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Securing BIM buy-in from leadership is an important step in the implementation of BIM software, standards and processes. Oftentimes, architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms dabble in design technology without an official decision and formal buy-in from leadership, which results in a mediocre adoption and siloed implementation of BIM solutions.
Although BIM consultants have a responsibility to secure BIM buy-in from their clients’ leaders, the present article focuses on internal buy-in, where the BIM professional is an employee in the same firm as the decision makers, influencers and gate keepers. It goes without saying that some of these aspects also apply to BIM consultants that are interested in securing BIM buy-in from their clients’ leadership.
Let’s explore this underrated yet interesting topic.
You are welcome to read the entire article or skip to a specific section by clicking below:
Overview of BIM in AEC firms
Why get leadership buy-in
Levels of buy-in
▸ Management buy-in
▸ Team buy-in
▸ Operational buy-in
▸ Financial buy-in
▸ Decision makers
The buy-in process
▸ Anecdote #1: The Overpromising BIM Consultant
▸ Anecdote #2: The Bought-in Senior Technologist
Overview of BIM in AEC firms
BIM is often not at the top of the priorities list of AEC firms, while the technical practice usually is (be it production for architecture or engineering, and construction as well). It is often an overlooked department, and in some cases, part of another department such as Information Technology. This in itself makes the buy-in process by different stakeholders for hardware, software and human resources as well assets development (i.e. content creation) more complicated.
In my experience, mostly large companies (300 employees or more) offer a hierarchy/organization for BIM-related activities, with dedicated budgets, resources and decision-making authority. This factor, coupled with the existence of a clear power hierarchy within such firms (i.e. organizational chart with defined roles and reporting structure), increases the chances of a successful implementation of BIM solutions.
Why get leadership buy-in
In the next sections, I will discuss all aspects of buy-in, including the levels of buy-in, leadership roles and the buy-in process. However, it is important to put things in context and to understand why getting leadership buy-in is important.
Leadership buy-in in AEC firms is important for the following reasons:
1) To ensure the medium- to long-term success of the implementation of BIM solutions
The strategic BIM vision is key for the medium- and long-term success of the implementation of BIM solutions. A quick win is always nice, but it can’t guarantee the overall survival of internal initiatives on the long term. With leadership buy-in, the longevity of this decision can be prolonged through time due to key leaders’ belief in the strategic BIM vision.
2) To make the BIM implementation and adoption official
And by official, we mean official/formal resource allocation in terms of budget, time, people, software, hardware and knowledge. It is crucial to formalize the proposed projects in order to guarantee their success by providing all necessary resources for implementation, and the only stakeholders capable of doing so are the leaders, who are ultimately the decision makers.
3) To ensure that the top-down business model is secure so you can focus on the bottom-up one
As you may already know, there are two business models for implementation: top-down and bottom-up. In the top-down business model, the vision, mission and strategic plan is dictated from the top to lower-tier employees, who must implement what they’re “instructed” to do. In a bottom-up business model, the production/operations drives the decisions at the top, based on results and performance. Almost all AEC firms operate in a top-down model, so if the top is secured in terms of buy-in, all one has to do is focus on the bottom tier (i.e. production professionals who have their boots dirty, so to speak) to get their buy-in at the operational level. This guarantees that the leaders support the vision, and we can focus on the actual team carrying out the work to ensure the BIM implementation’s success.
Let’s look now at the different levels of buy-in that we must secure to maximize our chances of a successful BIM implementation.
Levels of buy-in
There are several levels of BIM buy-in, apart from that of leadership or management stakeholders. The following sections discuss each level. It is worthy to note that the levels are not stacked vertically (i.e. once a level is achieved, the next must be addressed), but horizontally (i.e. each level is not dependent on another, but they are interconnected in many ways.)
