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Leadership & Advanced

Bilal Succar in Episode 17 of his BIM ThinkSpace tackles Individual BIM Competency. Check it Out!

Between Minds

Do We Need Both Types of Leaders?

Developing Real Skills for Virtual Teams

Developing Real Skills for Virtual Teams — Ken Thompson in Virtual Teams on his The Bumble Bee website talks about some interesting research done by the University of North Caroline on the development of skills for virtual teams. Here is Ken’s writing and here is the actual white paper on the UNC site.

Courses labelled as tbd are placeholders for future development. We encourage you to submit your comments, proposals for syllabi and details of your ideas about these courses.

Communications in a Complex World

Do you ever think that experts are talking a different language? Or, talking over your head? Learn how to listen and be understood.

Be happy – reduce your risk

Business as usual doesn’t work

Some of the questions that need answers include:

  • Does my professional liability insurance cover the potential risks and exposures from this change?
  • Do standardized agreements address the exposure from this change?
  • Will integrated practice alter the standard of care that we are responsible to provide?
  • When we embed incorrect data in the model, what happens?
  • Who is responsible for incorrect information and how is risk assigned when it is unclear who created the data (or who created the problem)?
  • How can I share the risks equitably across the entire project team (including the owner)?
  • What information do all team members share to deliver on their responsibilities?
  • What exposure will I have when I front-load information and decision-making?

The biggest benefit from traditional processes may be that there are precedents. You know how to react since most problems have happened before. You also know that, when somebody makes a claim, your insurance carrier and attorney will know how to react. Since the system is in place, you can continue to work as usual and let someone else handle the problems.

Unfortunately, there are major problems with business as usual.

Paraphrasing Albert Einstein—Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

By continuing as usual, you will continue to have problems. Only by proactively changing, do you have a chance to move your firm to a better place.

The world is moving away from a hierarchical—command and control model to a distributed—share and collaborate model.

A model that values processes and systems that improve information flow and create a more sustainable environment.

This change is happening everywhere, not only in the construction industry. To work effectively in this new model, move away from focusing on the WE—THEY and start looking out for US.

Make good business decisions

Look to the traditional process as an example:

You now give control of your documents to low-bidding contractors in a public forum. Some of these contractors have business plans that exploit any error, omission, or ambiguity. Since the documents are by necessity never perfect, the flaws create additional costs and other problems. The owner gets upset. It is the classic WE—THEY situation. You are at risk.

Whether you recognize it as such, you have made a business decision to rely on insurance to protect your interests.

You have other options. You can make a conscious business decision to take on the responsibility for making better outcomes happen. You can understand where the process creates bottlenecks and conflicts. You can develop strategies to mitigate risks. You still have to have insurance, but now you become proactive.

This decision is fundamental to delivering superior performance through integrated practice.

VDC reduces risk

Three-quarters of all respondents in the 2007 Value from VDC / BIM Use survey conducted by John Kunz and Brian Gilligan of the Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE) at Stanford University said that virtual design and construction reduces risk.

The integrated practice business model is bound to generate new risks. By proactively managing these risks, you become a valuable commodity. Your focus moves away from fear and risk avoidance to risk management and risk sharing.

  • Managing risks and sharing them equitably requires you to understand the knotty issues that surround risk management.
  • It requires you to develop relationships with a circle of trusted advisors who are willing to help you make informed decisions. You have to be closer than ever to your insurance carrier and your attorneys.
  • It requires you to develop a process for actively communicating about risk with your consultants, constructors and clients.
  • It requires you to manage owner and contractor expectations. Create a building information modeling process designed to manage expectations of perfection.

When you couple your resources with a well-thought-out delivery process, taking on the additional responsibility becomes less of a problem.

Your models allow greater consistency and compliance with standards. They make it easier to find and resolve conflicts. By solving problems on the spot, you help to keep the job moving and reduce the risk of suits or claims from design errors and omissions. By finding problems quickly, you reduce the unintended consequences that can occur.

By working more collaboratively, you make changes that reduce surprises during bidding and construction. You improve the project, reduce costly change orders, and delay claims.

Experience has shown that when you take responsibility and control, you have less risk.

Work toward a shared approach to risk management across the entire delivery team. Owners, constructors, consultants and suppliers should understand the issues. When we reach a point where risks are shared based on equitable allocations that recognize the level of effort and the rewards, this will be much less of an issue.

Because of the current state of the industry, take leadership on this issue. Be proactive. When owners know that you are working to solve their problems everything seems to go better. A proactive approach to managing risks is likely the best solution in the short run.

As integrated processes become universal, many of the issues will be resolved. Someday, there will be precedents for how to react to problems in this environment. Realize that this is an evolving issue, keep on top of the changes and make course corrections to manage the risks.

Keep in mind that, in an integrated practice, you cannot allow software to replace professional judgment.

If you allow captured knowledge and rules-based planning to “take control,” you are ceding responsibility and leaving yourself open to problems. This is one of the reasons that it is important for experienced designers to become more involved in the process. In an integrated process, knowledgeable designers must develop the sketch from the back of the napkin—do not hand it off to inexperienced staff.

Pay attention to the details, from beginning to end.

Lao Tse said it best in the sixth century BC—“Men in business affairs come near perfection, then fail. If they were as attentive at the end as at the beginning, their business would succeed.”

BIM change management

Steps to success in a changing environment

Making the business decision to become an integrated practice is a big step. It takes time and commitment. The process requires planning and forethought. Budget the time to do it right.

At this point, let’s take a look at a couple of important questions:

  • How can I successfully transition my staff to an integrated approach?
  • How long should it take?

There is not one simple answer to these questions. Every firm will be a little different. Your firm has a different mix of aptitudes, resources and skills than other firms. Your firm works with different clients, in different markets. Because of these factors, the timeline for making your change to an integrated practice will vary.

Fortunately, the steps will be similar for most firms:

Manage the change. The process touches all parts of your practice.

Change management
——- this is background from John Kotter and others



  • Complacency will keep change from happening
  • Create major & visible crisis
  • Eliminate excesses
  • Stop happy talk in corporate communications
  • Set goals so business as usual won’t work
  • Use consultants to force honest discussion
  • Make more people accountable
  • Share client dissatisfaction
  • Insist that staff talk to dissatisfied clients
  • Bombard with opportunities & rewards that can’t be reached now


  • Weak/low credibility guiding coalition will fail in process
  • Select for expertise from all points of view
  • Members must have credibility
  • AVOID – Egos that leave no room for anyone else and Those that create enough mistrust to kill teamwork
  • Members must be respected as doers
  • Include proven leaders who can drive process
  • Leadership, not management, is key
  • If leadership is lacking: Bring in from outside, Promote leaders from within or Encourage hold-outs to accept challenge


  • Vision is the only thing that can break thru the forces that support the status quo – John Kotter
  • Vision to direct change
  • Do not under-estimate the power of VISION
  • Leadership creates Vision, Sensible and appealing picture of future Strategies, Logic for how
  • Vision can be achieved
  • Management creates Plans, Specific steps and timetables to implement strategies, Budgets, Plans
  • Converted into financial projections and goals
  • Strategies for achieving vision


