Developing a Learning Strategy for BIM

The following blog is a summary of my presentation at the BIM Level 3 & Beyond Conference ( at Manchester University on 29th June 2016.  A video link appears at the end of this article.

As we face the move to BIM Level 2 and beyond, design professionals are all being asked to work in a smarter, faster, more efficient, more data-rich, more interconnected way.  We are grappling with new processes, new deliverables, new ways of partnering and sharing data.  It goes without saying that we will need to learn and adopt new skills in order to respond to these challenges.  In order to cope with this change, I believe we need a learning strategy for BIM.

A good way to put this in context is to have a look at this Venn diagram that many of us are familiar with.  It is a definition of BIM, describing it as equal parts technology, process and people.  Certainly we have all spent a lot of time on our technology strategy.  And no doubt on the process side of things too.  But what about the people?  If we are to believe this premise that True BIM is the convergence of Technology and Process and People, shouldn’t we be spending time on our Ppicture11eople Strategy?  At least giving it equal attention?  You may say, well, we don’t need a strategy for the people side of BIM.  We just find the best people we can find and put them in the right place.  I would like to suggest that you will need much more than that to transition to BIM successfully.

Component #1:  Multi-level approach

The first part of a learning strategy for BIM should be a recognition that BIM affects all levels of your organisation.  You are changing much more than just the software you are using.  Without the right skills at the operational and strategic levels as well, your move to BIM will be a difficult one.  You need to adopt a multi-level approach for this multi-level change.

Component #2:  Know your outcomes

The second part of your Learning Strategy is all about knowing your outcomes.  What are the skills you need within your organisation to make this transition?

Are there different BIM roles within your organisation?  Absolutely.  Not just the design team, but at all levels.  What do we want our sales team to know about BIM?  What skills should our surveyors have?  Our asset managers?  Our engineers?  Our IT Managers? Our directors?  There are different skills for different BIM roles in your business.  I believe you should write these skills down.  It will take time, but when you are done, you will have a BIM “skills map” for your organisation.  This map will be a very powerful tool for driving the decisions you make about recruitment, promotions within your company, project management, and most certainly training.

Develop a BIM Skills Map

At a technical level, you will have a lot of this information already – it should be easy enough for you to identify your lead users, and define their skills.  These are users who have figured out how BIM should work at their level in your organisation.  The challenge is then getting those ideal skills out to a wider audience.  A skills map will help.

Component #3: Know your starting point!

Once you have developed that skills map, you then need a way to determine how your people are aligned to that map.  I am often surprised at how many organisations do not have a skills assessment tool in place.  It begs the question how are they managing what they are not measuring?  How can you chart a course if you don’t know where you are starting?  Early on in a BIM implementation, the odds are that you don’t know what you don’t know.  And that is a very risky position to be in.  Having a tool to identify skills eliminates this risk.  It also lowers the risk when you are adding new people to your team.

Component #4: Understand there are different types of learners

If you are responsible or partly responsible for your BIM strategy, and in turn your BIM learning strategy, it’s critical that you understand this fact:  different people learn in different ways.  Your approach to learning BIM needs to incorporate different approaches for different learners. This is a big topic and probably one for another blog.  picture14But whether you know it or not, your personal approach to learning will fall into one of four “styles” – Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, or Reading / Writing (sometimes also referred to as a Subject Matter Expert).  There are different learner types as well.  Now you may have a fabulous trainer who understands all this.  But please know that one approach does not fit all.  Believe me, if your learning strategy consists of only one approach – such as giving your teams access to You Tube videos – your move to BIM will be a roller-coaster.

Component #5:  A great training function

“The development of news skills is the critical enabler for the transition to more effective working practices enabled by BIM. Investment in high quality training (for clients, suppliers and students) is key to achieving success.”     –  Richard Lane, UK BIM Task Group

What Richard says here is so true.  Nothing will affect your transition to BIM more than user expertise.  What Richard did not go on to say is exactly what high quality training looks like.  Well, in my 30 years in the training business, I believe great training delivery boils down to four things:

  1. Expertise with the software. (This can be measured / proven)
  2. The ability to share that expertise effectively.  (Not always a given!)
  3. The industry knowledge to advise you on how to overcome the problems you encounter on a daily basis.  (The instructor has to have walked a mile in your shoes.)
  4. The willingness to tailor the training to meet your needs

Component #6:  The learning begins when the training ends

I believe the two next most important components of your learning strategy are mentoring and support.  Once someone is in a position where they are applying what they have learned, they need mentoring to put their learning into context.  And of course the most important questions don’t come up during training – they come up in the middle of that first project.  That is when a new user is under real pressure to learn.  It’s critical they have support at that moment.  picture13In addition, there is always unstructured learning that is going on.  People watching on-line videos, Googling a term, asking a colleague, “hey, how do I do this?” . . . it’s all learning.  The more of that learning you can capture, the better your move to BIM will be.  How do you encourage a learning culture?  Do colleagues share their knowledge, or do they keep what they know to themselves?  And if it’s the latter, what are you doing to change that?

Some of the most important outside-the-classoom learning that I’ve seen around BIM takes place when you have an independent review – either through a review of one of your building models or a review of your BIM protocols.  The learning that takes place around one of these reviews is a lever you can use to raise your game.  You can then apply these new best practices to every project that follows.

Component #7:  Get a learning platform

Okay, we are taking a big step forward here.  But in order to keep up with the rapid pace of change around BIM, it’s key.  That step is creating a learning management system (LMS) for your organisation.  An LMS is exactly what it says – a system for managing your learning.  It is a platform for you to provide your teams access to on-line training and assessments.  Your LMS should also allow you to track a learner’s progress.  Imagine for a second the impact of your teams being able to learn essential skills anytime, anywhere, at their own pace, and then applying those skills immediately.  And then going back and learning some more.  On demand technical training with minimal employee downtime.  It’s an exciting idea, and one that more and more organisations are turning to.picture15

A commitment to ongoing learning needs to be central to our BIM learning strategy.  We are used to thinking of training as something we do once, when we start to use new software for the first time.  Sometimes we are lucky to get any training at all.  That old thinking puts our move to BIM in jeopardy.  We need to accept that continuous learning is part of this new BIM landscape we are navigating.  This attitude is captured in the Japanese business philosophy called “kaizen” which focuses on applying small, incremental improvements on a daily basis.  Adopting a kaizen approach to learning BIM will serve you well.  And implementing a learning management system will help you deliver on this approach.

Watch the recording of the full presentation:

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