CIC Blog: Collaboration
Elizabeth Kavanagh is the South West Regional BIM Hub Chair
Experience in other industries suggests that failure to understand and adapt human behaviour, rather than technology, is the biggest impediment to collaborative working’ - Sir Michael Latham.
It is often quoted that successful BIM is 90% people and 10% process. At present the emphasis when talking about BIM is technology lead. This is natural enough given that digital innovation can be such a powerful enabler. Although Innovation through technology cannot independently deliver the benefits anticipated by fully collaborative BIM. Our prediction is that in the next phase of BIM development as we become familiar with the digital tools and the process elements the focus will shift and towards the human interactions.
The South West Regional BIM hub held a conference in 2012 introducing and exploring BIM concepts. From the discussions we had it was clear that the collective opinion was “it is all about behaviour”. There was also a recognition and a desire in the room to move from a culture characterised by adversarial behaviours towards a collaborative approach.
Some interesting questions came out of this discussion.
- How could we change our industry culture?
- What does collaboration look like?
- To what extent are we collaborating at present?
- What are the conditions which enable this change?
We identified that the first step in creating a collaborative culture is to be clear about what we are trying to create, by specifying what good collaboration looks like when it is happening.
To that end we initiated a group research project sponsored by UWE to specify the Behaviours of Collaboration. The aim of this is to enable collaboration to be a key part of the change in culture implied by Level 3 BIM.
So far we have conducted a review based on existing literature into collaboration within BIM and other sectors.
Our literature review quickly identified ten factors key to enabling collaboration:
- Trust / Respect
- Siloes / T shaped People
- Openness / Communications
- Common goals / New ways of working
- Leadership / Interpersonal skills
We used these factors during a series of workshops to initiate the development of a Profession Map which will specify the Behaviours of Collaboration. A Profession Map is used in other sectors for professional development and specifies not just the knowledge and skills required but also the behaviours. An example to explain the difference is;
Knowledge is information about a subject e.g. I understand how to indicate at a junction when driving a car
Skills are using what I know in a situation e.g. I indicate as a standard part of my driving when I turn into a junction
Behaviours are the way I use my skills-what you see me do e.g. whether I indicate in good time considerately or last minute as I am turning
It is our hope that this tool can be used widely by industry to support the development of these collaborative behaviours at all industry levels.
In order to explore the possibilities in this area further that we have created a group called Behaviours4Collaboration through which we will continue to facilitate a move from an adversarial to collaborative way of working within the construction industry. If you are interested in being part of this group please get in touch via our linkedin group Behaviours4Collaboration (B4C) or get in touch by email.
Contributer: Elizabeth Kavanagh is the South West Regional BIM Hub Champion and Head of Human Resources at Stride Treglown.
Founder of SpecifiedBy
The construction industry is hardly renowned for its openness or sharing culture, but it is precisely those two ingredients that have the power to transform the industry for the better.
With BIM enforcement just around the corner, we are all well aware of a need to improve collaboration and the exchange and transfer of data and information. But these are fundamentally processes. Processes can be learnt, and taught, and optimised.
Collaboration between various teams isn’t difficult to set in motion because everyone can see it as a way forward and it has a strong element of compliance. It may not always be easy or straightforward to execute, but there really is no question of getting there, it’s just a matter of time.
Openly sharing knowledge and expertise is not the same as collaborating or transferring information. This requires much more than process. It requires a shift in mentality and culture.
Culture defines how we work, what is accepted as good practice and how we are perceived by others.
And it is a more transparent culture of openly sharing knowledge and expertise that we should be aiming for.
Taking the time to write about how you overcame a particularly challenging problem in your last project, or sharing data that you have worked really hard to obtain, for anyone in the industry to benefit from, takes a lot more than compliance or process.
This takes people or organisations to consciously put the good of the industry, or wider society, ahead of their own short-term goals. It requires a mind-set of, ‘How can we help the industry to progress?’
We would do well to look at the ‘open source' approach within the web development community that means an answer to even the most complicated of problems is usually no more than a Google search away. They ask each other for help and for answers. And they usually get them.