  • Under-communicating by a power of 10 (or more) is major cause of failure
  • Use every vehicle possible to communicate new vision and strategies
  • Coalition must role model behaviors expected of staff


  • Do not let obstacles block the new vision
  • Encourage risk taking
  • Change systems/structures that undermine vision
  • Encourage nontraditional ideas, activities, actions


  • Failure to create short-term wins guarantees failure
  • Create wins
  • Plan for visible improvements
  • Visibly recognize and reward those making wins possible


  • Declaring victory too soon makes changes unsustainable.
  • Use increasing credibility to change everything that doesn’t fit vision
  • Hire, promote, develop people that can implement vision
  • Reinvigorate process with new projects/themes/change agents


  • Neglecting to anchor change firmly to culture makes changes unsustainable.
  • New strategies aren’t well implemented
  • Changes don’t achieve expected results
  • Process takes too long and costs too much
  • Downsizing doesn’t get costs under control
  • Hoped for quality improvements don’t happen
  • More & better leadership
  • Ensure leadership development and succession
  • Better performance thru client & productivity oriented behavior
  • More effective management
  • Articulate connections between new behaviors and organizational success

——- this is background from John Kotter

  • Complacency will keep change from happening
  • Weak/low credibility guiding coalition will fail in process
  • Egos that leave no room for anyone else
  • Those that create enough mistrust to kill teamwork
  • Do not under-estimate the power of VISION
  • Under-communicating by a power of 10 (or more) is major cause of failure
  • Do not let obstacles block the new vision
  • Failure to create short-term wins guarantees failure
  • Declaring victory too soon makes changes unsustainable.
  • Neglecting to anchor change firmly to culture makes changes unsustainable.
  • New strategies aren’t well implemented
  • Changes don’t achieve expected results
  • Process takes too long and costs too much
  • Downsizing doesn’t get costs under control
  • Hoped for quality improvements don’t happen

Construction procurement and beyond


As you have seen, the Procurement Phase can begin at many points in the process. You have tailored the process to your project. You have customized your model to match the best procurement method. You realize that the goal of the Procurement Phase is to define everything clearly. All decisions are integrated and available to bidders.

In the Procurement Process, you focus on clearly communicating and answering all questions, quickly and completely, no matter how obvious or mundane they seem. There are no stupid questions—especially during the procurement process. Every question that you avoid or miss will return as a problem—at the worst possible time.

You strive to eliminate all unknowns and uncertainties. You respond quickly and make dependable decisions. This has the effect of reducing placeholders and contingencies buried in bids. The result is bidding that is more responsive.

You freely share your data with bidders—ideally, by sharing your model. You even share the data through flat formats, if that is what they require to do their jobs.

You understand that holding your cards close is the opposite of collaboration. You are here to get the best for the owner.

Clarity and simplicity are hallmarks of an integrated process. You arrive at the Procurement Process with a design that meets the owner’s requirements. It has received a high level of cost and design control. You and the owner know that the design is on target. Whether you are negotiating with design/builders from a Concept Vision Model, bidding a design/builder from a Design Prototype Model, or bidding general contractors from a Construction Prototype Model, you are providing more data than is expected.

You couple that with a user-friendly project Web site to keep everyone informed. You fill in the blanks. You respond quickly and collaborate easily. This is how you get good bid results.

No matter how competitive the bid market is.


Interact with other professionals in the larger built environment. Focus on creating a highly integrated practice within a defined service area or branch out. Integrated practice, based on a clear understanding of BIM gives you the option.

The Construction Phase focuses on managing the project’s outcomes within a collaborative process where all team members focus on creating sustainable and high quality results. In this phase, Cost Models developed in earlier phases becomes a tool for monitoring actual costs.

Virtual design and construction

The construction industry is moving toward integrated practice. Contractors and builders are in the process of moving to BIM technology. They have realized the potential benefits. Owners are pushing them too. Vendors of bim tools have recognized that the constructor market offers them opportunities as well. Vendors have customized bim tools to support the building trades. This gives you options and opportunities:

  • Traditional—you can continue to act in a standard construction phase administration role. In this role, you optimize your process to support owners during construction. Your value to the constructor revolves around rapid decision-making, process controls, and collaboration.
  • Design/build—you can support design/build from either the owner’s side or the design/builder’s side. From the owner’s side, you prepare procurement documents and transition to a program management role during the construction process. From the design/builder’s side you fill the design/builder’s architect role, producing permitting and construction documentation. Your value revolves around dependable results at the bid table, rapid response, and the ability to coordinate the team.
  • Support—the options above are not much different from the normal architectural role. You have the option to support the constructor with preparing Type 5 models and then managing the data through the construction process. A few innovators have worked in this role. Many of the constructors who are now integrating are working to build this capability within their organization. This is an obvious need. It remains to be determined how companies will ultimately structure this role. Integrate—Constructors are starting to integrate. You are integrating your practice. You have the opportunity to branch out and provide a completely integrated service or to find constructors who will work with you in an integrated mode. They are out there. Moreover, there will be many more in years to come.

Construction Phase integration is the subject for a course unto itself. Much literature is available from the established contractor-driven organizations. Search them out and read them.

You will find the possibilities to be a revelation.

Construction Model (CM)

You overlay 4D data (adding time) and 5D data (adding cost and management) to support the constructor. These models serve many roles. They act as archives for project data. They allow conflict resolution before fabrication. They act to measure performance. They allow you to manage the process while improving ordering and fabrication. With Type 5 Models you find problems and resolve them before parts are ordered, you move dirt, or you pour concrete.

Used in a fully integrated construction process, the Type 5 model will transition from conflict checking, through 4D and 5D into cost management and then act as the focus of all project documentation. At construction completion, this Type 5 Model becomes VERY valuable for operations and maintenance.

Construction Phase Models have special requirements. They interface with a variety of external databases to produce “real-world” results. You MUST build these models accurately. In fact, these models link to productivity and performance.

Done incorrectly they can cause people to lose money and time. Done correctly they can save a lot of both. Know what you are doing before proceeding in this environment. You have the tools and ability to do this right. However, this is not the place for approximately correct.

They must reflect the full range of systems. When used for conflict checking they include structure and mechanical and electrical systems. When used for time analysis they include schedule data in all objects.

When used for cost management, schedule and cost data become critical for all objects. Type 5 models may rely on some level of assumption. But, only as a last resort. The goal is to model actual conditions and costs. These models must closely simulate actual conditions.

Integration assessment – where do you stand?

Are you ready for the change?

Making the business decision to become an integrated practice is a big step. It takes time and commitment. The process requires planning and forethought. Budget the time to do it right.

At this point, let’s take a look at a couple of important questions:

  • How can I successfully transition my staff to an integrated approach?
  • How long should it take?

There is not one simple answer to these questions. Every firm will be a little different. Your firm has a different mix of aptitudes, resources and skills than other firms. Your firm works with different clients, in different markets. Because of these factors, the timeline for making your change to an integrated practice will vary. Fortunately, the steps will be similar for most firms:

Manage the change. The process touches all parts of your practice.

Assess maturity

Are you ready for integrated practice?

You start with introspection. Look at how you do business. Look at how you interact with your consultants and suppliers. Understand how your clients will react to a new way of doing business. Assess how you produce documents and how your staff may react to the change.

