Back in 2012 I updated a classic BIM graphic to show how BIM can bankrupt your firm. You can argue about the specific curves, but the essence is true. Here’s the original image showing how BIM shifts when the bulk of an architect’s time is spent:
While these two graphics make a clear case for sticking with BIM, and for describing the differences between CAD and BIM workflows, they are misleading. As such people view these images and notice that it doesn’t align with their experience. BIM doesn’t save that much time. CAD isn’t that bad. There’s a reason for that. We are looking at idealized curves. The BIM curve hides the truth that BIM never actually looks like that. It’s simplified for marketing. It’s devised to tell a simple truth: with BIM you spend more time on design and less on documentation. But of course selling the idea and living the idea are two different things. There are actually two variants of this graph we need to look at: BIM without templates and BIM with templates. Here’s what BIM looks like without a good template:BIM without a template feels very familiar. Just like CAD, there is still a mountain of work to do during the documentation phase. This is actually one of the reasons why panic sets in. People implicitly understand the work shift represented by the original idealized BIM graph and start freaking out when they see the mountain of time ahead of them in real life. The bump is scary as it reminds them of CAD and how much work that involves. Instead of trusting the work flow, they panic and everything falls apart. If you actually do the math (or use ARCHICAD’s ability to display the area of a fill) and compare the area under each curve (which is a proxy for total time spent on a project), BIM without a template is still more efficient than 2D CAD, though of course more time consuming than the idealized BIM that the marketers are selling us on. Even if we just work this way, as long as we accept the shift of work isn’t as great as we were sold, BIM is still better and more efficient—and this is discounting all the other benefits of BIM.
Working with BIM in this manner of course is stupid. It’s something we all have to deal with when we start using ARCHICAD or REVIT or another competitor, but we must quickly move beyond this phase. To effectively work in BIM, the secret to success is a strong template. And templates take time. What do I mean by a template? I mean anything and everything that is standard across projects: title blocks, page layouts, standard details, organization methods, graphics, generic data, typical construction elements, IFC schemes… As architects we reuse a lot of data from project to project. If we don’t, we’re either foolish or working for amazingly specialized clients. And let me comment on the thought that just popped into your head: no, your clients aren’t the ones I’m talking about. They aren’t that unique.
Templates are the starting point for a project. The better your template it is, whether because it has a ton of information embedded in it or because it allows you to work quickly in a clean environment, the more time you’ll save on a project. Here’s what BIM looks like with a good template:
BIM with a template is faster than how BIM is marketed to us. But there’s a catch of course. It’s faster during the life of the project, but I had to extend the graph to talk about time before the project. That time is significant and scary. As mentioned earlier, if you calculate the area under each curve, you’ll get the total time for each method. Of course this is all conceptual, but if you agree that the graphs feel right, then the numbers behind them are of just as much value. Let’s assume CAD = 100% time. How do the other curves compare?
- CAD = 100% baseline time
- BIM without templates = 90% of baseline time
- Idealized BIM = 70% of baseline time
- BIM with templates = 50% of baseline time
- Template creation = 33% of baseline time
- Our old panic curve = 150% of baseline time
What does this tell us? Unless you are dedicated to BIM, you’re never going to see the benefit from a time standpoint. And if BIM isn’t saving you time, you aren’t freeing up hours to either provide more services or do more projects. The numbers are interesting: BIM without templates (90%) and BIM with templates but only used on one project (83%) are very similar. And both numbers are above the idealized BIM (70%). So both feel like the marketers have been lying to us. Do you really want to upend your entire business model for a ten or twenty percent speed improvement? Not if it takes you a year of lost time to reach that (because of course all these numbers are worse when you are also brand new to a workflow). Each is an improvement on the old ways, but it’s not significant enough to feel it. All are traps. Add in the panic curve and BIM starts to feel like a conspiracy.
However if you take templates seriously, if you support all the prep work (training, software upgrades, research, templates…) then amazing things happen. As we BIM people like to think in multiple dimensions, it’s important to look at this graph as part of a continuum. It is not one project, but many. And templating is not a do once exercise. It is something that needs cultivation and maintenance. For all the graphs without templates, a series of projects look just like the same curve over and over and over again. But templates are different. If you look at a series of projects adhering to the same template, the results change over time:
Templates need continual work. In the timeline above, I’m showing a small, but constant amount of time dedicated to improving the template between each project. The goal of this continual work is to constantly move work from the project to the template. Each time you do a project, return to and improve your template. The result is that the next project takes less time. If for every hour you spend on your template you can cut an hour out of a project, you are winning. Big time. Each time you shave off a little time from the previous project and reinvest that time into the template, you are reaping exponential benefits. The time you spend on improving the template is beneficial to ALL SUBSEQUENT PROJECTS.
I’m estimating that a good template takes about one third of the time of a real project to develop. It could be more or less. It doesn’t matter. All the math still works. But there’s also a way to make that time vanish. I have made my ARCHICAD template available for everyone. It’s geared towards the residential market in the USA, but it’s easily adaptable and usable anywhere by anyone for any type of project. Whether you take mine for free, toss a few dollars my way, or buy another template, there are resources available to you to shrink that 33% number to near zero. The argument isn’t should or shouldn’t you use a template with BIM. It’s whose are you going to use? Yours or one provided to you by an expert template developer? If you don’t want to make your own template, you should be using one developed by someone else. I of course only use ARCHICAD, but these numbers work for any software. If you use REVIT, find a template. Or make one. And if you have one, share it. It is the hidden costs of templates (either making them or working without them) that limits the value proposition of BIM. It’s almost 2016. No more BIM without templates.
My Life with BIM
All these graphs describe how our lives have changed since the AEC industry truly became computer based. As the time it takes to complete a project changes, you need to think about how your fee structure adapts. Do you charge more an hour? Do you make less per project? Do you offer more services? Do you do more projects a year? Or do you spend more time relaxing with your family? And how do you pay for template time? Is that semi-frequent templating work built into the front end of your projects? Do you do project initiation work that actually benefits all other projects? Or do you raise your rates by a certain percentage to cover that unbillable time?
If you find yourself doing the same work over and over again, move it to the template. If you find parts of your job dull, move it to the template. If you find some aspect of your work is slowing you down, move it to the template.
If your life with BIM doesn’t look like any of these graphs, why? What are you seeing? My experience correlates with the BIM + Template curve. And I’ve talked with so many people in all the curves. So whether or not the exact slopes and peaks are correct, I’m very confident of the underlying truth. Subscribe to my blog to read more about the tricky world of being an Architect in the 21st century: Shoegnome on Facebook, Twitter, and RSS feed.