Often, someone else has already had the same, or a very similar problem, and have documented it and shared it online.
To build a similar culture of sharing, learning and improving within construction, I believe we need two key components to come together:
A shift in culture and attitude can only happen if there are people who are willing to take the lead to share a vision and a roadmap that will inspire others to follow along the way.
And by leaders, I don’t mean heads of organisations, working groups, large companies or other “powerful” people. Being in a position of authority where people have to do as you tell them does not make you a leader. That makes you a manager. People follow real leaders because they want to, because they believe in the vision, in this case, a better industry.
The construction industry needs people who will question current processes, suggest new, better ways of working and challenge the authorities that benefit from the status quo.
As an industry, we need to be better at providing people with the tools to share their expertise and learn from each other. There are a few beginning to appear, all of which need to be strongly supported by industry. The better these early innovators do, the more new ideas will be encouraged to follow suit.
Some platforms leading the way include:
CarbonBuzz is an online platform that aims to centralise the sharing of real-life energy consumption data from building projects in order to establish benchmarks and identify gaps in performance.
Users can upload anonymous project data which is used to create a real picture of energy consumption within the industry or just use the existing data to compare against their own projects.
“CarbonBuzz is an RIBA CIBSE platform for benchmarking and tracking energy use in projects from design to operation. It is intended to encourage users to go beyond compliance of mandatory Building Regulations calculations and refine estimates to account for additional energy loads in-use. The platform allows users to compare design energy use with actual energy use side by side to help users close the design and operational energy performance gap in buildings.”
The CarbonBuzz platform is potentially a great tool to improve transparency of energy consumption data, by comparing real-life performance against designed performance.
Designing Buildings Wiki
The Designing Building Wiki aims to “put all construction industry knowledge in one place and make it available to everyone for free.”
Anyone can contribute an article on a particular topic and make it available to everyone within the industry. They say…
“Construction in the UK employs 3 million people in 280,000 organisations, each holding a vast amount of expert knowledge. Everything from how to create a brief for a new project, right through to getting tax breaks for water efficient taps. But much of that knowledge is inaccessible, fragmented and dispersed. If we put it all in one place, where everyone can find it, Construction UK will be more efficient, more collaborative, more innovative and better able to compete in the global market place.”
This is a great example of sharing knowledge and expertise, and provides a great resource for getting answers to tough questions, or at the very least, identifying a good person to speak to about it.
At SpecifiedBy, we are trying to do our small bit as well, with better access to technical information and by encouraging specifiers share their knowledge and expertise of working with particular building products and materials on specific projects, so those looking for similar solutions can more informed decisions.
This will also bring an element of transparency to the performance of building products and the companies responsible for them.
Providing these platforms through which leaders can establish a voice and build a following will be key to introducing a shift in culture.
“No one knows everything. But together, we know a whole lot.”
Collaboration and the exchange of information are necessary and positive for the industry, but to make a real change, we need to accept the much more challenging prospect of changing mind-sets and culture.
Some have already started, and I believe we are on our way to a more open and transparent culture where we share knowledge and expertise for the good of the industry.
Contributor: Darren Lester has a background in Architectural Technology and is the founder of SpecifiedBy, a platform that aims to empower building projects with better information.
Information Modelling & Management Capability Programme (IMMCP) Delivery Team
Transport for London
Prior to the introduction of the personal computer, documentation (including drawings) within the construction industry were mainly paper based, these were managed manually and archived in a warehouse. As computers and technology became part of everyday life and the launch of the World Wide Web, the industry moved to electronic documents and drawings as well as electronic means of managing them; traditional methods were replaced by Computer Aided Design (CAD).
However, CAD had issues too; CAD was supposed to be a computer design tool to be utilised by engineers and promised to increase the quality of design and improve the management and communications through better documentation. Instead, CAD was utilised as an electronic drawing board, which meant technologists where needed to produce drawings, unfortunately most had limited knowledge of the engineering behind it.