Some have found that the Strategic Forum for Construction Integration Toolkit is a valuable guide for assessing their status.

The site includes an online assessment that gives a measure of where you stand. If you use this tool, keep in mind that the measurement is in comparison to the construction industry in the United Kingdom. It requires interpolation for use in the United States.

You will find that the questions in the assessment offer a good overview of where integration is going. It will help you to understand areas where you should focus your time.

Other firms have gotten valuable data by having multiple staff members complete the maturity assessment independently. They have found value in measuring how well their staffs understand what integrated practice really means. It becomes a good starting point for further discussion.

Integration Maturity

The Strategic Forum for Construction’s Integrated Project Toolkit is a UK construction industry initiative to support the process, culture, methods and tools that enable integrated project teams to deliver superior value. This document is an adaptation of the information presented by their Integration Toolkit. The material in the Toolkit is protected by copyright; however, they have made their work freely available for use by others.

Within the framework established for the Toolkit, integration means – the introduction of working practices, methods and behaviors that create a culture in which individuals and organizations are able to work together efficiently and effectively.

The Strategic Forum for Construction is working to set aside the fragmentation, duplication and adversarial relationships that characterize the UK construction industry. They are working toward cooperation, collaboration and mutual support. Their goal is to enable organizations to focus on shared goals and objectives, leading to mutual benefit without undermining the ability to advance and compete.

SFC defines integration in two inclusive ways:

1. Assemble chains of suppliers who rely on each others skills, products and capabilities to satisfy their own needs and those of their clients, and

2. Apply these Integrated Supply Chains in the project environment as part of Integrated Project Teams; teams so well aligned they appear as if they were a single entity.

SFC’s Integration Toolkit is a pan-industry guide describing how to assemble these Integrated Supply Chains and how to achieve superior value through applying Integrated Project Team delivery. Their Toolkit provides an introduction to the principles of integration.

Assessment Grid

The Toolkit’s Maturity Assessment Grid allows individuals and organizations to gauge their cultural maturity, provides guidance and insight into how to change and offers pointers and signposts to tools and techniques successfully used by leading practitioners. It is an agenda and framework for change, but it is not a step-by-step instruction manual. The following is adapted from the SFC Online Maturity Assessment Grid



If you believe the comments in this column most accurately represent how business is done, then your business is still conducted in the traditional way.


If you believe the comments in this column most represents the way you do business, then you are in a transitional state.

This may likely be the result of a realization that changing the way you work will give you a competitive edge, because you are starting to offer and receive better value.


If you believe the comments in this column most represents the way your company does business, then you are one of the few Companies who have fully adopted the ‘Accelerating change’ agenda.
Issues & Challenges

The Maturity Assessment Grid begins to define the issues and challenges that must be managed to create a truly integrated construction process. Although the grid above has generally been adjusted to correspond with US architectural terminology, the grid applies to all aspects of the industry.

Reassess regularly

Integrated practice is not static. In fact, it can change every day. Because of this, your plan should be fluid and adaptable.

Integrated practice is a process change. As with any change of this magnitude, things will not be perfect. You will make mistakes and encounter barriers. The trick is to stay the course and adjust as you move forward.

You should plan a regular cycle for revisiting your strategies and solutions. Adjust them as you grow and become more expert in the process. As an integrated practice, become a life-long learning organization.

In the beginning, you will find yourself in a state of constant adjustment and correction. As you move forward, you should plan for quarterly or biannual reviews of your status.
Becoming an integrated practice takes time and commitment.

You do not have to integrate everything at once. Do what you can, right now. Over time, you will be able to build more and more linkages into the larger world of BIM. Start with a plan and build your processes step-by-step until you are an integrated practice.

Key your staff into integration

By better supporting your clients, you become more valuable. You use your training and natural skills to synthesize information. You expand your ability to conceive and manage complex processes.

One of the major concerns of any organization is staffing. Staffing ideally revolves around supporting clients. Thinking back to the Toyota Production System, you drive the process from the client side—in this case the owner—not from production.

Since integrated practice is a rapidly evolving process, it requires different skill sets and different ways of looking at staff. It does not lend itself to the support hierarchy that most firms have created.

In an integrated practice, the staffing structure is flat—even senior staff participates at all levels. Integrated organizations are highly fluid. Pick the best team to get each project done.

You key all staff members, at all levels, into the process. As a rule, you move everyone toward more diverse skill sets. You are looking for the ability to synthesize data and problem solve within the framework that you establish. Obviously, different staff members will have specialty skills.

You balance loads to best use people’s abilities. You will likely find yourself in a process of constant reorganization of the highly creative people who deliver the process. You will find it difficult to create organization charts in this environment—because they change so fast.

A chart done for a project today will likely be very different tomorrow. In integrated practice, people are much more important than structure.

Experience has shown that several types of people become important as you move forward.

Hire people that “get it”

People with vision are your first priority. If you are an established firm, these people will be your agents for change. If you are starting new, these people set the pace and define your practice.

For simplicity, we call this individual or group the “Change Agent.” The Change Agent (CA) must be able to communicate the vision and overcome the complacency that comes from business as usual. The CA has or must build power sufficient to overcome any roadblocks to the process. Over time, the CA will ingrain the process into every aspect of the firm.

In a small firm, the Change Agent will wear all the hats. In others, a firm leader might be the CA with support from many others. Everyone is part of the process, from bottom to top. As you start out, a couple of your staff that “get it” might support the CA.

This team should work together to create a series of small wins. Leading by example is the single strongest approach to embedding integrated practice in your firm. As more staff members buy in, the process will reach a point where everyone is doing it, all the time.

At that point, the Change Agent must constantly reinforce the process. With constant attention, you can achieve the full benefit from integrated practice. In time, you will find that your staff will reach a comfort level with the process. You will find the best fit for their talents. You will create new positions as you become more adept at the process.

To deliver the Integrated practice process, we created a new job description—4SiteManager. A 4SiteManager is a project manager with the addition of integrated process requirements and a strong understanding of cost constraints.

The job adds the responsibility for actively finding places where you can eliminate repetition. It requires a hands-on ability to work with bim modeling tools and data structures to manage information. A 4SiteManager acts as the owner’s advocate—looking out for the owner’s interests, both short and long term. Flexibility, open-mindedness, and a broad understanding of the process are all hallmarks of a person who can be successful in this position.

A new process

One other staffing issue comes up when you talk about integrated practice. The issue revolves around today’s “CAD Manager.” In an integrated process, the position of CAD Manager is redundant. Integrated practice to deliver BIM is not application driven. It does not revolve around enhancing or supporting applications.

If you focus this way, you will likely end up with less than optimum results. Worse yet, some firms that approach integrated practice and BIM with an application focus find themselves starting over after two years of testing and training.

CAD Managers need not fear for their livelihood, if they can change to a more integrated role. Technology-oriented staff members are critical to the process. Your CAD Manager may be your most technologically skilled employee. However, this process is not about technology. It is about integrated practice to create better projects and more satisfied owners.

Any system that you create or adopt must be simple. Successful systems rely on simple, easy to administer standards rather than the well-intentioned but highly complex standards that are the hallmark of CADD systems.

