Agility, transparency and tolerance in the BIM project organization

I have used the terms agility and transparency more often in my contributions. Now I am adding the term tolerance. What is the tolerance associated with the BIM project organization?

Wikipedia explains the term tolerance as follows:

Tolerance, even tolerance, is generally allowed to apply and grant to others or foreign beliefs, ways of acting and customs. Colloquially, this often refers to the recognition of equality, but it goes beyond the actual term (“toleration”).

The underlying verb tolerate was borrowed in the 16th century from the Latin tolerare (“endure,” “endure”). The adjective tolerant in the meaning “tolerant, indulgent, generous, forthful” has been proven since the 18th century, the time of the Enlightenment, as well as the counter-formation intolerant, as “unsulded, no other opinion or worldview is one’s own”. The counter term to tolerance is the intolerance in which “impatience” in the 18th century is borrowed from the French intolérance. An increase in tolerance is acceptance, the approving, consenting attitude towards another person or their behavior.

BIM and digitization

BIM is the digitization of the construction industry. It is not only a question of depicting the future reality of a building and the future influences of reality on a building in the development and planning phase in three dimensions as a model, but also of digitally accompanying the building over all five BIM phases and all to collect and use information on all components of the model, from production, installation, possible maintenance and expansion, recycling or disposal. This is a gigantic but ultimately feasible task if we support not only the BIM model and its data, but also the people who are supposed to do the job.

Our previous methods of organizing this task are reaching their limits, or in many cases they already are. In other industrial areas, agile and transparent methods have long been proven in project organization. The methodology of Kanban has been around since 1947 and the variation of Lean Construction for the construction industry since 1990. Nevertheless, construction projects are still being implemented according to the method of the critical path (CPM). However, lean construction as a methodology has not proved enough for the organization of the construction. Therefore the Last Planner was developed in 2000 as a tool for the practical implementation of the Lean Construction method. In the German-speaking world, at least, this fantastic tool has so far only been used tentatively.

The Last Planner makes the team organization on the construction site more transparent and cooperative. The use of the Last Planner has been shown to increase the productivity of work on the construction sites. One of the components is collaborative planning at the beginning of each project. So far, this collaborative component has been used only half-heartedly in many cases, because it requires a complete change in the management of projects. Most project managers still fully discuss the processes on the construction sites and put the implementation you want up for discussion at the first project meeting. As a result, many projects are still organized with a mix of CPM and Last Planner. The more consistently the Last Planner is used, the more productive the project becomes and the more the team is in the foreground and no longer the project manager.

What is the use of the Last Planner in the development and planning phase? Especially in the development and planning phase of a building, things are very agile. Currently, this fantastic tool for team organization is not being used there. The reasons for this are manifold. In the next paragraphs, I will indirectly address the “why not.”

Chances (Winners)

Due to the detailed three-dimensional planning, the builders know at an early stage how much it will cost to create the building. The building also benefits because the number of building defects is reduced due to faulty planning. There are real-life buildings where permanent repairs are needed due to poor planning. These long-term repairs can be firmly planned by facility managers in the annual maintenance cycle. The use of BIM thus also makes the construction entertainment easier and the subsequent costs of the building more calculable.

Risks (Losers)

Who does not know them, the eternal gestures that reject all innovations in the first place. There are also loners who prefer to keep their knowledge to themselves. Or let us take the absolute supplementary specialists who already know when making the offer that the services requested are not enough.

Original application of agile and transparent methods

Some of you know the colorful paper slips on the wall. They meet regularly for meetings in the meeting room. Ideally, everyone writes their tasks on a note and in a joint conversation, then the tasks are put in the right order. You then meet regularly in the meeting room and then agree to perform your tasks the next week or until the next meeting. In the next meeting, you’ll look back at the tasks performed and then make your commitment to the tasks you need to do.

The discussion can already be agile, but the completed tasks are taken backwards over one to two weeks. The information and the necessary responses to the information are not agile. All parties are missing an information and action update in real time.

Once the teams have become accustomed to the Last Planner, the discussion in the meeting room becomes more transparent and open. After each meeting, the project manager photographs the wall with the glued notebooks in the meeting room and notes more information in an Excel spreadsheet. In the following review, he presents various charts based on his excel tables. This usual approach is only partially transparent. No one will take the time to look at the charts in detail and have them explained. Each team member is already focused on their commitments for next week.

Nevertheless, we call the whole approach overall cooperative and collaborative.

Chances (Winners)

The project manager still has sole supremacy in the project. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. He remains an equal team member. He is on the sidelines. In the project, the project manager also takes on tasks, which he then does not write on a notepad if possible or only if it cannot be bypassed. His role is more that of a moderator. The construction project or the construction site is becoming more productive.

