T-Shaped BIM

Every now and then a simple, seemingly obvious concept comes around that transforms an entire industry. This post will introduce such a concept: the T-shaped BIM teammate.

Here, we are of course not talking about forming a T-shaped connection of walls in Revit. If you came here wanting to learn how to intersect walls in BIM, you’re a fool. Go here.

The rest of you, stick around. You might learn something important.

And, as in past posts, it is not actually BIM that is T-shaped – it is you. Or Tu – French and familiar for you.

Some people are put-off by the word collaboration – and for that reason I am going to refrain from using it again in this post.

For them – the word – implies compromise, time-wasting, money-wasting, talent-wasting, and perhaps worst of all, people- and process-oriented as opposed to product- or building-oriented interactions.

To them, people are impediments to progress, not the lubricant that makes things flow. Perpetually in search of workarounds –they work around people whom they believe keep them from completing their work. You know the type.The social case for BIM and Integrated Design

Integrated Design came into being for one reason and one reason alone: to achieve greater results for the owner and other project stakeholders. Including you.

There’s a compelling business case for working in integrated design: it enables the efficient and effective use of tools such as BIM and related technologies.

There’s a compelling technology case for working in integrated design: it potentially makes more efficient shared use of the software and work processes.

And there’s a compelling people case for working in integrated design: by colla- – by working with others, working together, cooperating traitorously or treasonously, sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus  – you and your team both can attain greater results.

Admittedly, not every project lends itself to the advantages of working co- co- co- together. For example, due to project size, schedule or client demands.

There’s another way to look at – working jointly – that may appeal to you more and potentially change the way you work from here on out.

The “|” in DIY

I used to work with someone who did it all himself. If there was a new program a project had to be accomplished in he’d learn it himself and do the work himself – even when he had several talented and eager others at his disposal. That way he knew the work was going to get done right. In a previous post I labeled this type of colleague’s approach DIY. I wrote about this concept – DIY vs. SxS – a while back here and will be speaking about it in a couple weeks at Christopher Parsons’s KA Connect 2010 here and here.

When he worked with others he thought he was delegating by handing-off tasks he didn’t want to do, but what he was doing was abdicating his role.

He was an “I” and as we know, there is no “I” in BIM

And as has been noted, no “I” in IPD either.

The T in archiTecT is more important, noteworthy, prominent and if you will, architectural, than the “I” in archItect or arch|tect which is divisive, isolating and dissenting.

“I” is a barrier – a barrier to co- co- co- cooperation – and as with the compelling and popular blog title Arch | Tech can imply a barrier between design and technology – or even design and construction – instead of stitching them together.

But the “|” doesn’t have to be an obstruction or impediment.

“|” can also be a net – as when Robert Frost famously opined that writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net.

Which is how I interpret the “|” in Arch | Tech, as a net between design and technology, lobbying the BIM back and forth.

As well, for that matter, as the “|” in BIM – volleying the model back and forth between design and construction, weaving a single unified model for use by all.

But | digress.

The ideal T-shaped BIM teammate

Right now you’re happy to find an engineer or consultant that works in BIM. Period. No matter their shape – or what shape their in.

But in time, as BIM becomes ubimquitous, you will start to add another level of criteria as you put teams together.

You will start to require that all your Team members be T-shaped and you will want to Team with other T-shaped professionals.

And because They will want to Team with T-shaped Teammates, you will Take it upon yourself to become T-shaped yourself.

The ideal candidate/colleague/teammate working in BIM and Integrated Design has both of these qualities

  • Deep skills
  • Broad reach

The vertical “I” or “|” represents what you do well – your depth.

The horizontal bar across the top is your reach – reaching out to assist others.

And as importantly being assisted by them.

Place the bar atop the “I” and you get the T-shaped BIM Teammate.

By becoming T-shaped you are putting on two performances:

  • 1. results in your own position (the “I” or vertical stanchion) and
  • 2. results by co- co- conjugating with others on your team (the horizontal bar resting atop the “T”)

T-shaped BIM Teammates do two things really well. They

  • reciprocate in that they are willing to share information and ask for information when needed
  • are rewarded for their own performance as well as for contributing to others on the team

Read more about this important concept here and here.

What causes a person with deep skills but little wingspan to suddenly reach out to share information with her teammates? Namely this: empathy

Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO, alludes to the role empathy plays in the T-shaped person

We look for people who are so inquisitive about the world that they’re willing to try to do what you do. We call them “T-shaped people.” They have a principal skill that describes the vertical leg of the T — they’re mechanical engineers or industrial designers. But they are so empathetic that they can branch out into other skills, such as anthropology, and do them as well. They are able to explore insights from many different perspectives and recognize patterns of behavior that point to a universal human need. That’s what you’re after at this point — patterns that yield ideas.

