Monthly Archives: August 2009

Leaderless BIM

Are you a starfish or spider? You might be wondering what this has to do with BIM and Integrated Design. It turns out – quite a lot.

While Integrated Design is still a relatively new and untested process for the vast majority of organizations and teams, the trend is catching-on with many owners, traditional design firms and contractors. One of the consequences of this change is the make-up of the Integrated Design team. No longer limited to the Owner, Architect and Contractor, the Integrated Design team expands to include engineers, consultants, subcontractors, suppliers, construction managers and other stakeholders in the design and construction of the project.

In other words, the team has flattened with an inevitable blurring of roles as collaborative teams integrate activities especially early in the design process.

What we are talking about here is a Leaderless BIM.

You might think that the transition to BIM and Integrated Design are scary enough without suggesting the removal of a centralized leadership role from an already expanding team but in a very real sense the entire process may in fact improve with the removal of the top-down command and control hierarchy of many already existing project teams and design firms.

Project teams today are often described in industry literature as fragmented, assembled on “just-as-needed” or “minimum necessary” basis, strongly hierarchical and controlled. Integrated Design teams on the other hand offer an attractive alternative – composed of all project lifecycle stakeholders, assembled early in the process, open and collaborative.

One can eliminate the silo mentality of the centralized firm by collaborating early on with stakeholders and others on the project team by meeting with current and potential owners, construction partners and suppliers to determine how to work more effectively together. In other words, by being more starfish than spider.

The many-legged creatures mentioned above allude to the title of an astonishing book from several seasons ago, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Stanford MBAs Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, a book that addresses the differences between starfish and spider organizations – which analogically describe design firms and their project teams.

A spider, of course, has a head and legs coming out of a centrally positioned body. A centralized firm or team has a clear leader who’s in charge. Get rid of the leader and you paralyze the process.

A decentralized firm or team is a starfish. Since the starfish doesn’t have a head, the major organs are replicated throughout each and every arm.

Though a starfish and a spider generally share the same shape, their internal structure is dramatically different—a headless spider will die while a starfish can survive by regenerating itself from a single amputated leg.

Integrated Design offers the possibility of a truly decentralized project team. It turns out that the gains and outcomes are huge – without having to sacrifice leadership. It’s the type of leadership that changes.

The book provides both new and old vivid examples of decentralized organizations – such as the internet and eBay, and the self-policing Wikipedia and Craigslist. The authors go on to describe a decentralized organization as one that stands on five legs. As with the starfish, it can lose a leg or two and still survive. But when you have all the legs working together, a decentralized firm or team can make a great deal or progress and profit. These five “legs” include:

Leg 1. Circles: small, nonhierarchical groups of people with each group maintaining its own particular habits and norms.

Leg 2. The Catalyst: the person who initiates a circle and then fades away into the background.

Leg 3. Ideology: the glue that holds decentralized organizations together.

Leg 4. A Preexisting Network: infrastructure or preexisting platform to launch from.

Leg 5. A Champion: a relentless promoter of the new idea.

A particularly insightful chapter titled “The Hidden Power of the Catalyst” contains a chart summarizing the different tools that the (centralized firm’s) CEOs and (decentralized team’s) catalysts type of leader draws upon:

CEOs are The Boss, who Command & Control, are Powerful and Directive, operate In the Spotlight, thrive on Order and Organizing,


Catalysts tend to be Peers, who operate based on Trust, are Inspirational and Collaborative, working mostly Behind the Scenes, comfortable with Ambiguity and effective at Connecting.

The Integrated Design process is led by catalysts.

Perhaps most pertinent to this discussion is the role of the catalyst to activate leaderless teams and firms. “Catalysts are bound to rock the boat. They are much better at being agents of change than guardians of tradition. Catalysts do well in situations that call for radical change or creative thinking. They bring innovation, but they’re also likely to create a certain amount of chaos and ambiguity. Put them into a structured environment and they might suffocate. But let them dream and they’ll thrive.” (p. 131)

So how does this all play out in Integrated Design?

“There will be architects who chose not to change their current process, just as there will be owners who prefer traditional methods. The global demand for buildings will continue to support both approaches to architecture for the near future.” Both approaches: Starfish and Spiders.