Maintaining your computers and software will be a continuing issue. The pace of change and innovation in this area will likely require more effort. Someone should systematically keep up with the latest innovations and products. This person should actively monitor blogs, participate in ongoing forums and test run new tools as they become available. All with the goal of making sure that you have the easiest and least costly tools for your projects.

Someone must create and manage databases. Someone must be able to create Web sites and, ideally, Web applications. A person with expert-level capabilities in your bim modeling solution is a valuable resource.

However, people fluent and fluid in many applications—not focused on only one, are the new standard. This may be your current CAD Manager—or not.

However you make this change, realize that you cannot abdicate leadership for integrated practice. Integrated practice using BIM is a core business process requiring executive-level leadership. It requires people who are powerful in your organization. Experience has shown that if you leave this to middle management or treat it as CAD management, you may experience mixed results. You may even fail in the process.


As your process develops, you will begin to see the need to manage a wider range of experts. Psychologists, economists, security specialists, accountants, and others are required to support today’s owner. Organizing a team that can deliver the full range of integrated services is difficult in most markets. Fortunately, architects’ training gives them the ability to manage the process.

In order to deliver real value, identify individuals and firms that can give your team depth in the areas important to your clients. Establish alliances with them. Structure these alliances to allow information to flow freely. Take the lead to integrate them into the BIM process.

Even closely allied professionals such as mechanical, electrical and structural engineers will likely require support and education to help them to connect with your new integrated process.

Some of these professionals already work using processes that integrate planning, design, production and operations. Most do not.

As an example, industrial designers integrate more closely with the manufacturing process than architects integrate with the construction and operations of buildings. They understand and integrate production, shipping and sales.

If an industrial designer creates a product that cannot economically be manufactured, packaged, and sold, what happens? Is the same true for architects?

Integrated practice gives you a framework that focuses on adaptation and the life cycle of facilities. The process requires that you learn how to provide value within a context that is much larger than traditional practice defines. In an integrated practice, a firm’s approach to staffing, clients, and consultants changes to coordinate with providing value in an information-centric world.

The changes require:

  • A willingness to change business and design processes.
  • A commitment to embrace new technologies.
  • A high level of responsibility.

The process requires real leadership.

Non-traditional team members

The architectural profession is becoming more diverse. So are owners. Architects are finding that they cannot personally provide many of the services required today.

The popular conception that architects understand and can support all areas of the built environment is flawed. Nearly every project includes one or more specialists who would not have been included in the not too distant past. There are many “non-architect” professionals providing value in the built environment.

One of our goals when we created Integrated practice was to offer an approach that streamlined our ability to integrate nontraditional team members and the advantages of BIM technologies.

This occurs within a process that defines the issues, identifies costs and creates success strategies early in the process. You document decisions and design constraints at the beginning. You then work closely with constructors to get the project built on schedule and under budget. You then add long-term management of information to the mix.

With integrated processes, you make integrating of specialist input easy.

Manage the constraints-don’t let them manage you

Be proactive

Making your clients’ lives better, saving them money, and staying profitable is what integrated practice is all about.

When you create a process that helps you to do better work, more efficiently—you become more successful. You provide greater value.

Creating an integrated practice does not happen overnight. It is not a matter of switching off the lights after a day of working the traditional way and coming in the next morning to a new, better approach. It requires planning and organization. It is a change management effort.

Effective integrated practice springs from the ideas of R. Buckminster Fuller, Alvin Toffler, George Heery, and William Caudill. It builds on Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints and the Toyota Production System (TPS). Integrated practice changes how we look at projects and our place in the built environment.

Proven management theory grounds the process. It builds on the best and most successful parts of traditional architectural practice and construction processes.

Manage constraints

There are many constraints on how you do the business of design. Many times, we are not proactive and let constraints manage how we do business. By identifying and correctly managing constraints, you can manage the performance of any complex process.

As we began our explorations, we found ourselves studying the Theory of Constraints (TOC). In 1984, physicist turned business consultant, Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt theorized that any business could improve its bottom line results through applying scientific methods to resolving organizational problems. Goldratt theorized that each business has a single constraint that limits its performance relative to its goal.

By managing this constraint, you can overcome obstacles to production and become more efficient and responsive.

Manage constraints in your world

Architects who are not managing constraints create much of the poor documentation, cost overruns, and other problems cited by owners in recent years. By not managing constraints, they enable many of the problems, even with normal project management controls.

TOC theorizes that a system with more than three constraints is extremely unlikely. Usually only one constraint is key in any system. Managing a complex system or organization can be made both simpler and more effective by providing a few, specific, yet highly influential areas on which to focus — maximizing performance in the areas of key constraints, or elevating the constraint (making it less constraining.)

You can control the design and construction process by managing constraints in a four-step process:

  • The first step in applying TOC is to identify the constraints on your process.
  • The second step involves deciding how you will use the constraint to improve performance toward your goal.
  • The third is to make the constraint important—give it power by integrating it into your process.
  • The final step is to make the constraint less of a constraint by making it part of your everyday work process.

In our explorations, we identified that COSTS in all its forms, is the primary constraint on architectural processes today. We have come to believe that management of cost constraints is the single most important change that you can make to improve how you support your clients. 
Manage cost constraints throughout your process. By managing cost constraints your outcomes will improve in positive and owner-centered ways. Managing cost as a constraint has worked for over twenty years! Ask any successful agency construction manager.

Organization as system

TOC looks at an organization as a system rather than as a hierarchy. Goldratt’s theory explains why agency construction management works. It is also a major driver behind Toyota’s phenomenal success in recent years. TOC underpins many of the management approaches that work best today.

Studying the theory and its applications, you will find that either you can manage constraints or they will manage you. Deciding how to manage these constraints is critical to your success.
Understand that if you try to manage everything, you are not really managing anything.

Focus and blend

The process focuses on managing cost constraints and blending:

  • The architect’s ability to synthesize information,
  • Construction management and design/build strategies and,
  • Emerging information technologies.

Value network

The effort begins with information and management.

Collect and hoard information management solutions. In a world of Web2.0 you have to be an aggregator. You have to keep up with the tools that are developing every day. The same is true in the world of bim tools.

React to this environment of change and establish a common vocabulary for integrating these solutions into our practice. Become an integrated process and framework to design projects using the latest technologies. The process has been tested, prototyped, and used successfully for over ten years. The process makes building information modeling possible today.

Projects under control

In 1996, we revisited the question of finding better ways to apply technology to leverage architectural practice. Since then we have tested thousands of software and hardware tools.
 Individually—and as part of systems. All with the goal of finding the “best” and most profitable solutions. Some we kept and use today. Some we discarded for a variety of reasons. Some never worked, some worked for a while, and some are wonderful.

We performed these explorations in a real-world setting. A functioning and profitable architectural practice. Ours were not “ivory-tower” tests. Rather we used the tools on real projects.

If they worked,—great. If not, we moved on and looked for the next possibility. This was a ten-year exploration.

All but three of those years were profitable. The three bad years were caused by people errors and bad teaming decisions. We learned volumes about how systems for managing technology and systems for managing people differed in those years.

We came to the realization that owner needs had to drive the process. Even at the technology level. We had to become owner driven. We searched and found the one thing that clients most want from our services. The concept was simple.

