BIM Management in an industry highly resistant to change

My wife recently asked me how my career changed since transitioning from Architectural Technician to BIM Manager. I tried to explain to her that BIM is not just changing software, but a whole new way of working. In an industry so used to working in a certain way, BIM demands a culture change. It’s hard to quantify to someone not familiar with the building industry, so I used this analogy;

A timber framing company has been constructing traditional timber houses for many years. The owner wanted to increase efficiencies and reduce errors on site, but didn’t know where to start, so he hired an expert to assess the current workings. The expert, Ben I. Malone noticed that the builders were still using conventional tools to do the work. Ben asked them why, among other things, they were still sawing wood and hammering in nails by hand, and using tape measures for measurements. “This is how we’ve always done it, and we’re pretty good at it” Ben was told. Ben told the owner of the huge time savings to be had by using electric power tools instead, although there would be a large financial outlay and productivity loss initially while everyone were trained to use the power tools. The owner agreed, knowing that over the long term he would save money.

For weeks Ben worked tirelessly to convince the builders to start using the power tools, offering his expertise and assistance. A few builders were so outraged about the change, that they left the company. The rest indulged Ben because they had to. Ben showed them the speed and precision of the nail gun, and how it could easily do the work of 4 or 5 hammers. The same for the new circular saw; Ben demonstrated that he could cut multiple battens with millimetre accuracy in a fraction of the time. Ben then moved onto the laser measurement tool that was accurate to 50 metres with +/- 2mm tolerance. Something a normal tape measure could never do. He even demonstrated that the measurements could be sent directly to a tablet to dimension an image. Some builders were very impressed, others sceptical.

Ben spent time training the builders how to use the new tools. During this time many were constantly complaining about everything they weren’t used to; the nail guns were heavy and awkward to use, and required power to charge the batteries. The circular saw was heavy and awkward to move, so it had to be left in the same place, while they had to spend time walking back and forth with the battens. Moreover, don’t get them started on the laser measure that never wanted to connect to the tablet. Ben kept his composure and kept trying to focus them on the many benefits that outweighed the negatives.

Many builders decided to ignore the user manuals, feeling they either didn’t need to learn it, or that they could figure it out as they went on. This caused major issues on site; nails were getting jammed in the nail gun, or went in skew and had to be removed, blades were broken on the circular saw, causing downtime, and measurements were all wrong because the wrong settings were selected on the laser measure. So Ben decided to take it upon himself to defuse the situation and keep everyone happy by rewriting the manuals in a way everyone could easily understand them, and with as few pages as possible. He even wrote his own standards and procedures document to ensure that everyone worked in the same way. Yet this too was ignored. ‘We have tight deadlines and don’t have time to read the documents nor to do more training!’ the builders shouted. So Ben decided to spend time with every builder, showing how to best use the tools. Ben spent months with every builder, showing them over and over how to do the same tasks, because they refused to commit it to memory. Yet every time they did something wrong, or things didn’t work as expected, they blamed Ben, or the tools, or the lack of training. So Ben took it upon himself to help with the building work, just to help make the deadlines.

Ben became disheartened, and felt he wasted a year of his life. Instead of improving the business, the changes to the way of working and attitude of the builders had the opposite effect. So Ben gave up, and left the company.The owner decided to cut his losses by making everyone redundant, and employed younger builders, already skilled to use all the latest power tools. Eventually the old builders, set in their ways, could no longer find jobs without using powertools. Some of them retired, while others are still working under duress, complaining about technology, and how things were much better when they were younger.