As Autodesk describes the integrated design process in their wonderful workflow diagram, integrated design enables project teams to use the BIM information “in an integrated environment, increasing efficiency and enabling new ways of working that inspire more creative and sustainable designs.”

How do you determine if your own firm or project team is a starfish? By asking the right questions, including: Is there a single person in charge? Is there a clear division of roles? If you take out a unit, is the organization harmed? Are knowledge & power concentrated or distributed? Is the organization flexible or rigid? Do working groups communicate directly or through intermediaries?

If you’ve answered “no” to each of these questions, we’re looking at a starfish – and you’re onto the right road (and by that I mean the most effective, the most profitable, the most enjoyable to work with firm and team.)

Smaller firms have the same opportunity as larger firms since small firms tend to be agile, reacting quickly to change, and as described by the AIA, “moving independently to adopt new processes and technologies, and their close one-to-one relationship with clients and suppliers give them an advantage.”

For those still concerned about going leaderless – or score a few no’s and some yeses – the authors describe many successful hybrid firms that share qualities of both concepts. As we know from sustainability, there’s much to commend the hybrid – whether automobile, firm or team.



Filed under collaboration, Integrated Design, people, workflow

The ABCs of BIM and Integrated Design

As an experiment this morning I opened the keyword index of the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice (AHPP) to see just how much the architecture profession – and the way we practice – changes due to the advent of BIM and the collaborative process of Integrated Design enabled by this technology. No matter where you find yourself on the BIM journey – training, transitioning or trial-and-error – the world of architecture we are told is about to be turned on its head and all of us will be expected to learn our ABCs all over again. Start now – from A – and don’t let this be an alphabet of regret and remorse but rather the beginnings of a BIM Dictionary, A Bim Ctionary, or if you prefer, a BIMtionary. For here we are not focused on BIM-related words – we have BIM glossaries for that – but instead, and more importantly, our BIM DNA.


Architects and Standard of Care

BIM causes the Standard of Care to evolve. Because BIM results in a model – and indirectly, documents – that are more accurate and exact – the expectation inevitably will be for architects and their work to rise to this new watermark. Architects will be expected to work in BIM.

Accreditation: School

To receive accreditation schools will need to prepare students for working in a BIM environment. Whether BIM is taught in the school program or whether students will be required to pick up the software themselves on their own time is being debated. One thing is certain – recent graduates will be expected to know how to communicate well, collaborate effectively and know how a building is put together.

Alternative Careers

With 50% of recent architecture school graduates going on to work at something other than traditional architectural practice, schools will need to determine if the time, cost and energy learning BIM software would be better allocated on more transferable skills – such as working simultaneously at multiple scales, orchestrating large teams and translating ideas from one media to another. Those that take the time to learn BIM either gain confidence with the accomplishment – or feel deficient – due to how overwhelming it can be.

Architect Selection

A non-starter. Already in Wisconsin and Texas BIM is required on state-supported projects. If you do not now use BIM you cannot compete for this work. And when you do decide to take it on – other will be able to say that they have been using it for years.

Acquiring Capital

Banks will require projects to be designed, modeled and built virtually in BIM in order to be assured that loans are based on accurate estimates of construction cost, that there are fewer delays and loan amounts are not exceeded.


Bidding and Negotiation

In the eight phases of Integrated Design (Conceptualization phase – or expanded Programming; Criteria design phase – or expanded Schematic Design; Detailed Design phase – or expanded Design Development; Implementation Documents phase – the former Construction Documents; Agency Review, Buyout, Construction phase and Closeout phases) Bidding and Negotiation will be replaced by Buyout. Because of the accuracy of the model the project will be a known entity: there will be nothing to bid or negotiate.

Banking and Bankers

See Acquiring Capital above.

Basic Services

As with the Standard of Care, you might be able for the short term to leverage BIM and its accoutrements as an additional service for which you are compensated. But soon, as BIM becomes the norm and more so – ubiquitous – it will be an expected service.

Building Codes

We will soon see building codes incorporated into BIM (IBC plug-in and ADA App anyone?) These programs will flag discrepancies and identify non-conforming work and perhaps more importantly for design will set limits – constraints – to work within, alerting us when we’ve exceeded set boundaries.


Computerizing the Firm

How quaint.