As construction is very much project-based and since projects are highly reliant upon updated information; exchange of information, which I believe is the least mature form of communication, is regarded central to the industry. Therefore, the concept of a centralised repository for sharing and managing project’s electronic documentation so called, Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS) or Extranets became popular. But after a while EDMS were integrated with e-mail to automate workflows and notify project participants of tasks and activities which resulted in vast amount of e-mails (some unimportant and unnecessary) being sent around.
Now with the emerging use of Building Information Modelling (BIM), the industry is moving towards a centralised repository with object based models. The intelligence of models and centralisation way of managing these models will alter the existing communication mechanisms and will enhance the ways in which project participants are currently working as a team. But is BIM, as a technology and as a process, an enabler for collaboration?
Since the 90’s there has been many efforts (i.e. governmental reports published by Sir Latham and Sir Egan) to drive efficiency improvements in the industry. One of these improvements is in the area of collaboration. I’ve observed that collaboration, in some cases even coordination and cooperation, are often used to describe team work. If you ask anyone in the industry what collaboration is, I’m certain you’ll get similar answers. But if you ask them ‘how’ they collaborate, they will more than likely say “we share information”! But does sharing information alone mean project teams are collaborating? Or are they just making project team members aware of their activities? You’re probably asking yourself, “what is the difference, after all collaboration, coordination and cooperation all mean the same thing, don’t they”?
The answer is: No they don’t!
In Computer Sciences, Collaboration requires:
• Strategic planning – clearly defining who/when/where/what and how
• Culture - where everyone is happy to share information, there is more engagement, knowledge sharing and innovative thinking
• Trust – foundation of collaboration and collaborative working
• Tools (information systems/technology) – to enable information flow and collaborative working
All the above pillars influence and support each other to make up a collaborative environment and none of them can exist in isolation.
As I mentioned, most projects are only sharing information; they correspond to one another in an unmanaged and unstructured (so called ad-hoc) way, mainly by e-mail. The ease use of e-mail has allowed it to become the main communication channel. Project members are overloaded with huge number of emails per day, each demanding some input which needs time to consider.
Just because project members are working together to get the project completed on time doesn’t make them collaborators. They may well be coordinating through managed and structured sharing of documents via transmittals, aligning activities and schedules as well as managing dependencies using extranets with assigned roles and responsibilities and agreed workflows and data structures, or in some cases cooperating at a higher level than just a project, which requires interaction and commitment between organisations with more structured information.
I would argue in a project environment where participants are geographically dispersed, collaboration is not essential, unless all the organisations involved in the project are interdependent (mutually dependent), which means they have predefined goals with full workflow integration (Integrated Project Delivery methods for instance), shared resources, risk and liability, high level of communication and trust and real-time pipeline (to interact with a virtual environment).
If we take the same meaning of collaboration in Computer Sciences, we can answer the question, “Is BIM an enabler for Collaboration”?
Yes – because BIM (at its lowest level of maturity) requires a Standard Method and Procedure (SMP), which recognises the importance of information and defines the roles of information management. The SMP also strategically defines a Common Data Environment (CDE) process which enables better information management which results in more confidence and trust in the information available. BIM at its highest level of maturity provides international standards and advanced technological solutions that would be an enabler to collaborative working.
No – because BIM can’t build trust between different organisations, neither can it change the existing culture of file-based information sharing within the industry. Culture is something that needs to be changed by leadership and project participants believing in the change. The right culture will result in the right attitudes towards trust.
So in my view BIM has the potential to be a key driver for collaborative working. The industry however needs to take a step back and take a broader approach to collaboration, by that I mean rather than focusing on projects, the aim should be imbedding BIM organisational-wide. It’s key to remember that BIM is only an enabler for collaborative working; the pillars of collaboration must exist within an organisation, with or without BIM.
* any opinions expressed in this blog are purely my own and relate to my PhD work.
Contributor: Sonia's background is in Computer Sciences and Information Systems Management. Sonia entered the world of Construction when she started her PhD at the University of Northumbria looking at impacts of BIM on Communication patterns of Construction projects. Sonia is an Incorporate member of the CIOB (ICIOB) and is currently working as a BIM consultant.