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Navigating the Maze: Information Management in the Common Data Environment

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Today, I’d like to share a portion of a recent conversation that came to me through the week. It’s a real-world scenario that many of us in the AEC industry might find familiar, revolving around the challenges of managing files in a common data environment (CDE).

Part 1 – WIP Files in the CDE

File search and analysis
File search and analysis

Ryan, I’m wondering if you can help me? I have a situation related to Work In Progress (WIP) files that I’m not sure how to handle. The BIM Execution Plan (BEP) for the project I’m working on has never formally been issued. A copy of it has been shared informally with the team, which I assumed was current, but I recently found out there are as many as four copies in different folders on the CDE, all in varying stages of development.

As it turns out, the owners of the BEP seem to have expected us to keep on top of the changes occurring in the copies we didn’t know about. There has been no communication of these changes, and the BEP has still yet to be formally issued. I’m not at all convinced that I should be keeping a constant check on WIP files and should only refer to officially issued files. Where do I stand?

Response

Your situation highlights a common challenge in managing information within a Common Data Environment (CDE) and following the principles of good information management, such as those outlined in ISO 19650.

Let’s break down the situation, taking into consideration standard practices and principles:

Work In Progress (WIP) Files:

  • Standard Practice: WIP files are typically kept in a controlled environment where changes can be tracked, and access can be limited to those directly involved in the development.
  • Challenge: Multiple copies of a WIP file in different locations can lead to confusion, inconsistency, and potential errors.

Issued Files:

  • Standard Practice: Once a file is ready to be shared more broadly, it should be formally issued, with clear communication about what has been issued, to whom, and why.
  • Challenge: If files are placed in an “issued” folder but are still WIP and without clear communication, it can create misunderstandings about the status and expectations.

Communication and Collaboration:

  • Standard Practice: Changes to key documents like a BEP should be clearly communicated, with transparent tracking of versions and changes.
  • Challenge: Lack of communication about changes and expectations can lead to misalignment and frustration.

Responsibility and Expectations:

  • Standard Practice: Responsibilities for tracking changes, keeping up to date with documents, and communicating should be clearly defined, ideally in documents like the BEP.
  • Challenge: Unclear responsibilities and expectations can lead to situations like the one you described, where it’s unclear who should be doing what.

Your Position in This Dilemma:

  • Reasonable Expectations: Your commentary that it’s not acceptable to expect the team to keep across an unissued and ever-changing document without clear communication is aligned with standard information management practices.
  • Potential Solutions: Consider formalising expectations and responsibilities for document management, possibly through a revised BEP or other agreement. Regular communication, clear version control, and adherence to agreed-upon processes can help prevent similar issues in the future.

The situation you described highlights a breakdown in communication and adherence to standard information management practices. Your stance appears reasonable, and addressing the underlying issues through clear communication, agreed-upon processes, and possibly revising the BEP could help resolve the dilemma.

Of course, every project and team is unique, so the best approach may depend on the specific context, relationships, and agreements in place.

Part 2 – Communication and the EDMS

Thanks, that certainly clears things up! What if I cannot find any prior agreements though? I have searched the Electronic Document Management System (EDMS), the official means for communicating and issuing documents. Maybe the communication was via email, but I didn’t receive a handover when I joined the project, and I don’t have access to the previous employee’s emails to check there.

To me, this compounds the problem as not only is there poor information management, but poor communication as well. How do I navigate these problems?

Team communication.
Team communication.

Response

Lack of Formal Agreements in the EDMS (Electronic Document Management System):

  • Implication: Without formal agreements stored in a centralised and accessible location, there’s a lack of transparency and accountability. It makes it difficult for team members to understand what has been agreed upon and to comply with those agreements.

Reliance on Email for Critical Communication:

  • Implication: If critical agreements and communications are handled through email, particularly with individuals who have since left the project, it creates a risk of loss of information and lack of continuity. Email is not typically considered a robust or reliable method for managing critical project information.

Lack of Handover:

  • Implication: Without a proper handover process, there’s a risk of losing critical knowledge and information when team members leave the project. This can lead to confusion, delays, and potential errors.

Overall Impact on Information Management:

  • Implication: These issues collectively contribute to a lack of clarity, consistency, and control in how information is managed within the CDE. This can lead to misunderstandings, inefficiencies, and potential conflicts.

Potential Solutions:

  • Document and Formalise Agreements: Moving forward, consider documenting and formalising all critical agreements and storing them in the EDMS where all relevant parties can access them.
  • Improve Communication Protocols: Establish clear protocols for how critical information is communicated, tracked, and stored, using the EDMS as the primary channel.
  • Implement Robust Handover Processes: Consider implementing robust handover processes to ensure continuity and prevent loss of information when team members leave the project.

Overall, the lack of clear or consistent communication and the absence of formal agreements in the EDMS indeed reflect poor information management practices. Addressing these issues through clear processes, documentation, and communication can help improve the overall information management within the CDE and contribute to a more successful project.

Challenges in Your Work?

I hope sharing this conversation has shed some light on the complexities of managing Work In Progress files within a Common Data Environment. Every project and team has its unique challenges and solutions. Have you faced similar dilemmas in your work? How have you navigated them? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Please share them in the comments below or reach out to me directly. Let’s learn from each other and continue to improve our industry practices together.

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