Management buy-in refers to buy-in from key stakeholders in management positions. These include project managers, directors, vice presidents, presidents, principals and partners, among others. The stakeholders at this level are mainly influencers and decision makers, and they do not usually feel the repercussions of the implementation of solutions directly, and they follow up and get their cues about the success of the implementation from the production team.
Management stakeholders are usually interested in the added value, the financial cost, the risks and the effort involved for the implementation of solutions.
It’s important to get management buy-in, especially in top-down organizations (i.e. all decisions are driven from the top), to make the buy-in official through the adoption of budgets, policies, official milestones and roles.
In my experience, there’s always one “champion” in the management team that believes in the value of BIM solutions, the potential of technology and the urgency to move fast more than others. That person becomes the “internal ambassador” or “internal evangelist” and is your greatest ally. Likewise, there are a few stakeholders that are usually very happy with the status quo and do not want any change. They tend to be older (i.e. over 50 years old), with a lot of experience in the field, with a lot of seniority within the firm and with a large ego (i.e. they are always right.)
Team members buy-in refers to buy-in from stakeholders in the operational or production team. These include engineers, architects, technologists, drafters, builders, trades and estimators, among others. The stakeholders at this level usually feel the repercussions of the implementation of solutions directly, and they may be involved or responsible for some of the decisions that involve changes in standards or processes. They also act as the eyes and ears of management stakeholders on the ground and provide feedback to them on how things are going.
Operational stakeholders are usually interested in what’s in it for them, how the solutions will help them do their work, the time and effort involved to implement as well as how much change is involved.
It’s important to get team buy-in, especially in bottom-up organizations (i.e. all decisions are driven from the bottom), to ensure that the operational team (i.e. production or construction) is involved and on board with the decisions taken, to minimize resistance to change, to adopt solutions to a large extent and to comply with established standards and processes.
In my experience, team buy-in is detrimental to the successful implementation of BIM solutions. The team has to be consistently exposed to the greater vision, constantly reminded of the benefits, motived, supported and rewarded by management and BIM implementation stakeholders. However, no matter what ones does, one is bound to have to deal with team members that will resist change and try to complicate things. After having spent years in the trenches, I say, pull the weeds out if you can by laying them off, otherwise, they will get rooted on their own through time, either by quitting or by submitting to the change; either way, change will happen with or without those who resist it.
Operational buy-in refers to buy-in in terms of standards and processes. These include standards such as templates, forms, guides, naming conventions, etc. and processes related to quality control, collaboration, coordination, etc.
Operational buy-in is directly tied with team buy-in, since the team is in control of operations. It’s important to get operational buy-in to maximize the probability of success by using the provided standards, processes, tools and assets. It goes without saying that in order for the team to follow them, they must be developed first.
Operational stakeholders are usually interested in standards, processes, tools and assets that are comprehensive, pragmatic, user-friendly, easy to use, easy to maintain and update, and with the potential to expand functionality or scope.
In my experience, operational buy-in is very important because it is a major factor in the success of the implementation of BIM solutions. More specifically, the correct definition of standards, processes, assets and use of tools reinforces the vision in tangible terms and promotes change as a positive one. In my opinion, if the implementation is not going well, more often than not, the team blames standards, processes, assets and tools for being too complicated, not comprehensive, not user-friendly, not pragmatic or not too applicable. The bottom line is, one of the key metrics of success for BIM implementation and adoption is the extent to which standards, processes, tools and assets are being utilized on projects.
Financial buy-in refers to buy-in in terms of commitment to invest financial resources for BIM implementation. This includes budgets for hardware (i.e. new computers), software (i.e. subscriptions and licenses), employees (i.e. allocating existing employees and hiring new employees) and consulting (i.e. outsourcing).
It’s important to get financial buy-in to formally allocate financial resources for the implementation of BIM solutions. Any software, hardware or human resource’s time has a cost associated with it, and the top reason for “killing” a project is due to a desire to reduce overall costs or forego assuming a specific cost.
