How to Avoid the Number One Money-Burning Mistake Most Firms Make with Revit

There is a lot of talk, hype, and rhetoric about BIM. Technology evangelists and implementation specialists go into great depths about the capabilities, functionalities, and new workflows and processes of BIM. It's easy to lose perspective.

All the hype around BIM is the primary cause of the error that most new design MEP firms make - the same error that leads to massively blown budgets and a reputation-damaging dip in quality of drawing sets.

The perceived message from BIM evangelism comes in two flavors:

  1. BIM tools can do a lot of the stuff we used to do separately from our drawing efforts (like analysis and coordination work).
  2. BIM tools do the things they do automatically. 

These two messages make people think that what is being claimed about BIM tools is that pretty much all you have to do is model the "stuff", and the BIM tool will take care of the rest. 

Myth: All you have to do is create the model (the architectural model, or the piping model, or the duct model, et cetera) and then hit the "Make Drawings" button, and Revit will pump out your drawing set. 

Myth: All you have to do is create the model, and then hit the "Clash" button, and Revit/Navis/360 will make your model clash-free.

Myth: All you have to do is model the duct and pipe, hit the "size" button, and Revit will size the distribution system for you (and do ventilation calcs).

Myth: All you have to do is build the architectural model, and Revit will create an energy model for you.

Reality: There are a lot of buttons in Revit. I've been in Revit for five years and I'm still coming across buttons I've never seen and have no idea what they do. Every thing I've ever set out to do in Revit has taken somewhere between "a fair amount" and "an obscene amount" of time to figure out. Granted, I'm a slow learner, but the point is that nothing in Revit is automatic. Even the things that are automatic.

Producing good-looking drawings from the Revit model takes a lot of work, skill, and a deep knowledge of all the buttons related to making drawings. Few of the skills for making good CAD drawings translated to Revit drawings - it's a completely different learning curve. In fact, it's a widely accepted fact that the more you know about CAD, the harder it is to pick up Revit.

Doing coordination with a Revit + Navis workflow is in some ways riskier than when we were coordinating using CAD, because people tend to make incorrect assumptions about the level of development of a 3D model. In a design intent model, it's easy to look at a pipe and assume that you can move the ceiling up to it within an inch and call the model coordinated. But missing from that pipe was the flange size, valve body, and the unistrut pipe support - all elements that won't get modeled until later in the design/construction modeling process. Even when all parties are on the same page regarding the level of development, doing coordination takes a lot of work, a lot of phone calls, and a lot of meetings.

This isn't a Revit-bashing post. Can Revit make awesome looking drawings from a well coordinated model? Oh hell yeah. Can you size duct and pipe systems in Revit a lot faster than you can with a ductulator? Definitely. Can you use a Revit model as the basis for an energy model and save a lot of time doing manual takeoffs? For sure. 

But.

You have to be really good.

You have to know what you are doing.

You have to have spent a lot of time in the software. 

You don't just download a trial version of Revit and know how to crank out an awesome drawing set. You download a trial version of Revit, and then talk your boss into buying a license, and then you spend months and months in the software, and then you can crank out an awesome drawing set. 

It's like dieting, right? Everyone wants to be able to take a few pills and have a GQ body without changing anything else about their lifestyle. But the reality is that to get a GQ body you have to work really really hard for a long time and make drastic changes in your lifestyle.

It's the same deal with Revit skill. You have to earn it.

And that is the number one error that most firms new to BIM tools make. They don't invest in earning and learning the skills and experience required to kick ass at Revit. 

So how do you avoid this error and save your firm from burning a whole big pile of money? 

  1. Don't assume you'll be able to switch from quality CAD drawings to quality Revit drawings overnight. It's going to take some time. How much time it'll take depends on the next few points.
  2. Get expertise as fast as you can. Either
    1. Hire a BIM guru (a real BIM guru, not just someone who sat through a webinar once. Get examples of their work) who can get you set up. Or,
    2. If you can't or don't want to find someone who already knows BIM, support someone(s) in your office to teach themselves. And actually support them. Don't just tell Fred you want him to "pick up" Revit and keep feeding him 50hrs/week of CAD markups. It's not a bicycle, it's a major new software platform of an entirely different design paradigm that will produce your company's core product

If you opt for having someone in-house pick up Revit, here's how to do it:

  1. Win a Revit project. You can't learn Revit well without diving in to a real project.
  2. Assign someone to that project, and only that project, and tell them their number one priority is to figure out how to make good drawings using Revit.
  3. Hook them up with some training, but don't overdo it (and consider skipping training seminars). In most 2 or 3 day training seminars, you get overloaded with information and can only absorb about 15% of it. Intensive training is a bit of a waste of money. Instead: 
  4. Encourage your new Revit Guy or Gal to spend a lot of time on the forums, blogs, and video tutorial series. Buy them some Revit books (they'll make good monitor stands later). Send them to Autodesk University if you can afford it.
  5. Get them frequent feedback. Ideally, pay someone knowledgeable to do a QC of your Revit models and drawings - someone who can tell you specifically what you are doing wrong, not just "this bit here looks like crap". You're looking for feedback like "Copy monitor the grids and then hide them in VG > RVT Links > Arch > Annotation Categories, so you can adjust the grid bubbles per view. Also halftone them."
  6. Don't worry about making money on your first Revit project. You won't. Consider it an investment. If you can avoid a train wreck and deliver a decent set, you have just bought yourself access to all the Revit projects out there that were out of your reach before, and you can make money on those.

The big concepts here are that you learn by doing and you progress by getting frequent specific feedback. So jump in to a project, start pushing buttons, ask for help a lot, and get people to point out where you are going wrong often.