Owners want their projects to be under control. They want to know where they are going.
Technology gives us the tools to make it happen.

The future of integrated practice

Capitalize on your strengths

In the future, integrated practice will likely revolve around nationwide groups of firms that work cooperatively to achieve dramatic improvements in the built environment. They will create more sustainable and dependable projects that provide true value to all. Progressive cross-disciplinary organizations will achieve these benefits through systems that provide rules, standards, and relationships designed to produce superior results using BIM. Such organizations will empower firms of any size to work big, anywhere.

There have been early attempts at achieving such a goal. One such group, the Triglyph Architectural Organization successfully mobilized a national network of small firms with diverse skills, all using ArchiCad and an established set of standards. The Triglyph organization was a precursor to the types of organizations that BIM will create in the future.

In the United Kingdom, the Strategic Forum for Construction (SFC) has made strides in defining systems that reduce the fragmentation, duplication and adversarial relationships of their construction industry. They are working toward creating systems that foster cooperation, collaboration and mutual support. Their goal is to enable organizations to focus on shared goals and objectives without undermining their ability to advance and compete.

The SFC has deployed a Web-based tool called the Integration Project Toolkit. The Toolkit introduces the principles of integration and allows you to measure your ‘integration maturity’ against other users.

As practice concepts such as these develop, firms will be able to capitalize on strengths such as personal service and quick response. They will also have the versatility to become whatever their clients need, wherever and whenever they need it, while having large-firm tools, resources and networks available to them. The integrated practice of the future will turn-on-a-dime and bring the best-of-the-best to bear to solve problems, no matter how big or how small.

Now we will explore what organizations in the building industry could become in the near future.

New relationships

If Technology could talk it would scold, What are you people waiting for?

People have established social organizations for ten thousand years. From clans to countries, and ancient Mesoamerican ballgames to bowling leagues, every group came together because they shared values, had common needs, and agreed upon a strategy. They shared the risks and rewards of their endeavor.

Technology has evolved faster than people have. We now have to retool our social cultures in the building world to catch up and take advantage of the workhorse we have created.

In the not so distant future owners, builders, and designers, with right technological knowledge, will establish a new social order. One based on strong common goals: Cost-effective facility development and operations.

New organizations

In an attempt to capitalize on owners’ dissatisfaction with their services, many of today’s builders and designers are attempting to modify current delivery methods. For the most part their efforts have been futile. The problems continue to get worse.

A new group of forward-thinkers has thrown out the old ways. They believe they should organize around the needs of all team members—designers, builders and owners equally. They believe that using common tools, systems and standards will lead to better collaboration. They will build trust and lead to a free flow of information and knowledge development.

They will proactively create a long-term business strategy for future facility development and operations. They will insist that the risks and rewards accrue to all stakeholders.

The Facility Development and Operations (FDO) organization that they envision will be owner focused. It will include nationwide alliances of similar but non-competing owners. It will also include similar alliances of designers and builders specializing in the various aspects of these owners’ industry.

FDO organizations will grow to become information-rich, relationship-driven institutions with a knowledge ecology that continuously creates evolutionary changes to the buildings they produce and operate.The FDO organization of the future will structure their world like this: 11 Feb 2008


The Owner determines new or modified facility needs via internal business operations. They establish the project program and budget—using tools and standards of the organization in partnership with the constructor and designer. The owner finances all aspects of the project including insurances. They actively participate as a member of the Facility Specific Alliance (FSA). They own and operate the building using its Facility Information Database (FID) and the FSA at completion.


The Designer creates the solutions, in partnership with the builder and owner. They facilitate, orchestrate and manage the Facility Information Database until building occupancy. The designer creates prototypes of the facility in collaboration with the facility alliance. They virtually confirm all requirements of the design through environmental simulations, space-time use analysis, visual simulations, code and program confirmation, schedule, financial feasibility, and construction analysis. They ensure that all consultants adhere to organization guidelines and contract. They actively participate as a member of the Facility Specific Alliance.


The Constructor builds the proposed solution in partnership with designer and owner. They use and expand the facility information database; through the designer, for procurement, construction management, fabrications, temporary structures and site safety. The constructor establishes and uses material and labor supply chains, within the guidelines of the organization. They ensure that all sub-contractors, suppliers, and manufacturers adhere to organization guidelines and the project contract. They actively participate as a member of the Facility Specific Alliance.

Facility Information Database

New capabilities inconceivable a few years ago are reinventing the building industry. Trying to fit this new world into current socio/economic/legal pigeonholes will delay the progress. The silos of activity and information that now make up our world must be interconnected for the FDO to be successful.

The Facility Information Database will be a more powerful version of what we now call the building information model. The facility information database will be an integral part of the facility. It will remain “connected” to the project and will not used for any other purpose. The Facility Specific Alliance owns the database.

Facility Specific Alliance

The FSA will be a unique legal entity, not unlike today’s limited liability corporation, established and populated by the project’s stakeholders (owner, constructor, and designer). It will be based on parameters set by the contract and responsible for designing, building, and operating the facility. The entity, along with the Facility Information Database, will remain permanently a part of the facility.

Performance and pre-established goals determine compensation. All members share the financial risks and rewards on a basis that closely aligns with their work effort, exposure to risk and responsibility.

A conflict free FID becomes the standard for performance during construction. The project is self-insured through the bonus fund. No member, at any level, may sue another. Team members resolve mistakes between themselves and pay required costs from the bonus fund or overhead and profit fund.
The FSA supports its needs and advances its goals efficiently and equitably.


The FSA empowers and funds a “third party” oversight group that:

  • Executes directions set by the organization (new programs, tools, marketing and business standards).
  • Maintains communication among members of the organization.
  • Manages support partners (software developers, material suppliers and others).
  • Manages the Facility Specific Alliances.
  • Establishes and control conditions of membership.
  • Mediates disputes.
  • Facilitates positive organization growth.

Open competition

People will start these organizations, but the natural laws of capitalism will shape them. Within this context, profits will be synonymous with healthy growth. Competition will be synonymous with improvement. As the organization grows and prospers, more members—owners, constructors and designers alike, will enter the group. Competition, both within the organization and from external sources, will cause some companies to leave and others to thrive.

The FDO organization does not worry about a member leaving with trade secrets or other information. The FDO is not about hoarding information. It is about processes, relationships and knowledge building. The members of the FDO organizations have gotten over themselves. They realize that everything they know is but a mouse click away on someone else’s magic image box. Their value, and that of the organization, comes from how fast, how creatively and how accurately, new knowledge can be developed and brought to bear upon the unique problem at hand.


Compensation will use a three-tiered payment strategy:

  • The cost of the work is always paid.
  • Overhead and profit paid if members meet all goals.
  • Bonuses paid if members exceed goals and as risk lessens.

Lead change

Robert A. Humphrey perhaps said it best when he said—_“An undefined problem has an infinite number of solutions.”_

Early in my career, I realized that architects had to change how they did business to respond to these issues. I was tackling a complex problem. Continuing as usual was not a solution. It seemed like every time someone struggled to maintain the status quo, it signaled a failure to come.

Patchwork solutions just were not working. There had to be a better and more efficient way to work in the world of tomorrow.

