The Importance of a Digital Design Manual: Creating an “Operational Bible” for Institutional Knowledge.

One issue that is problematic for businesses, especially architectural businesses, is how to remain consistent in showcasing the special flavor of what you do. The challenge businesses are presented with is executing projects with excellence consistently, so the business is awarded additional projects.  One way to meet that challenge head-on is documenting and memorializing your institutional knowledge. This is what we will unpack today. We are going to talk with Kiran Nayak, a BIM consultant, and digital practice leader. Kiran possesses vast experience in design and architecture and is in the process of building this kind of organizational database.  Welcome to the show, Kiran.   

Why is the Digital Design Manual Necessary?

While the firm itself has its own identity, people come and go. People join the office, they live there a couple of years, and eventually, these people leave. What they leave behind is a lot of institutional knowledge. There is a lot of shared knowledge that needs to trickle down to people who join the firm. There is a process of educating new staff as they come in. One of the big challenges that we face is how to create institutional knowledge within a practice so that it is easy for people to understand and easy for new people who join the firm to learn.  It also needs to be easy to modify as it grows. Typically, firms publish it in PDF form, which ends up being counterproductive because people copy it onto their machines and it is not updated regularly. The most successful option that we have found is to post a repository of information on our central intranet platform. This information is used as an encyclopedia of information within the firm.

The difference between companies like Toyota, Walmart, Amazon, who have thrived over the years is their ability to have both the culture and a central repository of processes and systems and improvements connected to that culture. That is what we are talking about here. 

How is Information Shared in the Typical Architecture Firm?

One of the biggest challenges is that information is only shared by word of mouth. That is the lowest rung of information sharing that you could have in an architecture practice. You can hold membership training sessions that broadcast to an office, but how much of that is remembered? How much of that information actually gets to the end-user? That is the measure of success. You want the person who is producing the work to receive that institutional knowledge. When you have a firm that is dependent on word of mouth for the transfer of information, then you quickly notice that you get the same questions asked repeatedly and from the same people. This is because they are unaware of where to go to find that information the next time. It is vital that firms figure out a way to curate that information. 

What are the Components of Building this Database? 

Every firm needs to have its own standards.  When you work on a project, there are things that set you apart and make you excellent.

  • The tools you use
  • The people who use the tools
  • The workflow in utilizing the tools

When we considered how to gather the information about those three things and curate them in one central place, the solution was not to distribute a PDF or send emails, but to host that on our central intranet platform. The great advantage of that is that it functions as a living document. You can update parts of it and make it interactive.  It doesn’t just sit dormant in someone’s hard drive.  

It looks almost like a website but for internal use. You can easily look up graphic standards, BIM standards, how do teams communicate within a collaborative work-sharing BIM environment. And how to ask questions. It also includes the resources you have within the firm such as videos of recorded training sessions. All this knowledge is hosted in a central place making it easy for people to find information. 

Which Position is Tasked to Oversee the Digital Design Manual?

I think mid-size firms often have the advantage of being able to hire a dedicated digital design manager or BIM Manager. In that kind of environment, the BIM manager would be the person who would oversee the curation of that information. The BIM manager would collect and assist in generating content through training and then bring that information into the digital design manual. 

Smaller firms may not have that luxury.  They do not have the financial resources to dedicate that much money to an internal BIM manager. One answer is to hire a consultant who can do that for you. There are many good people out there. 

Are You Available to Help as a Consultant?

I am happy to help. It is good for small firms to know that there is a huge ecosystem of experienced BIM consultants out there who are eager to help small firms transition into BIM. 

Smaller firms usually have an Ops person there somewhere. If the company owner has the vision and can dedicate some time to building a framework for this, an Ops person could be tasked with organizing and executing. 

How is it Structured and What Software Do You Use for the Manual?

I’ll share an image with you that will describe how a small firm and a medium-size firm could operate and organize themselves for better BIM implementation. 

For the digital design manual, we use SharePoint. SharePoint has some basic resources that will enable any firm to put together a straightforward digital design manual just using their templates. That has been very useful for us, even though it has its limitations. 

What is One Pro Tip to Get People the Information Quickly and Make Them More Productive?

It is not a surprise that no one wants to read pages of text.  We live in the age of TikTok, and we have noticed that people respond well to a 30–the second video or a short video that briefly describes a particular workflow or a standard. That has been the most successful way to record information and share it online. When we look back at the metrics, the views of videos on the intranet far outweighed the views of stand-alone pages. 

There is no preparation necessary. You simply record your troubleshooting and quick training sessions. You need to create a title and description of the video that corresponds to what is in the video. That is key. Once you name it properly, it becomes a vital resource. 

We will dig deeper into your digital design manual “operational bible,” and hopefully get a little more how-to specific advice for our viewers. In the meantime, Kiran, thank you for your time and thank you to our viewers.  We hope that you can build your organization to last for years and become what you want to be known for. 

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