What next for the Design Manager?


Over the last twelve months I’ve been working on the CIOB Design Manager’s Handbook as part of an ongoing project on Design Management at the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB). Over the same period, interest in BIM has rapidly increased, pushed both by the UK Government construction strategy led by Paul Morrell (the Chief Construction Advisor), Mark Bew and David Philp; and also by the innovators and early adopters in the construction industry such as Laing O’Rourke, Balfour Beatty, Vinci, BAM and others who have continued to blaze the BIM trail.


As my own design management/BIM journey has continued I have begun to wonder whether these paths are converging. BIM is not design management, but it enables design management to happen on a level previously unattainable and beyond the wildest dreams of those who have worked at the coal face. Conversely design management isn’t BIM either, but if BIM is the management of data over the whole built asset lifecycle at every stage, linking every stakeholder with the information they need, isn’t that design management in its purest sense? When everything is reduced to the absolute minimum, isn’t design management about information and data management?


Design management is about connection and flow. Ensuring that all aspects of the project team are connected, that communication is happening as it should, and that information of the right kind is flowing to the right people at the right time. It is also concerned with making sure that the right people are talking to each other at the right time, for example specialist supply chain and designers are having the ‘right’ conversations. In a way design management is the glue that holds this whole process together.


In the BIM world there are still activities and workflows, but some of the dynamics change. Those that once sat back and waited for information to hit them can now get it for themselves by accessing the virtual model. Different cultures and different mindsets are now required in order to work effectively in a BIM environment. And what of the design manager in a BIM environment? For a relative newcomer to the construction discipline, all change (again) seems to be order of the day.


Already there is a ground swell of opinions about the need for a ‘model manager’, ‘integrator’, ‘BIM manager’, ‘coordinator’, ‘data manager’– someone who sits at the centre of this process and ensures that it all happens as it should. This person, or perhaps team of people on some projects, will need to be sufficiently BIM savvy to know what needs to happen but also sufficiently knowledgeable about the design and construction process in the relevant sector to be able to translate this into the reality of collaborative teamworking; i.e. it calls for an understanding of the roles, people, businesses and organisations involved.


In the UK currently we are “crossing the chasm” to use Geoffrey Moore’s terminology. This is the chasm between innovation and early adoption, into mainstream industry use. Up to now, BIM development has been predominantly driven by the software houses and techno geeks. However, for BIM to become accepted industry practice, then it is the hardnosed CEOs and middle managers that need to be convinced. They’re mildly entertained by new widgets and gizmos but really they want to know about investment costs, payback periods, profitability and return on investment. They need a different spin on the BIM story, different messages and ideas to the ones that got us here.


This is a difficult period as we struggle with the economic situation and an industry in the throes of evolution and industrialisation, but those that have jumped into BIM early are already seeing the benefits through better collaborative working – less waste and more efficiency – achieving more with less. In time we won’t mention BIM at all, we’ll just do it, no big deal. Rather like when CAD became mainstream, but only more so. When everyone is working this way, and all parties involved know how to work in the ‘common data environment’ of the BIM world, there will still be people coordinating, marshalling, and managing data and information over all phases of a project. It may not be one, or the same person, over the whole process. Already we can see that at different stages leadership of the model may be in different hands, for example the client, designer or contractor. The only difference now is that we have a mechanism that prevents loss of knowledge as we transfer leadership and ownership.


To me this is the next step for design managers, for those that want to make this evolutionary step. Design managers know the process and they understand the lifecycle and the inputs and personalities involved. The best construction design managers naturally and intuitively integrate, collaborate and communicate, building relationships, drawing people and information together, resolving conflicts, enabling things to happen as they should, and improving how things work along the way. BIM is the perfect environment in which to make this happen; indeed Latham and Egan et al dreamed of this day and BIM could help make it an everyday, every project , reality.


Some construction design managers will gravitate to the technology end of the spectrum (Geek world) others will remain firmly at the process end, but they will know enough of the technology to have a handle on it and to lead and manage the process. This is not for the fainthearted – change never is, but I firmly believe that design managers are ideally placed to move into the world of BIM and own it – leading, coordinating, integrating, innovating and creating real value for customers and everyone involved – truly kings of the building lifecycle or whichever stage one wishes to identify with.


Now let me see… where do I sign up for that BIM course?





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