The construction industry is fraught with infighting and adversarial relationships. It may be the only industry with a reduction in productivity since the advent of computerization.

Why has the building industry computerized if there is no productivity gain? Other industries have adapted to the changes wrought by technology and have improved the quality and effectiveness of their products. Something in the way the building industry does business needs to change.

It is easy to forget that much of what we take for granted now was revolutionary at one time. The way that we work today did not happen by accident. Today’s approach came about because creative people applied creative ideas to solve problems. They took risks to get results and make the world a better place.

Buckminster Fuller and Alvin Toffler

In the post-WWII years, Buckminster Fuller and Alvin Toffler envisioned many of the systems now considered standards of the industry. During the same period, Caudill Rowlett Scott and George Heery expanded the definition of construction management and the multidisciplinary predesign process. By the mid-1980s, commercial software to create what we now know as building information models was in productive use.

When you look at the seeds planted in the last half of the 20th century, you begin to realize that much of what they theorized is now happening. Many of their ideas now seem obvious. These visionary people and tools inform today’s process and provide pointers to “best practices” and integrated practice implementation strategies.

Figuring out how to incorporate technology into the building industry is a big task. The industry is so widespread and includes so many players, that it is hard to wrap it into a tidy package. It is so diverse that it touches everything in our lives. It is hard to define, and when a problem is hard to define, it is hard to solve.

Finding solutions to problems within this complex system has always been difficult. Architects and other construction professionals have made incremental changes, trying to solve individual problems. Their improvements have tended to focus on one group or one client area. At times these solutions filtered through the industry. However, prior to building information modeling and integrated practice arriving on the scene, few groups even attempted to find real solutions to the larger problems.

When people did most of the work by hand, it was relatively easy to fix problems. As the building industry has adopted more and more technological innovations, it has become harder and harder to make systemic repairs. Today, the industry faces problems of poor execution, poor cost controls, and a perception that traditional processes are deteriorating.

Technology has increased the pace and volume of change. Design firm resources to respond to these changes are limited. The number and complexity of building systems has reached a level that requires multiple experts in order to select workable solutions, much less the optimum solution.

The sheer number of new building materials is becoming difficult to grasp. It is even more difficult to develop design expertise and experience with these new materials. Every day it becomes more difficult to respond to new needs.

Your firm in the new world

How will I change?

You stand at the edge of a new world, where size really does not matter. Technology makes it possible for the smallest organization to compete in markets once the sole domain of large firms. The same tools make it possible for large firms to deliver in more markets. Both situations require changes to how firms approach projects. Both situations require changes in structure, process, and attitude.

Integrated practice offers benefits for firms of all shapes and sizes. 11 Feb 2008 Icon-blank
The trick is to tailor the process to your firm. Do not depend on any “one-size-fits-all” approach. Do not depend on integrating everything at once. You do not have to integrate with construction or operations and maintenance to provide benefits to owners. You do not have to wait until someone else works everything out. Large firms may have the workforce and financial resources to integrate everything. They may have the prestige to convince multinational software developers to use them as “test-sites.”

You probably do not have the same backing. That should not keep you from doing the things that you can do now. It does not keep you from using the technology and improved processes to be more profitable or keep you from doing a better job for your clients. Reading to this point, you have likely started to get a feeling for why BIM and integrated practice will improve your process. When owners understand the value of integrated practice, it becomes a marketable and profitable addition to your repertoire.

Planning and predesign are where integrated processes offer immediate results. Using bim tools and changing your process workflow is the foundation for everything else. One-step at a time is usually the best way to integrate your practice.

Change the process

The traditional process for planning and designing facilities is under attack from many directions. Facility owners are tired of the waste and errors. The news media attack cost overruns and mismanagement of projects. Architects struggle with tight fees and standards of care that do not fairly assign risks and rewards. These attacks all spring from a process that has not adapted to the changes in our society. Rather than using good business sense, architects have often fallen back on tradition and legacy systems to drive our decision-making. You can correct these problems; at least for your business.

The change can be revolutionary—discarding all that went before. You can start from scratch and invent an entirely new process. Alternatively, the change can be evolutionary—building on the good parts of the traditional process and replacing those that no longer work. You can integrate the old with the new. In either case, a different way of doing business is the result. You have the luxury of deciding how you want to proceed.

You do not have to have a grand and sweeping strategy. A business strategy should be more like a peek beneath the hood to look in detail at how you do business. This course does not focus on strategies that require you to start from scratch. It gives you strategies for what to look at and for folding current and evolving technology into the traditional approach to create new ways of doing business.

No architect likes limits on his or her design process. Limits seem like someone is imposing control. Limits seem like a bad thing. This becomes one of the major excuses for why architects resist process change. Some say that this is where all future problems start. The fact is that architects have not done a good job of tailoring design resources to today’s world. In most offices, the design process remains linear. This makes it difficult to integrate the early design process with document production and construction. It makes involvement in operations and management difficult at best.

Partial change may not work

Implementing BIM without changing the traditional architectural processes is fraught with problems. Often designers conceive a solution and then hand it off to others to implement—a disconnect that is responsible for many future problems. The design process then becomes an open-ended research and exploration process—that uses too many of the available hours. Since architects focus this research and exploration on design issues, they put off many decisions until later in the process.

Design research and decision-making continue well into the documentation process. Moreover, since they do not make decisions at the optimum time, construction documents suffer and become the focus of profitability problems. Critical decisions are being made too late in the process. By reworking your process to get good decisions earlier, you will have a major impact on your final product—and it will cost the least.

Planning is critical to success in this environment

The world gets flatter by the day. The line between the large corporate architecture firm and the small firm is becoming very faint. This is happening because technology has developed to a level that allows the small firm to compete one-to-one with the big firm. The small firm can produce the same design quality, the same images and the same (or better) results. Using strategic alliances and the tools available on the desktop and on the Web, the small firm can work big and compete with anyone.

The trick is to create a fully integrated organization that can use available tools to leverage your assets and skills. Create a well-thought out, well-planned and well-organized organization. Challenge preconceived notions and design the organization, much as you would design any other project. With such an organization, you can work smarter and create more with less.

Small is good – The size of your firm is less important in an integrated practice. Small firms have real advantages in this environment:

Simple implementation—A small firm can adapt quickly to today’s way of doing work. They need to consult and convince fewer people to get things done. Easy to change—A small firm has a hierarchy that is easy to understand. Since you are small, you are already a flat organization and everyone does a bit of everything. Focused—A small firm can zero in on their individual skills and talents. They can focus on applying their resources where and when needed.

Big is good – Large firms have their own set of advantages in this environment: 11 Feb 2008 Icon-blank
Complexity—A large firm can bring a high level of resources to bear on projects that require a lot of figure-out time. Big/high visibility projects—A large firm can bring specialized skills from many directions to bear on large, multiphase projects. Big clients—Large clients often like to work with firms of similar size. A large firm can bring a level of comfort to such clients.

Strive for excellence

No matter how large or small your firm is, be flexible. Change easily. Tell the truth, no matter how difficult. Focus on your greatest skills and assets. Eliminate the mundane and boring. Strive for excellence in everything you do—whether you are big or small. Think big.

