Implementing Lean to Improve BIM Processes

Virtual construction is becoming an essential part of any construction projects. Even in low-level BIM maturity projects building developers are demanding BIM in the design and construction phase.

Lean tools have been developed and applied successfully in the construction industry around the world. Such tools can generate benefits as they improve the company’s organization, its development, and competitiveness 1.

Understanding how virtual construction works with lean construction tools is important in order to identify areas for improvement. Any company or project implementing BIM should ensure that their change process will result in leaner and more efficient processes2. Lean can be used to improve not only real construction process, but also the virtual construction process enabled with BIM. The application of Lean tools to enhance the BIM process is an innovative approach and has practical relevance for many BIM professionals.

Achieving BIM excellence requires more than just expertise in this field of knowledge. Through Lean tools we can view the entire virtual building process holistically and identify opportunities for improvement in order to achieve BIM excellence. Usually the focus is to use Lean and BIM to improve construction processes. Here we propose a relatively unexplored paradigm, it is the use of Lean to improve BIM processes. In particular, we will be looking at the Supplier, Input, Process, Output, Customer (SIPOC) Map, a Lean tool introduced by O’Connor and Swain1 for process improvement in construction. The SIPOC Map presents process elements and synthesizes its description. This facilitates system-level thinking and creates a common understanding. SIPOC is a process that can help design a “customer-centered” process1. This means that we can use the SIPOC process to view the production system from the perspective of the customer and make improvements based on what is valuable for the customer.

The process of creating a SIPOC map is shown in the figure below. First, we identify the supplier. Then we list the information inputs of the process. After we state the process’s name, we will need to write down its outputs. And finally, we need to identify the customer(s) of the process.

Figure 1: SIPOC Map elements description1

Figure 2 shows an example of a SIPOC map based on the virtual design and construction process3. This diagram shows four main processes with information about the suppliers, inputs, outputs, and customers for each process. The process occurs in sequential order: 1) planning, 2) modeling, 3) BIM analysis, and 4) 5D emission.

Figure 2: Case Study SIPOC Map

1. Planning Process

In the planning process, an engineer receives design documents and checks whether or not they are completed. This stage produces templates of virtual construction files. Templates are defined by design information with specified building elements. The analysis of the construction method and quantitative assumptions guides the creation of different types of masonry, coatings, floor finishes, ceiling finishes, doors, windows etc. The idea is to mold the building elements based on the specifications of the design.

2. Modeling Process

In the modeling process, construction technicians virtually build models in the BIM software. Modeling requires a lot of time and deals with a large collection of design information. Preferably the modeling process of each design should be carried out with a flow inspired by the real construction sequence, such as: structure, architecture, sanitary plumbing, fire fighting, water plumbing, electrical and communication.

3. BIM Analysis Process

The BIM analyst receives the 3D models and creates the coordination model. In the BIM Analysis process, a civil engineer navigates through the coordination model in softwares such as Navisworks Manage. The goals are to identify issues that would arise in construction and add Requests For Information (RFI) to resolve them. The output of this process is the 3D model containing an RFI panel accessible by softwares such as Navisworks Freedom.

4. 5D Emission Process

In the 5D emission process a civil engineer generates quantities of construction elements extracted from updated 3D models through a software such as the Vico Takeoff Manager. This process contributes to the planning of the construction and can be carried out with reliable quantities. The 5D emission process has two requirements: 1) the designers need to equalizing their designs and 2) the virtual construction team need to update their 3D models.

Through Lean tools, it’s possible to visualize the entire virtual construction process and identify opportunities for improvement. The SIPOC map is the first step in the process improvement effort. The focus of this tool is on capturing the sets of inputs and outputs to ensure that what is done is really necessary. Virtual construction crews could use the SIPOC map to reveal unnecessary activities improve the efficiency of their processes by removing them. Furthermore, they can also use the visual maps to resequence and optimize their existing processes.


1. O’Connor, R., and Swain, B. (2013). Implementing lean in construction: Lean tools and techniques– an introduction. CIRIA, London.

2. Sacks, R., Koskela, L., Dave, B. A., and Owen, R. (2010). “Interaction of lean and building information modeling in construction.” Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 136(9), 968–981.

3. Dantas Filho, J. B. P., Angelim, B. M., and Barros Neto, J. P. (2016). “Virtual Design and Construction Leaner than Before.” 24th Ann. Conf. of the Int’l. Group for Lean Construction, IGLC, Boston, US.

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