applications and workflows need;
- Education – stepping back and looking at technical training from a different light, and being able to take the best of what we’ve learned about education delivery methods and integrating them into today’s technology to provide a better learning experience;
- Execution – no, we’re not shooting people, but we are shooting for PAC – better productivity, more accuracy and improved coordination. The BIM manager has to understand how to execute everything in the previous categories and apply to the new project world. How to run more efficiently from go/no-go, project execution plans, design phases and post design tasks in all disciplines, a variety of project types and with a wide variety of user abilities and tools…a witches brew indeed.
So, taking a step back and looking at the big picture – what does it take to make a good BIM Manager? Patience? Virtue? Irreproachable technical expertise? An affinity for the keyboard and mouse that can’t be explained? A certain level of insanity for taking all of this on?
As I’m staring down the R word in my somewhat near future, I’m really appreciating the confidence from my leaders to challenge me more and take on this role to help solve these issues. There’s going to be days when I want to pull all eight hairs left on my head out, and others when I’ll feel like a proud dad when I see the lightbulb go on for someone who’s struggled. Wouldn’t you?