Industry-wide adoption of BIM is about more than software - we must also change the way we manage projects

Adrian Malone

BIM is the big topic in our industry right now, and it is all about change. BIM means new software, new ways of thinking, new processes and new ways of working. It is often pointed out that the ideas which make up BIM are not new, many have existed for a decade or more. So why have those ideas failed to catch on in the past, and why should things be different this time?

As an industry we are not short of ideas about how to do things better, but innovative ideas seem to struggle to gain traction. Were they all bad ideas? Or did something happen (or not happen) to stop the good ideas spreading? All eyes are on BIM right now, 10 years from now will we have transformed the way in which we design, construct and operate assets? Why do innovative ideas so often fail to gain the traction needed to become widespread?

I recently facilitated an event for the Association for Project Management (APM) which was organised by the APM Knowledge SIG. The event was one of a series of “Courageous Conversations” we have run and on this occasion we asked why it is so difficult for organisations to change the way they manage projects? An animated video summarising the conversation is available online. The discussion was not specifically about construction, but many of the themes in the video ring true to the construction industry; I recommend you take a look.

Will BIM fall into the same trap, or can sufficient momentum be built to achieve escape velocity?

One key theme explored in the conversation was about how difficult it is for innovation to break through and become the new accepted way to do things. It isn’t always sufficient for the new way to simply be better, inertia does not discriminate between good ideas and bad. At times even when the new way is proven to be better this can at times be insufficient to overcome the inertia of how things have always been done and the next project reverts to the previous ways. Will BIM fall into the same trap, or can sufficient momentum be built to achieve escape velocity?

I have most confidence in the longevity of BIM as a technology. Having invested in BIM, software companies are unlikely to switch back, particularly where the new software is better and more powerful than the tools it replaces. But BIM is about more than technology, it is also about thinking and working differently, more collaboratively and in a much more joined up way across the multidisciplinary project team. It is almost certain that use of BIM software will become universal but there is a risk that that the BIM process may be forgotten along the way. It is not sufficient to simply change the narrative, the way we manage projects must also change. This will be difficult, but it will be worth the effort!

Adrian Malone is a director at Faithful+Gould with responsibility for BIM, knowledge management and commercial research