Helping The Company Embrace BIM

As with any big technology project, a successful implementation includes getting staff on board and drawing some lines in the sand. Here’s some advice from people who have been through it.

If you consider this technology optional, here’s something to consider: Clark Ellis of Continuum Advisory Group estimates current BIM penetration at less than 10% for homebuilders but also says that some large national builders are in the process of making it an important part of their operations. These efforts will make them stronger competitors in terms of price, schedule and customer responsiveness. Smaller companies who don’t get on board could be playing a frantic game of catch-up in a few years.

But let’s say you have already decided that you need BIM, and understand that you have to adapt your business processes to take advantage of it. The next hurdle is getting your people on board. Here you come up against the tendency to resist change. That resistance can manifest as a lack of imagination, an unwillingness to kill sacred cows, and a reluctance to ask for help.

Story Time

Successfully implementing this or any game-changing technology has to include an internal sales effort that gets team members excited, according to Ellis. He says that some builders spend too much time talking about the technology, when what they really need to do is to tell some tales. “The best leaders motivate by using stories to paint vivid pictures of what the initiative will accomplish,” he says.

Think of it this way: your salespeople don’t begin customer conversations with how you plan to frame the walls (at least I hope they don’t.) Rather, they help customers imagine living happily in the finished home.

So then why would you try and sell BIM to your team (the internal “customers” for the effort) by delving into software details? The design people may need those details, but others will be more interested in how BIM will impact their role, for instance by helping them sell more homes or build more accurate estimates.

Ellis advises focusing on three story lines: a better customer experience, a more future-proofed business and the ability to solve immediate problems.

Create some wow. BIM’s superpowers include the fact that it makes the choice of options and finishes simpler and more enjoyable for customers. It does this by linking a BIM file made in a program like Revit to an underlying price database that instantly displays the bottom-line consequences of various choices.

The software can also boost the sales process. The cutting edge of home sales includes 3D walkthroughs on virtual reality headsets. Most builders who offer walkthroughs hire an outside vendor to create them, but the ability to generate them from the BIM file eliminates that vendor and makes it practical to generate different walkthroughs for each design option. That’s a powerful and flexible sales tool.

This power has investment implications. Hans Bentzon, CEO and Partner at Forefront Architecture + Engineering LLC in the Orlando area, says there’s a good case for using the money saved on those outside vendors to help finance BIM. And based on his experience helping builders implement this technology, he says it’s not unusual or marketing people to embrace the idea once they understand those advantages.

Neutralize future threats. Every story needs a villain, and one already lurking in most people’s imagination is an uncertain future holding an axe over the company’s competitiveness.

For example no one knows how important online configuration — the above-mentioned ability to instantly show the price implications of each design option — will ultimately be to younger buyers when compared to price and other factors. But all else being equal, it’s almost guaranteed to score points among customers who have grown up expecting instant results.

Solve a pressing problem. The shortage of qualified workers in today’s market gives companies who use BIM an edge, and you can help get staff on board by detailing how it will empower them to sell, design and build more homes without hiring more staff. Just one example is the fact that automating the scheduling process will free job supervisors’ time so they can manage more homes and make more money.

The point here is that BIM’s business benefits are what will motivate staff to get on board.

Cattle Call

A transformational project like BIM will require the killing of some sacred cows. They include staff internal inertia (the fear of change), entrenched loyalties and managers’ perceived threats to their self-interest.

Inertia. When D Logan of Logan Homes, a 250-unit per year builder in Wilmington, SC, fully implemented a BIM system into his company a few years ago, he had to spend a lot of time addressing staff inertia. For instance the new system would pay vendors from purchase orders rather than invoices, something his accounting department pushed back on at first. “They insisted that vendors wouldn’t be willing to get paid off of purchase orders, but the truth was that the accounting people just didn’t want to adapt the way they did things,” he recalls.

Logan’s sales staff also needed to make some adjustments when he determined that getting the most out of his BIM model meant limiting structural options. “It caused an initial uproar with the sales staff, but ended up streamlining everything from sales to design and construction,” he says. “In the end the company is more profitable and we all benefit.”

Loyalties. Ellis offers the example of a division manager who has used the same engineering firm for years, and who doesn’t want to consider hiring another one even though the current firm doesn’t want to do the work of adopting BIM into its own operations.

Fear. Some people may see BIM as a personal threat. “If I use it for estimating, the company won’t need as many estimators,” says Bentzon. “That could pose a threat to the purchasing manager’s little fiefdom.”

Note that while good storytelling will dangle some enticing carrots in front of your staff, killing sacred cows can mean wielding a stick at times. For people to take it seriously, the company’s senior leaders need to be fully committed to the project and to make it clear that they need everyone else to be as well.

Working Together

Of course the size of the stick needed will depend on your company culture, specifically how well people from various parts of the company collaborate with one another. This is a topic in itself, but suffice it to say that it will make the implementation a lot easier. “I find that the companies most likely to succeed at and transformational change are those with internal cultures of collaboration,” says Ellis.

Successful companies also get the right help in this effort, preferably someone not associated with a specific product. “The builder needs a consultant who knows the capabilities and shortfalls of the various software programs, and who also understands the particular builder’s business and the home building industry in general,” says Bentzon.

Logan certainly found this to be the case. “A small builder with 15 plans who works with a good consultant could get the BIM software configured and integrated in six months then could put those 15 plans into the system over the next six month,” says Logan.

Of course the above steps will raise the chance of success for any large-scale change management project. But given that BIM can make so many other changes more likely to succeed —whether you want to start building zero energy homes or want to transition to panelized construction—it’s a great foundation to have in place. And it will repay the time and effort required to build it right.

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