Risks (Losers)

Who doesn’t know them, the steam chatters and out speakers. The Last Planner no longer gives this group of people a chance to portray themselves as perfect speakers in meetings. The facts are at the forefront and speak for themselves.

The biggest loser, though, is digital continuity in BIM projects. After the completion of the BIM planning phase, all data exists graphically and alphanumerically in the LOD/LOI 400. All tenders, awards and orders are stored entirely in an AVA database. And in the first meeting on the construction site, everyone writes their duties on notebooks and sticks them to the wall of the meeting room … I would like to spare you and me for further comments on this. Only one thing: During and at the end of the construction phase, all information must be digitized again for a digital handover to take place based on LOD/LOI 500.

Digital application form of agile and transparent methods

We are not talking about the Lean Construction methodology at this point, but only about the Last Planner tool. Digital approaches from Lean Construction already exist some and new ones are still being invented. Digital lean construction is not enough. With the many programs that then work exclusively again via lists and bar charts, it is not enough. We’re still too much at the CPM level that we don’t really want anymore.

The digital version of a Last Planner should fully support the Last Planner tool and make it possible for the teams to collaborate in time. The personal meetings in a meeting room must be supported digitally, but a software must also support virtual meetings. Some things in the course of a project sometimes must be decided in a timely manner with the team and not only at the end of a week.

A digital Last Planner will certainly be used by the teams in the development and planning phase. Team members in BIM projects work completely digitally anyway. Why should they resort to a non-digital way of working to organize their tasks?

Chances (Winners)

Today, the BIM manager is still forced to use the Excel, email and Outlook calendar tools. The BIM manager is the biggest winner of a digital Last Planner. In doing so, he could organize the BIM teams in an agile and transparent manner at all stages. The elaborate meeting documentation may be omitted. Software does this automatically, including that of a seamless history. All necessary charts are automatically generated in real time and thus permanently updated. Any team member can view the charts at any time. The permanently necessary backward meeting units can be reduced to a necessary minimum. In the meeting, more time will be available to implement important insights in the future.

Risks (Losers)

The consultants and trainers who want to keep their customers if possible, in a dependency are a little behind. Many supports the project leaders and take away the elaborate meeting documentation from them. The BIM consultants have it easier. Software has been part of their portfolio for a long time. Neutrality is good, but it also has its limits. Those who do not want to position themselves digitally from the Lean Construction consultants in the long run will gradually fall behind. At some point, it is time that every customer has mastered the bonding of paper and wants to follow the more sensible digital path.

Tolerance

In the previous form of project organization in the construction industry, project managers are accustomed to organizing the project in their prominent position at any time in their opinion. Their commands must be followed, whether productivity suffers from it or not.

The use of a digital Last Planner always makes all activities transparent at all stages of a BIM project. This also includes the activities of the project manager or BIM manager. A person who has so far been given exclusively orders becomes a moderator and, in accordance with our ball sports, a kind of player coach. If an uninvolved look at a digital project board, they won’t immediately realize who the project manager is. The project manager also signs up to the project with his name and has his tasks there as well. The hierarchy levels are no longer visually recognizable. Everyone has tasks and promises the others on the team to do those tasks on time. Everyone works in real time and there is no longer a chance to correct the charts afterwards.

Tolerance and mutual respect occupy a much larger space in project organization than in the past. Despite the supposed egalitarianism, all team members must be aware that the responsibility for the project lies with the project manager or BIM manager. If all team members actively participate and voluntarily treat each other tolerantly and respectfully, each BIM project will be implemented even more productively than before. No one then must worry more about a change in management. The change in management has already taken place and is a day-to-day project.

Afterword

Dear readers,

In my article, I describe how we can work together more agile, transparent and tolerant in BIM projects in the future. I am aware, though, that it’s a very long way to go. But if I don’t describe this ideal, we will never reach it.

No one is infallible. Everyone who works makes mistakes and anyone who works a lot unfortunately also can make a lot of mistakes. Those who don’t work don’t make mistakes either. They often know how to present them self very positively in projects, even though they don’t do anything. When we work together in an agile and transparent project, it stands out much faster.

If the statements of the last paragraph are true to people in the management levels of the companies, then the introduction and use of a digital, agile and transparent software will never take place. It already involves a good dose of courage, self-confidence and tolerance to leap over your own shadow and initiate changes in the organizational processes, if you know of yourself that you don’t really want that. For the benefit of increasing the productivity of your projects, you may want to accept that your teams recognize that you, too, are not infallible as a project manager.

I wish you the courage and the perseverance to address the necessary changes in your company.

Sincerely

Ulf-Günter Krause

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