Use BIM for projects of all sizes and types. Market the advantages. Clients will appreciate knowing more about their project earlier. Better cost control and predictability are valuable commodities.

Validate your way to success

Frame the best possible solution to respond to the project. It is critical to envision the project properly. With the correct strategy and vision for the project, the phases that follow become easier to manage and more successful.

Align concept, scope, and budget

The Validation Process identifies the strategies for successfully designing, constructing and managing your facility, project, or process. The goal is to get a good, objective definition of quality; to define success at the beginning; to set appropriate expectations; and to develop solid project controls. The size and technical expertise of your firm will likely drive your approach to Validation.

There are designers who cannot handle the technology or resent overlaying this level of control on their design process. This is counterproductive to integrated practice. By allowing these attitudes you may be positioning yourself for a sub-optimized process.

It is best if the designer, as a minimum, creates the concept prototype. Analysis and costing are also ideally designer functions, supported by technical experts and integrated databases.

The process works best when the designer uses the technology tools to consider alternatives, at the BEGINNING. Tapping into all of your firm’s resources to get the Validation right will make sure that your projects start right.


The BIM process is by its very nature sustainable. When you work in a BIM process, you are by definition eliminating waste and reducing the inefficiencies that plague the building industry. As an inherently sustainable process, you are making a major impact.

BIM models give you many advantages over the traditional process. Your bim tools allow you to analyze energy use. The same is true for resource reduction, daylighting, and solar energy. You can make adjustments and try multiple options quickly and inexpensively. Using the same tools, you can also evaluate environmental safety, security, and a wide range of other issues.

Everyone should participate in this process.

We describe the Validation Process in a linear fashion. That is how courses work. In practice, the steps move about. Design Criteria might come at the same time or before the Digital Prototype. The Cost Model might happen based on the Digital Repository Model created in Needs Analysis. You change the flow to work best for you and your project. The parts should all be there. At times, they occur in different orders.

Needs Analysis

You start with a Needs Analysis that focuses on understanding the client’s physical and underlying issues.

  • Time—Document time goals, project performance requirements, flexibility, and restraints using scheduling and mind-mapping software.
  • Constraints—Document financial, site, regulatory, and expandability issues.
  • Mission—Document owner business requirements and any change management issues.
  • Goals & Objectives—Document organizational goals, form and image goals, and functional requirements.
  • Economic—Document management issues and financial restraints.

During this step, documentation can take several forms, depending on the level of project integration.

The status of the owner’s BIM resources also becomes a factor. If your client has implemented integrated systems, much of this material may already be available within as-built grade bim models, IFC files, and other formats.

An owner who has implemented a BIM-based capital asset management program may have tightly integrated business process and facility asset information. If so, much of this effort revolves around data extraction and verification to support your project.

In the vast majority of situations today, owners have not created not implemented BIM nor integrated their archives and business processes. In this case, your efforts become much like any traditional fact-finding and site survey task, with the added requirement of processing the results to integrate with a BIM solution.

Documentation should feed to a data structure in a standardized format. The goal is to develop normalized data that easily integrates with rules-based planning systems. 
By example: normalized data can take the form of a spreadsheet with predefined rows and columns properly named.

In many cases, access to such rules-based systems will not be available. In this case, you should manage data within a standard database structure, using a database-driven system such as a mind mapping solution or within a Type 1 Prototype.

Digital Repository Model (DRM)

A DRM is a bim structure that acts as a data container to hold project information and owner legacy data. The DRM acts as a bucket to hold available information and can take several forms. The advantage of using a DRM to hold data is that you can develop it further with minimal data loss or rework.

Program Analysis

In the Program Analysis, you break down client requirements and structure the data to get a clear picture of relationships.

  • Physical—Diagram and understand project use, space requirements, relationships, and adjacencies.
  • Schedule—Analyze phasing, occupancy requirements, and delivery issues.
  • Function—Develop logic diagrams, block diagrams, and functional characteristics.
  • Strategy—Develop initial delivery and procurement strategy.

Many options exist for this step. The main purpose of this step is for you to understand the project and to develop initial concepts for possible solutions. In the next phase, you will begin to create prototypical models to generate the parametric data required for detailed analysis.

In this phase, you become fluent with project requirements, owner issues, concerns, and limits. Therefore, you should use tools that give you this level of clarity. You should also school yourself to use tools that generate and manage data similar to those used for Needs Analysis.

We have found that the best tool for both analyzing and presenting this data is Mindjet’s MindManager. This tool allows you to assess relationships and to communicate them through the entire team. The downside is MindManager’s lack of direct linkages to the bim prototype model.

Other possibilities for consideration are Trelligence Affinity, Beck Technologies DProfile and the Onuma Planning System (OPS). At the time of this writing, all three products are commercially available. These products feed directly to bim modelers.

Digital Prototype

The information from the Digital Prototype stage becomes the baseline for all future development. It becomes the “Objective Measure of Success” for the project. The goal is to define a solution that you can implement successfully within the owner’s goals. This solution becomes the platform for studying and testing assumptions.

Concept Vision Model (CVM)

A CVM builds upon the data and structure input to the Digital Repository Model (DRM) and your Program Analysis to create a virtual building model. In concept, this model is a high-level concept sketch. In a manual design situation, you would traditionally develop the concept using overlays and light tracing paper.

The CVM is a valuable data asset. Anchor it in reality. It allows you to add more and more information over time. Because of this, the data that goes into the CVM should be as accurate as possible. At the beginning, the information will be incomplete.

You can look at the process of entering data as a sifting process. As you start out, your data will be very grainy and coarse. Over time, you will sift your data to make it finer and finer. At some future point, you will have a virtual representation of the real world.

Understanding this process of sifting your information to make it more and more precise is critical to efficient and economical BIM.

Depending on the capabilities of your bim modeling solution, CVMs may range from a study of geometry with rules-based parameters attached—to virtual building shell structures created from intelligent planning objects—to a completely built-up virtual model with floors, walls, ceiling, roofs, et al. As a bim solution, you can extract great quantities of design analysis data from any of these approaches to the CVM.

Site Data

Site Data—the site information that you include in your CVM can take many forms. Your options range from detailed site survey to working with satellite mapping.

Google Earth data is georeferenced. It clearly includes context. It allows you to maintain your model within a consistent and repeatable context that others can work with as well. However, it is not always high resolution. Aerial photography or other satellite mapping may show finer detail. It is sometimes not as accurate as a site survey (and sometimes you must be that accurate). 
Google Earth usually meets the standard for granularity at this stage. You will likely find that Google Earth provides the best and most consistent level of site data to support the CVM-level model.

Model management—Underpinning the entire BIM process are consistent archives of owner information. Any system for organizing data must allow consistent and safe ways to store and find your information. Your data must be shareable, in a consistent and repeatable way.

In a paper-based system, management of information created libraries. In the BIM world, model servers are the equivalent. However, today model servers are nearly nonexistent.

As an individual firm, you will have to look everywhere to find one. If you find affordable model servers, you may find that they are either too restrictive or cost too much for day-to-day productivity.

Develop a strategy for model storage and sharing that will let you move to a model server solution, in the near future. Today, the best you can do is to add model servers to your ongoing learning list.