Financial stakeholders are usually interested in low costs, high returns, low maintenance and disposal costs, the financial business model, scalability, incremental cost and financial risk.
In my experience, since financial buy-in depends on management buy-in, most firms almost automatically have financial buy-in from management once a proposal is approved. Therefore, management buy-in is the first step in getting financial buy-in, and if the numbers make sense, the rest is technicalities.
So now we know that we must secure management, team, operational and financial buy-in to increase the chances of a successful BIM implementation. Let’s take a look at the leadership roles we have to recognize when seeking BIM buy-in from leadership.
There are 3 different leadership roles in firms in any industry: gatekeepers, influencers and decision makers. It is important to understand their roles and how to approach them to secure buy-in from the decision makers.
According to CVent, “a gatekeeper is someone who has the potential to veto or delay the decision, or who can block access to a decision maker. These stakeholders show up in executive assistant roles for key decision makers, but that’s not the only place you’ll find them. You may also encounter gatekeepers in legal, technical, procurement, or contractual capacities who will need to approve a decision before it closes.” (Source: CVent)
More specifically in the context of BIM in an AEC firm, gatekeepers usually take the shape of an assistant, executive assistant, office manager, senior designer, senior builder, project manager and legal counsel. They personally do not have the authority to make BIM decisions, but they can allow or deny access to decision makers that do have that authority or influencers that can affect that decision. All you have to do is prove to them why you’re worthy of passing through them to meet the decision makers and influencers. Therefore, it is important to play your cards right and at the right time to gain their favor, so your access to the decision maker is granted. If done correctly, “gatekeepers can be valuable allies, and it’s a mistake to ignore or try to work around them.” (Source: CVent)
An influencer is someone that has the potential to influence a decision maker either favourably or unfavorably. Any firm employee can be an influencer, whose influence can be based on expertise, experience, seniority, connections (i.e. personal politics) and involvement on projects, or a combination of these factors.
In my experience, influencers’ roles can be filled by any employee profile, ranging from technicians to principals in AEC firms. They do not have the authority to make BIM decisions, but they can influence those that do in a significant way. All you have to do is be on good terms with them, convince them of the value of your proposition and “get them on your team”. This can be a prolonged process if the organization is large and has a complex power hierarchy. The best individuals to secure influencers’ buy-in are those that have a great understanding of personal politics and diplomacy. Indeed, influencers can be your best ally or your worst enemy, depending on how you manage to navigate the organization.
A decision maker is someone that is responsible for making a decision, following up on it and dealing with its repercussions (whether positive or negative.) Decision makers in AEC firms in the context of BIM can be project managers, directors, principals, partners or executives.
In my experience, there are two types of models for decision makers in AEC firms:
Individual decision maker
In this model, one individual is responsible for making decisions either due to a pre-established level of authority (i.e. director) or the nature of the role (i.e. owner or partner). All decisions in the firm, or in the department, are made by that one person. This scenario is risky because you will have to bet it all on one individual’s acceptance, and potentially risk losing it all if not accepted. Therefore, the leverage of influencers is crucial in this scenario.
Group decision maker
In this model, multiple individuals are responsible for making decisions in a firm, which demonstrates itself in the shape of multiple directors with similar levels of authority, a board of directors, a board of executives, principals, partners, shareholders, consultants and committees. All decisions in the firm, or in the department, have to either get a majority of the votes or votes by key individuals in the decision-making group. This scenario is less risky because there is much leeway to influence each decision maker, and the best strategy is to divide and conquer (i.e. individually convince each decision maker until the majority of the group is convinced.)
I personally dealt with both scenarios during my career, and both present their advantages and disadvantages as discussed. It is important to note however that you must be very careful with decision makers, as any small mistake can be blown out of proportion and can throw the whole decision out the window.