Change Orders

With BIM, these will go the way of Maylines, pin bars and 2D CAD. Relics of an earlier age and process – their presence and need will be greatly diminished. Unless of course they are due to someone changing their mind, human nature being what it is. Those in the industry will need to find another method for profit-making. Integrated Design has taken care of that – with the concept of shared risk and shared reward.

Client Management

Because owners are an integral part of the team meeting in the iRoom, managing and orchestrating clients around the BIM model becomes all the more critical. With less left to the imagination – and less opportunity to “wow” them – new strategies will need to be developed by the architect to manage client’s expectations, perceptions and understandings.

Communications Management

BIM disrupts and radically changes office and team workflows. The way you communicated before – both internally and externally with consultants, engineers and others – has become transformed in the BIM environment. Learning how to communicate effectively with those working in the model both in the office and utilizing collaborative communication tools will become a priority for all involved in the process if only due to the change in the way decisions are made – and when they are made.

Compensation and Promotions

Architects in Integrated Design share risk and reward and can market their BIM capabilities. Architect employees immersed in the BIM world for the time being can demand greater personal compensation. At least until the playing field levels off…

As for promotions, firm leadership will debate the role and importance of being technically savvy and adept at BIM to attaining a senior management position or other coveted role within the firm. While working exclusively in BIM is not a substitute for becoming and being a well-rounded architect with other highly developed attributes and aptitudes – more and more it will become a factor in who will lead firms and the profession.

Construction Cost Management

An indisputable win for BIM, driven by the reliability and accuracy of the information in the BIM model.

Phrases such as “BIM represents a sea change” and “BIM levels the playing field” that are thrown about imply that “BIM is a whole new ballgame” when in fact – at least for now, you are the same architect, working in the same firm in the same profession. In other words – more has stayed the same and less has changed than you give credit for. It’s the same profession – with BIM or without – and we’re the same professionals, using new, advanced tools to play our parts in the worlds of design and construction. And yet – we sense – not far on the horizon that these worlds are swiftly converging. It’s all right there in the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice – the old standby – reliably reminding us, when we bother to look, who we are and what we do. In the next post we’ll look at letters “DEF,” but until then realize this: that BIM doesn’t change things so much as shed light, rendering the alphabet of our chosen profession lucid, apparent, remarkable in a way that we have not seen it in our lifetime.


Filed under BIM, defining BIM, Integrated Design



T              H             E

N             E              W

B             I               M

A             N             D

I               P             D

E              R             A


…eighteen letters that about say it all.

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Spoils to the Agile

The biggest AEC firms have the most seats and are the earliest and biggest adopters of BIM. Soon though the playing field will level off when the majority of qualifying firms play and victory will go not to the biggest but to the most agile. While it normally implies the ability to change the body’s position efficiently (dogs display agility skills,) in business, agility is the ability of quickly and cost-effectively adapting to changes –such as technology, business and firm culture changes that the introduction of BIM produces.

Headlines such as “BIM adoption rate exceeds 80% among nation’s largest AEC firms” aren’t helpful when they refuse to define the terms (1 unopened box of software = 1 seat = adoption?) In the years ahead it will be the Jack firms (nimble and quick) that rule the Giants. Quick and nimble will beat out big. Big 0, Agile 1. Agility Wins!

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BIM Organizations

Most agree that BIM’s best and highest use is as a collaborative tool and process, one  that can have a profound impact on any firm that adopts the new  technology.

The past 15 years has given us the Internet Revolution, e-commerce, and e-business. When firms were first adopting to the new technology they would sometimes be referred to as e-organizations – or e-org – for short.

And so with the advent of BIM into the workforce I wonder if it would be useful to distinguish firms that have taken-on the new technology as BIM organization, B-org or borg for short?

So think of this as a borg blog.

Just as online companies like didn’t exist 20 years ago, one can almost imagine the adoption and successful implementation of BIM – in all its glorious dimensions – to cause a firm to become a borg (BIM organization.) CAD never had this kind of impact on design firms. BIM – when used collaboratively – may have the sort of transformative power required to create an entirely new organization out of an existing practice. Practices that are distinct in a number of profound ways from traditional organizations. What do you think?