Keep up with what’s available and look at them all.

Sketching and presentation—many designers believe that you cannot do conceptual design as well on the computer as by hand. They fear creative losses. They look at the computer as a production-only tool. They do not commit to the effort to learn how to design using digital tools. They cling to the belief that they will always be able to sketch by hand and have someone “draft” it for them on the computer. They could not be more wrong.

The trick is to find a tool that you like, and to learn how to use it well. You made an effort to learn how to sketch with pencils or markers. You have to make an effort and to learn how to use these tools, as well.

Today’s best tools allow unprecedented levels of freedom while eliminating unnecessary work. Used correctly they allow you design freedom while overlaying design constraints. They offer the ability to break the rules, knowing what the rules really are, and knowing the impacts of your decisions. When you complete the design, you have eliminated a lot of the mundane and repetitive production work.

We sketch in our bim modeling solution and Google’s SketchUp! We use a variety of photo and illustration products from the beginning of every project.

Cost Model

The Cost Model is a financial planning tool to help the owner understand project cost constraints. We develop the values in a process similar to the “Design Phase Program Estimating” support used by agency construction managers and pioneered by George Heery, CM Associates, and others in the late 1960s.

The entire validation process happens quickly. For typical projects, the entire validation process takes about two weeks. Few projects take longer. The Cost Model comes together without slowing anything down.

The Cost Model relies on quantities extracted from the prototype model. Since we are usually working with a CVM at this stage, missing quantities are projected using rules-based tools and our internal knowledge base. We then use a combination of RSMeans’ Cost Data, DC&D Technologies’ D4Cost, and internal cost data to arrive at cost projections.

When used collaboratively with the owner, the Cost Model has proven to be a highly effective tool for controlling project outcomes. The goal is to create a model, which includes cost placeholders for all anticipated costs in the project. This model becomes a design constraint. This model then becomes the objective measure of financial success for the project.

Factor scheduling and phasing into the Cost Model. Without understanding phasing, estimates can miss critical costs. Without a delivery strategy, it is easy to miss both opportunities and dangers. Without an understanding of when construction operations will occur, risk management is more complicated.

Start scheduling and strategy assumptions in the Needs Analysis step. They should both be included in the Cost Model. By this stage, you should have a concept for the planned procurement and implementation of the construction. You should also have a clearly drawn timeline.

We usually do this with a scheduler such as MSProject. We then export schedule data to Mindjet’s MindManager for additional procurement and implementation analysis.

Make cost management one of the most important pieces of your process.

Good online estimating tools are available at a reasonable cost. With judicious application of construction knowledge, common sense, and a willingness to ask questions and learn, you can improve your estimating process. Depending on your resources, this may require you to associate with a good estimator. It may require you to get additional cost management training. It may require you to hire someone with estimating skills. However you do it, jump into cost control.

Base the Cost Model on data from the CVM and parametric rules-based cost data.

A hybrid process

We rely on a hybrid process designed to create useful data without delaying the project.

Our team leader for this stage was the chief estimator for a medium sized general contractor, prior to working with us. He knows about deadlines and pressure from the contractor’s viewpoint. He maintains our internal cost data and does a lot of the hard work to pull this together. This lets us turn the Cost Model around quickly. It allows us to review and adjust. He makes it possible to overcome a lack of integrated parametric estimating tools.

You will need to develop your own hybrid estimating system, at least for the short run.

Dependable parametric costing systems are not readily available at the time of this writing. Vendors have started to focus on this area and given time, systems that directly link to your bim model will be available. When integrated and interoperable parametric estimating systems become available, you should change. Until then, this is one area where you can make major improvements to your projects, even though they require a level of personal intervention.

You make it happen.

Design Criteria

Design Criteria is the process of documenting the project’s strategic decisions and the assumptions that drive costing and the prototype. Here you focus on the tools that make the BIM process so powerful. This is where you run tests and analyze the model.


The prototypes, models, and analyses developed to this point are “parametric.” Define these parameters by using rules of thumb, knowledge databases, standards, accepted practices, and experience.

You are able to pull a great deal of information from these parametric objects. As we discussed earlier, if you are designing a kindergarten classroom for twenty children you can—with a high degree of certainty—project the number of desks, light fixtures, and toilets. You can project the square footage required, as well as ceiling, walls, and floors. You can project most of the “things” that make up the classroom.

A mature bim solution allows you to embed these parameters. The embedded parameters can be data—lists of items tied to a measurement. Alternatively, they can be intelligent objects that have graphical representations. A chair can look like a chair or can be a description of a chair. In either case, your bim tools give you the capability to test and analyze the object.

These embedded parametric objects form the heart of the project. They establish the scope, scale, and quantities. You can estimate them. You can analyze them. However, they do not include everything that makes up the project. For that, YOU fill in the blanks.

The goal of the Design Criteria step is to document the assumptions that you make when you fill in the blanks in the project’s parameters. You are creating “placeholders” that represent items that you know from experience will be required. Without these placeholder assumptions, things will be missing-you will create a flawed analysis.


Owners want to understand how their projects compare with similar projects. When you do not provide comparisons, your cost model will naturally be compared to out-of-context “cost per square foot” evaluations. It is likely human nature to test this type of information.

These comparisons will at best compare apple to oranges. Some will include site work, some will not. None will include project soft costs or interior fit up. These comparisons will make you look bad. They will not improve comprehension. They will get the owner worried. They will create confusion, not certainty.

Comparable analysis eliminates this problem. By actively leading this step, you help your clients evaluate their project based on standards correctly applied.

We use DC&D Technologies’ D4Cost system almost exclusively for this step.

The system allows you to identify a group of similar projects. It then allows you to adjust the projects to local conditions and the projected construction time. Since D4Cost is a database-driven system, the project data is consistent and repeatable. You adjust the level of detail to the owner’s requirement.

Pro Forma

The Pro Forma presents the client with the data to explore options for alternate approaches, reductions, and additions.

We selected the Pro Forma terminology to represent the partially complete nature of the data prior to this review and approval. In this step, you review and analyze project information with the owner. From this review, you make adjustments before finalizing in the Validated Program step.


One of the goals of the Validation Process is to frame the project with the components required for successful implementation. Successfully achieving this goal, results in a solution that closely matches the owner’s requirements.

An all-inclusive solution such as this provides the optimal approach to visioning a project. However, real-world issues (budgets, political restraints, etc.) often require compromises and adjustments. Because of this, it is critical that cost reductions, potential additions, design options, and other alternate approaches be included in the Pro Forma.

Validated program

Your final product is a validated program that defines limits and possibilities, and guides the steps that follow. The Validated Program can take many forms, depending on the client and situation. Ideally, an interactive Web-based document presents the data without losing the connection to the integrated environment. For many clients, a formal series of documents including a bound report, a presentation for public use and a series of databases and bim models in the project Web portal are required.

The solutions in the validated program serve several functions:

  • They become the space use program and measure of success for continuation of the project.
  • They become the statement of owner requirements to guide the design architect.
  • They become the basis of procurement documents for design/builders.

Managing the new diversity


Purchasing systems to achieve better results


Capitol assets on steroids


Knowledge capture saves the day


Databases for advanced BIM


Create your own BIM objects