Is for a BIM Manager acceptable not to know Software tools?
The real target of this article is not for people who are already BIM Managers but for those planning to start a career in BIM. If you are already one of us, I’m sure you already have figured out the best recipe in order to achieve the needed mix of technical, social and managerial skills. But recently, several times people have asked me what is the best way to start a career in BIM and what skills are needed in order to be a good BIM Manager. I hope I can clarify some important issues and add my two cents about the long debated topic regarding software skills in BIM Management.
How many times have you heard:
- BIM is not a software, but people and a process.
- In BIM Management software knowledge can be less relevant than Social and Managerial skills.
Well, we all agree on these things. We all know that understanding BIM requires more than just knowing the software. Proficiency in BIM requires comprehension of: process, people management and business. In fact, I’m the first one to say that a deep software knowledge doesn’t in itself make you a BIM Manager. But unfortunately sometimes I see this line:
“You can be a good BIM Manager even with limited software skills.”
To me this is not true, and it’s certainly not true for the majority of the BIM Manager i’ve met. My heart sinks every time I see courses offered guaranteeing that you can get all the needed software knowledge to be a BIM Manager in one or two weeks. Their idea is that you don’t need to have a deep software understanding for the role, so you can learn all you need in a short time. For those that organize courses like this, BIM is mainly management skills and limited software knowledge.
So where do I stand in this argument? Are strong software skills needed in order to pursue a career as BIM Manager? In other words: when is it acceptable for a BIM manager to not know the software?
In my opinion, if this is acceptable, is it only for a very small percentage of the top level BIM Manager population. I’m talking about those who have passed a certain career point. For the great majority, the rest of us, not knowing the software in depth is simply not acceptable.
Yes, for those top level BIM Managers who work in big companies, those that employ thousands of people and usually with several offices, leading the implementation of BIM at that level one doesn’t have time to take care of software directly. In a position like a Corporate BIM Manager, BIM Leader, BIM Director doesn’t mean that software is not relevant at that level. It simply means that you have other persons to take care of it, perhaps a series of software specialists helping you.
At least this is my perception. I don’t know many of them, and the focus of this article is not about them. (If you are a high level executive reading this, please feel free to join the conversation and share your opinion).
This article is really for the rest of us, the average BIM Managers.
This article is about people like me, and it speaks to the people that are looking to build a career path in order to become BIM Managers. I’m the BIM Manager of 80+ people in a Full Bim Office and I manage a small team of BIM coordinators, standard developers and library content creators.
For more than 80%-90% of my time I don’t directly work on projects. I spend more time on emails, pdf, excels than on Revit, but almost every activity I perform, I gain a great benefit from my deep software skills. The fact is, I could probably survive less than a day in my office without them !
Software skills are a core necessity for a Bim Manager in addition to Managerial and Social Skills. A deep software understanding forms the foundation of the average BIM Manager’s expertise. Like a cake, on top of this you can lay the other skills.
For the average Bim Manager is it acceptable to not know the software tools?
Absolutely not at all. A strong technical background is needed and without this it is nearly impossible to be a good BIM Manager.
Here is my personal Top 3 on why software proficiency is something you can’t avoid in order to be a good BIM Manager:
1 – Software is an instrument and a process is made by using it.
People who know me, know how much I like this concept from the Russian-French philosopher Alexandre Xoire. An instrument is something that allows a human being to do something that before was impossible or almost impossible. A binocular is an instrument, and it allows one to see something that otherwise would be too far to be observed. An instrument is able to evolve a process and to make previous tools obsolete. To make it simple is a game changer. Some softwares are instruments, and they have changed the game. When Rhinoceros came out in 1994 it was a revolution. It made Nurbs and complex spine geometry accessible for the masses. Also true with Grasshopper. It made scripting accessible to people who weren’t able to do programming. Into another field, Revit did the same, making the production of Informative Models accessible. Those and many others had a disruptive impact in the building industry. Today, it looks like Enscape and Flux are going to have a similar impact.
As an average BIM Manager you are also the head of the Research & Development department (if you are lucky enough to have one) and your principals are expecting you to evaluate new tools in order to keep your office competitive on the market. How are you going to judge them if you aren’t able to use them? Is that new tool really the right one for your process or are you just wasting money implementing it? If you aren’t able to evaluate these tools by yourself you’ll rely on other peoples’ opinions and this will make you much less effective.
2 – Software skills are needed in order to sustain your managerial and social skills.