Also, when the decision is not going in your favor, you must delay taking the decision as much as possible so you can increase your chances of tipping the scales in your favor. Once a decision is made, it is extremely hard to reverse or reconsider, unless there is a major incentive to do so (i.e. restructuring, dismissal/layoff/resignation of unfavorable decision makers, major market developments, etc.).
So now that we understand the levels of buy-in and leadership roles better, we are ready to look at the overview of the buy-in process.
The buy-in process
Now that we understand the levels of buy-in and leadership roles, let’s take a look at the steps of the buying process. The following is a list of steps to secure BIM buy-in from leadership in AEC firms.
1. Planting the seed
First, you have to plant the seed in stakeholders’ heads. This means discussing the idea in a very informal setting and gathering feedback, impressions and comments. This will help get a feel for the project or implementation at hand.
2. Garnering support & acceptance
Now that you planted a seed, you must water it and take care of it. This translates into diving into deeper discussions about implementation strategies, technicalities, logistics, budgets, etc. It’s important to identify the gatekeepers, influencers and decision makers at this stage, and to start garner buy-in with the latter two.
3. Making the proposal
After managing to have multiple discussions and creating a buzz around the idea by different stakeholders, it’s time to formalize the idea and make a proposal. The ideal format is a meeting with a PowerPoint presentation, which allows for concrete discussions and direct Q&A with all influencers and decision makers present. All presentations and meetings must be followed up by a written report ideally (sometimes, lengthy emails capture most of the content that should be in a report format.)
4. Garnering buy-in
At this stage, it’s important to let the proposal simmer on low heat. In other words, let the proposal content sink in the influencers and decision makers’ heads, and use your leverage to influence them all favorably regarding the decision. It’s important not to rush so you get the desired outcome in the end.
5. Approving the proposal
At a certain point, a decision has to be made; there is no generic formula or a set of prerequisites for making a decision but gaging the perfect time to “force an outcome” is an art in itself. As mentioned before, if you don’t get the impression that the decision is favorable, you must buy more time to influence influencers and decision makers in your favor. There are 3 possible decisional outcomes at this step: 1) overall/total acceptance, 2) partial acceptance, 3) refusal. In scenario 1, continue with the steps below. In scenario 2, work with what you have and ensure its success, so you can expand the decision to a full acceptance. In scenario 3, move on to other roles, projects, decisions or even firms.
6. Implementing the proposal
Assuming that the proposal was approved, start the BIM implementation while ensuring that you are in control of the budget, schedule and quality. If the proposal was a solid one, the implementation should be a relatively easy one.
7. Tracking the implementation
As the implementation of BIM solutions is underway, it’s important to track progress and success metrics. Without tracking, it’s impossible to know how well the implementation is going.
8. Closing out the implementation
As a last step in the proposal, it’s important to properly close out the implementation. It helps for the proposal to set criteria for the completion/success of the implementation by establishing a clear finish line.
9. Optimizing and improving the implementation
This step is a medium- to long-term consideration that involves continuous optimization, improvement and updating of the BIM implementation. This step usually involves multiple generations of influencers, decision makers and BIM professionals.
So there you have it! In 9 simple steps, you can ensure your buy-in for a successful implementation of BIM solutions. Having done these steps so many times with different clients, I would like to share two anecdotes in the following section about my personal experiences with securing BIM buy-in from leadership.
Anecdote #1: The Overpromising BIM Consultant
Many years ago, I worked for a BIM consulting firm in Montreal and I went with a senior engineer (I’ll call him John – it’s not his real name) to meet an engineering client to propose services for BIM implementation. John took center stage and did a technical demo and answered all the client’s questions. It seemed odd to me at the time that all his answers were so positive, as in the software can do everything you want it to as long as you’re willing to invest the time and effort. Long story short, the client took a leap of faith, and we secured his buy-in for many services, including training, coaching, technical support and consulting services.
Lo and behold, a few weeks later, John went on to work on other projects, and I was stuck with this overpromised client. Shortly after I started training sessions, the client realized that the software was lacking in many ways, and the time and effort that was promised is not achievable in a reasonable time or effort (or possible for a fact, since we don’t have the source code).