You can read more about what Tim has to say On Being T-shaped here and read an incisive interview with Tim where he discusses being Mr. T here

Still not convinced – or for that matter – entertained? Then take this and call me in the morning.

It should be apparent by now that the T-bone concept may be new to BIM – but not to the world of IT and computing. The first citation to T-shaped people goes back almost 20 years to David Guest, “The hunt is on for the Renaissance Man of computing,” The Independent (London), September 17, 1991. Read it here.

Soon, our Integrated Design teams will be made up exclusively with T-shaped individuals.

Made up, that is, of archiTecTs, conTracTors, consultanTs and clienTs with both deep skills and wide reach.

In time, our teams will begin to resemble something of a T-shaped chorus line


which, perchance, resembles a bridge or aqueduct


an apt image and timeless symbol for carrying the client’s goals toward exceptional results.

Simply sea-changing.



Filed under BIM, collaboration, design professionals, Integrated Design, modeling, people, process, workflow

10 responses to “T-Shaped BIM

  1. Jay Zallan

    Teams will never be all “T” people, nor do they need or want to be. True collaboration is when Individuals come together to accomplish one goal and individuals come in many shapes”.

    Interesting article but I (yes, “I” !!!!!!!!) find it to be narrow in it’s outlook. Does everyone need to be the same? That’s what the article sounds like it is supposing. The “team” may want to itself be comprised of the “T” concept, but I do not find it necessary or realistic to expect each individual component of the team to be a “T”… sometimes we need an “I” and other viewpoints.

    I think the articles main premise is dismissing many of the types of people a World, Firm, Office & Team are comprised of, or potentially comprised of.

    We need well rounded teams with all kinds of distinct expertise, some BIM, some Architectural, some Code, some Specs… Some “T”‘s, some “I”‘s etc… shall I go on?

    My Spec writer needs no knowledge of BIM or BIM tools to get their job done and it is not their job to implement such things into the BIM… that’s for others on the Te-i-am (See there IS an I in team) 🙂

    I would hate a world or firm or team where everyone was the same T, even if they’re all deep and broad and just like me.

    Genius does not come from a homogeneous process or team, etc… sometimes there needs to be ideas from shallow or narrowly (or not so) expert team players.

    Also while it may be cute to say there is no I in BIM, etc. there obviously is and to deny the individual, even in a team environment is very short sighted and alienating to any one who is creative or who believes in freedom of thought, individuality, etc.

    Teams can and do survive with individuals (thus the “I”).

    In reality when we are on a team we are all still individuals, just working toward one goal… no matter what people try to get themselves or others to believe: teams ARE comprised of individuals.

    True collaboration is when Individuals come together to accomplish one goal.

    • Jim Marchese

      We are currently working closely with our Spec Writer to find out what information could be useful for him to extract from our model:assembly codes, Uniformat information, etc…to manage takeoffs and schedules. We’re finding that while he may have not been part of this process in the past, the amount of information you can now include in the model is beneficial to more people on the team and his input can be leveraged downstream. It’s all part of re-examining the traditional roles of all the members of the team.

  2. Jay – Thanks for your feedback and comments. If we’re talking about hot groups – or skunk works – that gather together their individual geniuses for a short time to solve a particular problem, I agree with what you say. But building projects can take 3-5 years or longer – and the thought of including lone stars on the team I suspect will become like the grating grain of sand that doesn’t turn into a pearl. It just irritates. Or at the very least steals energy and attention from the task at hand. We may be splitting hairs here: I agree, “I”s are critical to have on board to serve as catalysts, to innovate and see the germinal idea through to realization – but, moving forward, I believe and am stating emphatically in this blog post that they will be just as valued for their empathetic reach into seeing and hearing other team member’s viewpoints and perspectives. Certainly in integrated design projects this will be the case. For that matter – social butterflies that flit around from work station to workstation – never seeming to complete any of their own work – won’t be tolerated either. The ideal, I am not suggesting, is in the clipping of wings nor lessening of the star’s shine – but in the coexistense of the two, ideally in the same person.

  3. Pingback: Knowledge Architecture Blog » Blog Archive » Want to become a knowledge-driven firm? Build some “T-players” and get yourself a coach.

  4. Pingback: 55 Ways to Help Your Evolve as an Architect « Architects 2Zebras

  5. Pingback: Is BIM TMI? Death by DataPoint « BIM + Integrated Design

  6. Pingback: BIM and Integrated Design’s Greatest Hits Vol. I « BIM + Integrated Design

  7. Did anyone else notice that right after this post came out the ARCH | TECH website changed its name to ARCH + TECH? Hmmmm.

  8. Pingback: CAD Monkeys, Dinosaur Babies and T-Shaped People | BIM + Integrated Design

  9. Pingback: Taking BIM and IPD to Task | BIM + Integrated Design

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s