Let me picture this for you: you are the mighty BIM Manager. You are leading the implementation of bim in your office and suddenly, one day during the coffee break, the new office intern asks you what’s the best strategy to model a complex staircase in Revit. Even if it is not your task to teach how to model and there is a software specialist to do that, the new intern doesn’t know that and is asking directly to you and doing so in front of several of your colleagues. There are two options: in the first one you answer something like “well, I’m not that good in Revit, please ask someone else” the intern looks at you a little bit perplexed, smiles and walks away asking himself who is really leading this “Revit Implementation”.
In the second option you answer something like “Well, there are a couple of strategies and best practices I recommend: you can do it in this way or in another. I’ll stop by your desk so that we can take a look at this staircase”. Between these two scenarios which one do you think will improve more your credibility and leadership ?
Let’s see this from another point of view: your principal wants to know how long it takes to model that complex facade for one of your top projects in the office. He needs to know it in order to calculate a fee for that work. Are you able to quantify it by yourself or do you need to trust someone else’s opinion? And after that are you able to explain to someone else how to do this?
3 – You are the top of the chain of responsibility for delivering high quality BIM Models.
So you are the top of the chain of responsibility for delivering BIM Models on time, with the right data and under budget. You are there to make the models work, even if you are a real BIM Manager and you aren’t personally working directly on your office models. (Yes, I have some bad news: if you are a Bim Manager but are still working most of your time on projects, you aren’t a real Bim Manager, or yours is not a Bim Office). In supervising a small team of Bim Coordinators, who is going to be the person your Bim Coordinators are looking to when they experience problems? Will your coordinators respect you if aren’t able to understand their problems? If you cannot speak their language, how are you going to communicate?
Want to be a BIM Manager? Start with learning the software.
What is important to underline is that being really good with software can decidedly boost your managerial and Social Skills. In other words you can put a manager with zero medical experience to run an hospital, but is clearly best if you choose someone that is experienced in that field. On the other hand being a good surgeon doesn’t automatically make you a good candidate to run the hospital. In a similar way in order to be a good BIM Manager you need to possess several different skills coming from different fields. Is it a tough job and there is no way to cut corners. My advice to those wanting to pursue a career in BIM is to plan and achieve constant learning of the software. Especially in the early stages of your career you must focus on identifying and mastering the key software for your fields.
If you want to know more about the different skills needed in BIM, I suggest you to take a look to the BIM Framework Blog.
Don’t trust anyone telling you that software skills are not that relevant in your Bim career. Sure it’s true that some top level guys don’t work on software anymore. But check their CVs on Linkedin, and look how they started: You will find that most of them have an strong technical background and they achieved it working as a software ninja for several years. There are no real ways to cut corners on this: to become good with software you need to use them continuously for several years. Taking advantage of digital designing tools is more than a profession, it’s a culture. To be a good Bim Manager it is essential for you to be part of that culture.
I know this topic is full of strong opinions from both sides. I have debated this many times and have developed several FAQs that I think are useful. Before you disagree, please have a look:
1 – Q: Being super good with software makes me a Bim Manager?
A: Not at all. BIM is more than software, and to me Process and Social Skills are very important. You just need to have all of the skills to succeed.
2 – Q: In order to be a good BIM Manager do I have to be a Champion of every software my office uses?
A: Again no, this is nearly impossible even in a medium size office. There are specialists that spend most of their time working on one single software. But it is your duty to understand how every software works and commit to learn most of the commands in each. The ones needed for inter-operability are crucial for you for example.
3 – Q: Everyone is using Revit in my office. Should I target on becoming a Revit champion?
A: Yes you should. If you are a BIM Manager it’s an excellent idea to focus on becoming a champion in the major authoring tool in your office.
4 – Q: But are there some people in BIM that don’t have software skills?
A: Yes there are some people like that. Usually they work in niche fields like Universities, research Institutes or government organizations. For most people, the professional core, software experience is something you must have.
5 – Q: Does a BIM Manager spend most of his time modelling on Revit?
A: No he doesn’t. His function is to manage, so he doesn’t spent much time working with software. However, because most of your time involves matters where if you need to have that software knowledge, you will perform better having it.
6 – Q: How do you learn a software?
A: I believe the best way to learn a software is to use it to deliver projects. The software is not the goal, it is the medium. Learning it in the context of doing a project is the ideal method. If you are still a student, try to take advantage of your design exams to learn new tools.
Originally Published on LinkedIn.