The BIM Unicorn: Rare Traits of High-Performing 3D Modelers

Consulting companies are people-based organizations and the alignment of skills and projects is critical for successful execution. I ran a building information modeling (BIM) consulting company for several years, and I had a mental model I employed to inform business decisions. Examining this mental model can help provide insight into your own skills, skills of others around you, and skills you will look for when hiring for BIM positions.

The mental model is very simple. To effectively execute on projects, an individual has to have three components: modeling skill, tradecraft, and project experience. The assessment of an individual's abilities would then inform how to approach a given project. Below is a description of each of these components followed by the project approach.

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The Debug Analogy in AEC

Let's talk about software debugging in relation to what we do in architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC).

Many of us have done a bit of coding as part of our education. When I was at UC Berkeley, engineering students used MATLAB to learn the basics of software in a class that was widely recognized as one of the more difficult undergraduate prerequisites. One of the concepts we had to learn was how to effectively "debug" our work. Syntax errors were pretty simple to deal with because they were highlighted. We'd track variable values through code, write text file logs, and even write code for testing. In addition to actual debugging, we learned how to write functions, subroutines, and compartmentalize our code so the work was less likely to have errors. In one semester, we learned the basics, which merely hinted at the error corrections done by software engineers as they debug.

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The Missing Discussion in Construction Labor Productivity

The historical trend of labor productivity is oft-referenced in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. In a nutshell, construction productivity over the last 50 years has been nearly flat while all other similar industries have had robust gains. Stanford University’s Dr. Paul Teicholz has a detailed analysis of this trend. Construction Industry Resources, LLC has a similar viewpoint, and the consulting company McKinsey adds their take. But there's one discussion that we think is important to note because it is an integral part of our industry and deserves more discussion.

We're adding tech to the AEC industry that improves workflow productivity, but where are the overall productivity gains?

As an industry, we need to discuss this problem so that we're adding technology in ways that realize value for our stakeholders. Consider the technology we've added to the AEC industry over the last 50 years:

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The Perceived Flexibility of Electrical Systems in BIM

It costs money to use BIM on a project, and it's natural to weigh costs and benefits to get the best outcome. Electrical systems have the reputation for being the most flexible in the practice of BIM, which results in electrical systems receiving the least attention during preconstruction. For example, electrical is most likely to have the lowest level of development (LOD) in BIM execution plans and is most likely not to be modeled by project designers before subcontractors are engaged.

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The Study of Clicks

Previously, we spoke about how virtual reality (VR) will be limited to the passive viewing of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) information if we don’t create better tools. Notably, we pointed out that mouse clicks demonstrate how constrained we are to the desktop environment. Clicking the mouse is difficult to do in a VR environment and most of our tools require lots of clicking.

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Why 'V' Doesn't Stand for 'Vomit'

Virtual reality (VR) is a frequent topic of discussion in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. A recent article from Engineering.com asks whether the "V" in VR stands for "vomit," due to the tendency of some VR programs to induce nausea. Based on our experiences, the nauseating effects of VR are overstated, at least in relation to its applications in AEC.

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Why Software Will Eat Construction

Marc Andreessen is an entrepreneur and investor who co-founded the web browser company Netscape and currently runs one of the most successful venture capital firms in the world, Andreessen Horowitz. Andreessen wrote an essay in The Wall Street Journal titled "Why Software Is Eating the World," which we think should be carefully studied by those of us in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. The AEC industry is about to undergo a revolution, and an understanding of the trends identified by Andreessen could be the most significant competitive advantage an AEC firm can have in the coming years.

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