Even the most well-meaning changes to design and construction contracts and policies have unintended consequences. Faithful readers may have seen me point out some of these issues. Given that it is easier to be the critic than the policy maker, this series of articles turns the table to answer the question, “What if I were BIM King for a day?”
The goal of each article is to identify one achievable policy and/or contract that respects the realities of design and construction practice.
In this article, I cover the most cited reason for owner's BIM requirement - improving project quality
Let Designers Do Their Jobs
Here are three examples of good widely implemented processes and technologies that show how good intentions have yet to solve underlying design quality problems.
1. The RediCheck company exists to make sure basic drawing and discipline coordination problems are removed from construction documents. The fact that RediCheck reviews are still conducted 30 years after their first appearance demonstrates that technology changes have not solved basic design quality problems like getting north arrows and plumbing to match-up.
2. During part of my public service career, I created several systems to streamline the design review process. When I retired from public service, my Design Review and Checking System (DrChecks) had over 100,000 world-wide users. The widespread and ongoing use of this system shows clearly that design quality management issues have yet to be solved by mandating this, or any other technology.
3. In my current BIM/COBie consulting practice, contractors to tell me that the number of quality problems in designs have increased not decreased since BIM was introduced. One MEP designer admitted they now only document the “design intent” since the contractor will provide a detailed fabrication design.
If owners want “better design” can they do it by requiring technology? No. Design quality management is a professional process not a technology.
A New Dance
My first recommendation is that owners either design their own buildings or leave professional practice to people who have the professional licenses to practice. Legislating the process of design improves nothing.
Enforce Existing Standards of Care
Second, I recommend owners not introduce new standards of care with respect to new technology. The professional standard of care needed for designers to do their work are already in our regulations, contracts, or body of law. Owners should begin by enforcing these existing standards, not inventing new ones.
The standard of care relevant to the topic of quality is that design professionals are responsible to coordinate their work. US public contract law only permits negotiated designs based on a designers’ professional duty to coordinate engineering disciplines. If not for one sentence in the Federal Acquisition Regulations, US public design contracts would all be low-bid contracts - just like construction contracts.
In the past, coordinating drawings using light-tables, or overlaying CADD drawings, resulted in little tangible proof of the process that fulfilled a professional duty to coordinate the architectural design with that of engineering consultants. The time to document such manually-intensive efforts might have exceeded the time required to fix the issues on the drawings or CADD files!
BIM technology allows a designer to adopt quality management practices that automatically capture tangible proof of design coordination. That proof is the pre- and post-coordination meeting collision list. The list of collisions will never be zero since automatically-identified “collisions” might be a connection between structural elements might simply be “connections”. However, the goal should be to remove anything that is not a connection from the list and to ensure that the concerns from building stakeholders, such as potential operability problems, have been fully addressed.
So far, I've talked about what I would not recommend. Now, here is what I would recommend - simply update the Quality Management factor in design contract negotiation to require designers demonstrate that they have and will professionally coordinate their design with all stakeholders.
The expected result of this policy is that designers who actually have functioning quality management programs will get the design awards.
This recommendation is important because it does not require a buzzword bingo card to win a contract nor does the designer have a new standard of care. This recommendation simply uses technology to deliver on the only reason designers are legally allowed negotiated professional contracts - their existing duty to coordinate their team's work.
There you have it. Hip, Hip, Hooray for the BIM King for a Day!
As we move from software that prints paper, to software to manage information, some are starting to transform that paper into useful information. In next article, I’ll address what information should be reasonable for designers to deliver, given the state of technology today.
Published January 2017