The BIM Unicorn: Rare Traits of High-Performing 3D Modelers

Consulting companies are people-based organizations and the alignment of skills and projects is critical for successful execution. I ran a building information modeling (BIM) consulting company for several years, and I had a mental model I employed to inform business decisions. Examining this mental model can help provide insight into your own skills, skills of others around you, and skills you will look for when hiring for BIM positions.

The mental model is very simple. To effectively execute on projects, an individual has to have three components: modeling skill, tradecraft, and project experience. The assessment of an individual's abilities would then inform how to approach a given project. Below is a description of each of these components followed by the project approach.

Modeling skill: Modeling skill is the most obvious asset used to execute on projects with BIM, but it's important to note that not all modelers are the same. There's a wide range of skill required to do modeling and productivities are absolutely not identical. In an upcoming post, we'll enumerate some of these skills and ways to measure them, but it really boils down to one fundamental question: Does their expected productivity match the cadence of the project?

Tradecraft: In the most ideal of worlds, every 3D modeler doing BIM would be a former plumber, sheet metal worker, or other tradesperson. Knowing how a building goes together is a very important part of virtual design and construction (VDC) because the building is effectively being virtually built in digital scale. Tradecraft is a collection of experiences related to a particular trade and a lack of tradecraft makes for a more difficult process.

Project experience: The final component is project experience. Has this individual been part of coordination meetings? Can they run a coordination meeting? Can they facilitate a discussion with a design team or, more fundamentally, when faced with a difficult, overbearing foreman from another trade, will they be able to stand their ground on a tough issue? As with the other components, there's a spectrum of experience.

How does all of this tie together? Here are two important insights. First, high-performing BIM professionals solidly combine all three of these skills. These individuals are so rare that we call them "BIM Golden Unicorns." When evaluating individuals for hire, BIM golden unicorns are an expensive proposition. They are a valuable hire, especially when they are the early hires in a BIM department. The second insight is that you don't actually need all of these skills in one person. If you have a modeler who has no project experience and limited understanding of a trade, allocate time with a foreman or other tradesperson. This backstops the lack of tradecraft and project experience, and over time, the novice modeler will pick up these skills and become more self-sufficient.

Hopefully this mental model of BIM skills is helpful. We'll define more specific ways of evaluating individual skills in a later post. We'll also describe how we're using this mental model at BuildingSP. Design automation, computational BIM, and generative design are highly relevant to BIM project assets as we focus more on BIM strategy than the grind of coordination.

For more information about BuildingSP and GenMEP software, visit our website at, and check out our blog here.

Tags: BIM Architecture and Planning virtual design

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