Improving operational effectiveness with Dynamo
Across the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry, there are vast differences in how well companies execute basic tasks. The performing of these tasks better than how rivals perform them is known as ‘operational effectiveness’.1 Operational effectiveness is important because it improves productivity and profitability. While many might be quick to point out that operational effectiveness is fundamentally different and not a substitute for a carefully defined strategy, if a company can’t get the operational basics right, it doesn’t matter how brilliant their strategy is.2 This article explores how companies can improve their operational effectiveness by harnessing the power of Dynamo.
Dynamo is a node-based visual programming interface developed by Autodesk. When used in conjunction with Revit, it has the power to generate and manipulate both geometry and data. Sometimes known as ‘Parametric BIM’, this workflow represents the convergence of computational design and BIM.
Over the past five years or so, the industry’s exposure to Dynamo has steadily grown to the point that it is now a staple at AEC conferences around the world. While the odd presentation may focus on pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, most talks focus on incremental changes to day-to-day production, in other words, improving operational effectiveness. Indeed, Parametric Monkey has contributed to this trajectory through talks such as ‘Everyday Dynamo: Practical uses for BIM managers’ (BILT ANZ 2017, AU AUS 2017) and ‘Data liberation: Using Dynamo to automate standardisation’ (BILT ANZ 2018). Through this continued exposure, BIM managers around the world have developed an acute awareness of the potential of automation in the AEC industry. This awareness is reflected in the skill level that presentations are now pitched at. Whereas 4-5 years ago, most talks were pitched at an introductory level, we are now starting to see the majority of talks aimed at an intermediate and advance skill level. Indeed, over the past two years, there has been an explosion in the number of classes delivering Python and C# content, which represents the next developmental stage in programming.
If one were to consider Everett Rogers’s classic bell curve of innovation, I would argue that we are quickly approaching the end of the ‘early majority’ phase in terms of Dynamo adoption at a Design Technology/ BIM manager level. Very soon, if we haven’t already arrived, we will be transitioning into the ‘late majority’ phase. Put another way, we are reaching a point at which the adoption of Dynamo is reaching critical mass among design technology professionals.
So what does this have to do with operational effectiveness? Quite simply, we are at a point in time that if you are a BIM manager NOT using Dynamo to automate your day-to-day tasks, your company is behind the productivity frontier. More likely than not, your competitors have invested time and money into developing tools to improve their workflows in terms of speed and quality. It is tempting, but wrong, to dismiss Dynamo, or any technological innovation for that matter, with the justification that ‘we’ve done fine in the past, why do we need to change now’ attitude. The do-nothing scenario is not a continuation of the status quo. It is a non-linear decline in performance which is exacerbated over time.4
We are at a point in time that if you are NOT using Dynamo to automate your day-to-day tasks, your company is behind the productivity frontier.
So how do we get onboard and avoid being a laggard? The first step for any company is to look at their current workflows and identify where gains can be made. Next, it is important to rank these workflows in terms of inefficiencies. This prioritisation is crucial because while a workflow may not be glamorous, it is where you are going to get the biggest bang for your buck. This process also helps demonstrate to senior management that this initiative is not merely ‘playing around with the tools’ but a rigorous process which can deliver tangible, measurable performance improvements. The case study below illustrates how this process can be implemented.
Back in March 2015, BVN released the BVN Dynamo Package. Developed by Paul Wintour, the package focused on complex, and often time-consuming workflows to improve day-to-day operations. Such workflows included generating sheet sets and sequentially renumbering rooms to name but a few. Over the next three years, the package grew to 56 custom nodes and was one of the most popular downloads in the Dynamo Package Manager. Staff were trained in its use and the tools deployed to all offices. Comprehensive documentation was provided, and quickly staff started to rely on this as the first point of contact rather than over-burdening the already stretched design technology team.
A benchmarking test was conducted on a real-world project to demonstrate the potential benefits of Dynamo over manual methods. The project was for a 20-storey residential tower consisting of 200 apartments. The model was initially built as a non-workshared model as part of a design competition. Once the project was awarded, it moved into the schematic design phase and needed to be turned into a ‘proper’ workshared model for use by a wider team. The automated tasks which typically would be undertaken by a BIM manager included:
- Creating five worksets based on office naming conventions;
- Assigning all existing elements to their specified workset;
- Creating seven isolated worksets views;
- Creating 20 sheets from Excel spreadsheet;
- Renaming all 65 views, sheets and schedules to upper-case;
- Adjusting 507 centre location of rooms and their associated room tags;
- Renumbering 209 rooms sequentially based on their level; and
- Renaming 209 rooms by apartment type model group.
The results were impressive – impressive enough to warrant discussion as part of the Autodesk Australia (AU) 2017 conference. As can be seen in the image below, certain tools offered far more significant advantages than others. For example, the creating workset tool saved just under 5 mins, compared to renaming rooms which saved over 2 hours. This is further compounded by the fact that the workset tool is generally only run once, whereas the renaming room tool is likely to be run multiple times for a project.
In total, Dynamo was able to save 10 hours during the project setup phase. According to Bespoke’s 2018 Sydney Salary Guide, the average salary of a BIM Manager is $130,000 (or approx. $67/hr). This equates to a saving of $670 for a single project. Multiply this by the number of projects you have plus the compounded productivity and this figure begins to rise rapidly.
In conclusion, digital tools such as Dynamo, have the power to accelerate your workflows and provide a competitive advantage. So if you’re looking to take the next step at improving your operational efficiency through Dynamo, Parametric Monkey offers a range of tools and services to help you along your journey.
1 Porter, M. (2011). What is strategy. In HBR’s 10 Must Reads: On strategy. Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, p.2.
2 Sadan, F. et al. (Sept/Oct 2017). Why do we undervalue competent management? Harvard Business Review Press. Available: https://hbr.org/2017/09/why-do-we-undervalue-competent-management
3 Doctored image from: https://hbr.org/2013/03/big-bang-disruption
4 Christensen, C. et al. (2013). Innovation killers. In HBR’s 10 must reads on innovation. Harvard Business Review Press, Boston, pp.158-159.