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BIM + Integrated Design

I’m starting a blog devoted to my current focus on the impact of new technologies on firm culture and workflow in the design professions. The writing of the blog coincides with my writing of a new book, also entitled BIM and Integrated Design, to be published by John Wiley & Sons in 2011.

Here in this blog I will explore some of the same general themes as the book – only in a less formal, more conversational and exploratory, fashion. The emphasis here – as with the book – is on people and not technology or value propositions per se, except to the extent that they impact the people who use them. And by people I mean…you.

You are encouraged to chime in whenever you find something of interest – whether something you agree with or something that irks you. BIM and Integrated Design are both, like a good blog, collaborative and interactive tools.

You are the ones helping to make them into the transformative technology and process that they are. And likewise, you are the ones who can continue to build the dialogue as we work together to help make this a better world – one building, one bridge – at a time. Bon Appetite!

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BIM and the Human Condition

Craft is the pride one takes in making – making things – with one’s hands, mind and imagination. Two books that address craft – one recent and one published 50 years ago – help make clear the predicament architects find themselves in today as they face an uncertain future.

In The­_Craftsman, author and sociologist Prof. Richard Sennett asks what the process of making concrete things reveals to us about ourselves – what people can learn about themselves from the things they make. Craftsmanship here is defined as an enduring, basic human impulse, the skill of making things well. The pride one takes in work – whether making a wood model or a computer model – requires focusing on the intimate connection between head and hand, establishing effective, sustainable habits and a rhythm between problem finding and problem solving. It is an internal dialogue every craftsman – and architect – conducts in practice.

Craftsmanship, by combining skill, commitment and judgment, establishes a close relationship between head and hand, man and machine that Sennett asserts is vital to physical, mental and societal well-being. Combining a “material consciousness” with a willingness to put in years of practice (a common estimate of the time required to master a craft is 10,000 hours) and an acceptance of ambiguity, rather than an obsessive perfectionism, should be familiar to readers of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Dean Simonton’s Greatness and readers of this blog. Sennett asks whether our commitment to work – our craftsmanship – is merely about money, or about something deeper and more human. His answer implies that commitment – the skill, care, late nights, problem solving and pride that goes into our work – is about something greater.

Sennett does not think that craftsmanship has vanished from our world. On the contrary, as another critic noted, it has merely migrated to other regions of human enterprise, “so that the delicate form of skilled cooperation that once produced a cathedral now produces the Linux software system” – or, in the case of architects who take part in integrated practice, their work in BIM. The subject of craft has been all but excluded to date from discussions about building information modeling (BIM) and this poses a liability and potential hazard for architects – for therein resides our dedication, passion and resolve.

Hannah Arendt’s book, The_Human_Condition, published 50 years ago, distinguishes between labor, work, and action, explores the implications of these distinctions and affirms the value of human beings speaking openly and candidly to each other. In the book Arendt (1906-1975) famously distinguishes between Animal laborans and Homo faber, between labor and work. Labor is, according to Arendt, those human activities whose main aim is to allow men to survive, belong to the private sphere, and while the human being strives painstakingly to perform them, is not free. As Sennett – Arendt’s student in the 60’s – points out Animal laborans is akin to the beast of burden, “a drudge condemned to routine.” Here the derogatory term “CAD-jockey” comes to mind, one who envisions spending their working lives in front of a monitor churning out construction documents. Animal laborans: they’re the ones who, working alone, take the work as an end in itself.

With Homo faber, on the other hand, one imagines men and women doing work together and in doing so making a life in common. This is the public sphere, where men, after having provided for themselves and their families what was needed to continue, can at last be free. The name according to Sennett implies a higher way of life, one in which we stop producing and start discussing and judging together. It is in this word – together – that we find the seeds for collaboration and for integrated practice.

BIM is More Artifact than Fact, More Art than Artifact

Look around your office – it is easy to spot those who see themselves as Animal laborans and conversely those who see their role as Homo faber. You can sense it in their attitudes toward their work, their mindset in the way they tackle the challenge of learning –or familiarizing themselves with – new technologies and workflows. If you observe carefully, you can even detect it in their posture, in the way they approach their work and each other. As Sennett argues, as with Gladwell and Geoff_Colvin, motivation matters more than talent. The architect must imagine herself engaged with the model, the input of information no less an act of the imagination than the shaping of clay into new worlds for others to engage in and be inspired by. The architect has to find her inner, intelligent craftsman. If it can be reduced to a formula, as Arendt would have it,

bim = Animal laborans

BIM = Homo faber

where BIM enables integrated practice. The combination of speech and action the book calls for is the perfect prescription for integrated practice or IPD: architects working together with others, collaborating toward a common goal.