So, I went on to finish my training sessions, develop standards, and provide coaching and support for this client, but the implementation quality and status was very far from what was promised. This client refused to pay for some services, and it just went downhill from there – I’m not even sure how it got resolved as this process dragged on for months.
The major lesson that I learned here is this:
Do not overpromise or lie to any party, especially management, in order to secure buy-in at any cost.
Be realistic. Be pragmatic. Be honest.
Do not lie or overpromise to secure buy-in, because it can backlash in a major way, costing you time, money, your reputation, your credibility and your employees or your colleagues.
Anecdote #2: The Bought-in Senior Technologist
I worked for a BIM consulting firm in Montreal and I went with a director of sales (I’ll call him Andrew – it’s not his real name) to meet a client to propose services for BIM implementation in Quebec City. I had a very good relationship and work dynamic with Andrew, and we complimented each other’s roles during our presentations by having him address sales-related topics and myself answer technical-related topics. In essence, we really put on a show!
The client was a prominent engineering firm, with whom we had a positive existing relationship. Andrew had an excellent relationship with the director, and I started developing an excellent relationship with the senior technologist (I’ll call him Mark – it’s not his real name.) After securing buy-in from the director, I spent the next few months developing entire content libraries for some of their departments with Mark, and we managed to create hundreds of assets based on the relevant building code. I developed an amazing relationship with Mark and we did some amazing work together!
The major lesson that I learned here is this:
After securing management and financial buy-in, focus all your efforts on executing your plan by developing quality standards, processes, tools and assets.
Standards, processes, assets and tools are the tangible gateway to securing buy-in from everyday working professionals. The team will feel empowered, enabled and motivated to buy into the new vision once it sees all these aspects, especially if they are comprehensive, pragmatic and of high quality.
So, we have come to the conclusion of this interesting article about securing BIM buy-in from leadership in AEC firms. It’s a love and hate relationship that I have with this topic, as it’s definitely not as easily said as done in real life. The two major problems I faced in my opinion are that first, there are too many factors that are intertwined to secure buy-in (i.e. budgets, market developments, personal politics, etc.) and second, these factors are constantly changing. One can only work with the assumptions at hand at that time and hope for the best in the future.
I, for a fact, have had to deal with this aspect of doing business on a regular basis, having owned my own BIM consulting firm in Montreal from 2013 to 2017, and having to deal with all kinds of clients (i.e. architecture, engineering, construction), firm sizes (i.e. teams of a handful of individuals to multinational companies) and settings (i.e. organizational structures, budgets, etc.) I can share with you that it is really not easy to secure buy-in, and one of the major factors for some of my humble successes lied primarily in my ability to read individuals, situations and developments.
But ultimately, luck is an ingredient in this recipe, and I strongly believe that most times you have to be the right person, at the right place, at the right time. Sometimes, you can dictate or influence these things, and sometimes it just happens…
Either way, increase your chances of success by recognizing the importance of this topic, doing your homework and getting the job done.
As my mother would always say when I was a kid, “what matters is the result”.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog article and I’ll see you again soon.
Tarek Ghazzaoui, Eng.
Special thanks to the following individuals and entities for their contribution to this article:
|Juju (my cat)||Late night check-ins and cuddles|
|Gina (my dog)||Emotional support while lounging in her doggy bed|
04, February, et al. “Sales Strategy: Identify Group Sales Decision Makers in 3 Simple Steps.” Sales Strategy: Map Group Business Decision Makers in 3 Steps | Cvent Blog, 4 Feb. 2020, www.cvent.com/en/blog/hospitality/sales-strategy-decision-makers.
“Process Quotes (352 Quotes).” Goodreads, Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/process.
“Budget Sayings and Budget Quotes.” Wise Sayings, www.wisesayings.com/budget-quotes/.
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