4D BIM for Construction

Visual Storytelling

Posted by Tom Dengenis on Mar 6, 2017 10:01:22 PM

This past week as we are preparing for the next Synchro Software User’s Conference it has been very hard to avoid the news and broadcast interviews about the Oscars award ceremony and the event played out for the Best Picture winner Moonlight.  Among the chatter I heard an interview that described the power of storytelling and it caught my attention.  In the conversation Cheo Hodari Coker said among many things that:

“…one of the great things about the visual language is that it is the great equalizer. And one's ability to communicate a story visually, honestly, is a bridge of communication that transcends language…”           

Cheo Hodari Coker, screenwriter

Over the past few years we have looked to find the right words to convey the impact of Synchro Software to the industry.  Coker’s comments reminded me of what Charlie Dunn said in the video Constructing our Future: Innovation and Responsibility .  Here is Charlie’s quote:

“Construction is creating something where once there was nothing. It goes back to what is great storytelling, because as people we all connect with great storytelling. And what is storytelling? Storytelling at its essence is imagining something that is not and taking other people there with you.”

Charlie Dunn, DPR (formerly with Duke Energy)

We know the construction industry stands alone and uniquely apart from all other industries.  It requires solutions that specifically fits its needs so when “new” comes along we see experiments pop up in various places, but it is normal that the universal, institutional, industry wide adoption is expected to be completed way out into the future.  Change is very slow to come to standards of practice.  It may take decades to redefine how project delivery teams get their work done. Patience and recognizing that the road is long drives our strategy.  At our core we value the challenge to step up and help the construction industry shine brighter in spite of all its challenges.

In light of the challenges, I do have an amazing story of rapid technology adoption in construction that inspires me and it happened in our modern history.  It is the mobile cellular telephone which achieved overnight adoption by the construction industry.  When I mention this example, people are surprised by the idea that construction was quick to adopt the mobile or cellular phone.  They are also a bit dismissive that I would use the telephone technology example in the same vein as adopting software technology as relevant.  It is clear to me that telephones and computer software are different forms of technology.  It is also clear that regardless of the technology we all seek the exact same result; to get the job done safe and well, we always seek to get better and to improve project results.  

Everyone sees and hears the construction project as a constant hive of communications from the instant the project demand is created to the absolute last moment closing the project; we are all constantly communicating.  The mobile telephone created instant immediate access to on the spot communications.  It almost instantly removed the delay between seeing an issue or needing to know something and speaking to someone about it.  The instant, always available mode of the technology was very attractive. We were no longer tied to a face-to-face job site meeting or a land line to keep information flowing had and still has enormous value.  The on the spot communications was a “no brainer” and its value was instantly understood by the industry and adoption was rapid.  

In my own experience, I purchased my first hand held mobile telephone in 1989 and was one of the 2.7 million cellular subscribers in the USA at that time. I was working for myself as a small construction contractor and that telephone changed my business overnight.  In less than 5 years cellular telephone subscriptions in the US skyrocketed. In 2004 Sprint- who was ranked number 3 in the US market at 26 million subscribers, offered to acquire controlling interest in Nextel for $36bn (Nextel was ranked number 5 at 13m subscribers).  At that time Nextel reported that circa 50% of their 13 million subscribers were identified as being in the construction industry.  This amazing example of construction successfully and rapidly adopting technology begs the question why.  

It is hard to find what else the mobile telephone gave us alongside the instant connection that removed the delay between seeing or needing to know something and the face-to-face meeting or being tethered to a land line telephone.  All we really know is that the mobile cellular telephone gave us rapid, on the spot connection to talk about things and that it changed everything almost overnight.  

Now more than 30 years since the cellular telephone started changing the industry we are still struggle to get the job done safe and well, to always do better and to improve project results. What else do we need and what is that something that is more than instant access to make a telephone call?  

“Our work was all sorted and rehearsed before we arrived on site to get this job done.”  

MWH’s Foreman Lime Treatment Project Frankley, Birmingham

Last year at our London User’s Conference we heard Tony Davies from MWH describe his project team designing the size and shape of all of the parts of each modular work package that would be factory assembled and transported to the job site for and final installation, hook-up and commissioning.  He described it as a cooperative process made possible by visual planning and visual storytelling that even involved the final riggers in the factory who were preparing the Lorries for international transoceanic transport.  He described the process as a combined design coordination and site operations digital rehearsal.  He concluded by sharing the observation that during the site installation it was quiet and calm, and when the mechanics were asked why this project’s sights and sounds were so different than the client had ever seen or heard before, the foreman and mechanics alike responded that they had seen it all before and that there were no surprises, so no need or reason for the hive of conversations and problems solving.  “Our work was all sorted and rehearsed before we arrived on site to get this job done.”  

In Charlie Dunn’s session he called the Duke Energy Nuclear Station pre-outage meetings as “practice sessions” and Tony called them “digital rehearsal” but they were both describing the same processes only made possible and effective by higher quality communications.  Where the quality improved by having clearer more universally understood communications to drive the respect among the project participants working together to solve the inherent issues of the complex project that was accomplished as planned and as practiced and rehearsed.  Improving performance was the bottom line.

The movie industry’s ability to tell visual stories has changed the world and now we see visual planning and telling visual stories changing construction.  Creating effective visual stories isn’t as simple as making a telephone call is today to speak our mind or ask a question but with a bit of help from an organized skilled team with the right software and a deep seated belief that our job is to improve performance, the effort to create and use visual stories will keep getting easier, quicker and more effective than making a mobile cellular telephone call.

We know that keeping the project safe, clean and organized improves performance.  We know that planning and controls improves performance.  We know that coordinated design and coordinated site operations improves performance.  And we know that visual planning leading to telling a visual story improves communications and performance.

The interview this week with Coker also gave him the opportunity to say that…


“…one's ability to communicate a story visually, honestly, is a bridge of communication that transcends language because the true mark of a good film is that you can turn the sound off and watch it and have some understanding of what you're seeing. And that's why film travels around the world.”

Cheo Hodari Coker

For those of our users that are attending our conference in Sandvika, Oslo, Norway we look forward to see you there, bright and early, on the 15th of March.  For those who are not able to attend we will miss you but be on the lookout for what we hear and learn that day on the Synchro Software YouTube channel.

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