Sennett sees it differently and challenges his teacher’s definition of Labor as being too limited, slighting the practical man and woman at work, and offers a more balanced view – where thinking and feeling are contained within the process of making. Such is the student’s prerogative. Some architects complain that BIM – in being so fact-based and answer-hungry – makes them less creative, describing their work as “feeding the beast.” Here again we find Arendt’s Animal laborans, for whom the mind engages once the labor is done, and Sennett is right to push further.

When Sennett writes “leaving the public to ‘sort out the problem’ after the work is done means confronting people with usually irreversible facts,” and “engagement must start earlier, requires a fuller, better understanding of the process by which people go about producing things,” he could have been describing BIM, and IPD, the process it enables. IPD fulfills the promise and dictates of BIM just as Homo faber provides something for Animal laborans to aspire to.  

One of Arendt’s great themes is her sense of the decline of the public realm, the realm where action takes place. With the growing use of BIM, and through it integrated practice, architects once again have an opportunity to find themselves working in – and positively influencing if not creating – the public realm.

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BIM and the Elephant Problem

“With notoriously bad eyesight, forest elephants tend to follow their trunks, using the appendage as a blind person might use fingertips on a stranger’s face-to identify, visualize, gather clues, communicate.”    John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) on the famous Indian legend

“Over the last couple of years, the term ‘Building Information Model’ or ‘BIM’ has gained widespread popularity. It has not, however, gained a widespread consistent definition—it’s like the blind men describing the elephant. But there’s a lot of fuss being generated over this particular elephant.”    Jim Bedrick AIA, Director of Systems Integration, Webcor Builders

No matter your stripe, architect, we’ve been hearing and reading a lot about BIM of late. This blog is no exception. (Those of you who are reading this and are heavily engaged in it can skip the rest of this sentence. All others read on.)

BIM is many things to many people. Short for Building Information Model (the thing) or Modeling (the activity,) depending on whom you ask or where you look, BIM is the process of generating and managing building data during its life cycle. Or, if you prefer, BIM is the 3D, real-time, dynamic building modeling software used to increase productivity in building design and construction. Oh, did I mention BIM is a common name for a digital representation of the building process to facilitate exchange and interoperability of information in digital format. Got that? And that’s just three of several dozen descriptions and definitions .

One complaint I’ve been starting to hear is that BIM is something else to everyone who uses the term. Forget interoperability, the logic goes, we can’t even agree on what it is or what it means. As one plucky architect put it the other day, BIM is like Obama: it’s whatever you want it to be.

Two analogies might help clarify. One, the story of six blind men that try to describe an elephant. The second comes from Italo Calvino’s ethereal fiction, Invisible Cities – a favorite among architects everywhere.

From a familiar (and rhyming) version of the legend of the blind men trying to describe an elephant

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”…

The others go on to describe the elephant as a spear, snake, tree depending on which part of the 3D model, or elephant, they happened to grab hold of. The message for those of us wrestling with BIM is clear: like the blind men, it is all in how you approach it. (And, like BIM, there are Jainist, Discordian, Buddhist, African, Sufi and Hindu versions of this tale.)

Charles Darwin used elephants to illustrate the point that organisms produce more offspring than can survive in the world. He called this The Elephant Problem. Analogically, BIM has produced more definitions than can possibly survive. Something must be done about it. But what?

In Italo Calvino’s resplendent fiction, Invisible Cities, as Marco Polo describes the cities visited on his expeditions to Kublai Kahn – about the city of Armilla, which “has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be,” or the spider-web city of Octavia and many other marvelous cities – he is actually describing details (and different takes) of his native Venice. Kahn believes he is learning about many cities when in actuality there is only one.

One city. Many descriptions.

And so there you have it: Many definitions, but only one BIM: a mercurial and multivalent wonder!

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