Startup advice to designers about to launch into building information modeling: “Jump in with both feet; halfway measures do not work best. Use BIM on an actual project with a technology-savvy team that won’t be intimidated by the software. Training works best if it is used it right away, so apply it as you go. Set up training sessions that use the actual project for work samples. Get outside help from a knowledgeable and effective trainer, perhaps found through your software vendor. Once started, stick with it. There will be some frustrations at first, but you’ll work through them. Set up an informal network of people both inside your firm and in other firms, who are wrestling with the same issues, a kind of support group (once a week works best). Share insights and shortcuts on a regular basis. Make sure everyone on the team is using the same technology platform—don’t mix and match. Celebrate your successes and let everyone know what’s going well. Post samples of the work product on your office bulletin board so people will know what you are up to. And remember that you are not alone—thousands of people have become BIM-savvy over the past few years.”

The advice for BIM newbies is from Scott Simpson, managing director of the Cambridge, Mass., office of Kling Stubbins. The architect has been designing BIM-enabled buildings for five years.

But even heavy users of BIM, such as Kling Stubbins, report they are still grappling with both BIM technology and “sociology,” as Simpson terms it. Designers predict it will take another five to 10 years for the discipline as a whole to shift to BIM.

“We remain cautious about overselling BIM and ratcheting up unrealistic expectations about the immediate implications for the industry as a whole,” says Felix Heidgen, BIM lead associate with architect RMJM Hillier, New York City.

The BIM journey for designers is demanding because BIM changes so much of the workflow and project organization, from file management to client billing to deliverables to coordination meetings. “We underestimated the depth of change management that would be necessary for our people to adopt and embrace these new tools,” says Sam Spata, a senior vice president in the New York City office of architect HOK.

It’s a huge shift for designers to move from working with CAD’s abstract lines to working with 3D representations, chorus designers. Drawings are no longer the primary tool but rather a report from the database. Those who design and those who solve technical problems become one and the same. That forces teams into a very different work process, says Spata.

Consequently, “BIM must be adopted incrementally to adapt it to existing design systems,” says Heidgen.

The real challenges are in collaborative BIM, “managing expectations at the point of interface across organizational boundaries,” especially down the supply chain, says Samir Emdanat, director of virtual design and construction for architect-engineer Ghafari Associates, Dearborn, Mich.

As an early adopter of the technology, Ghafari is ahead of the curve. Most firms are still grappling with BIM staff literacy, software and hardware costs, software functionality, reliability and interoperability, legal and insurance unknowns, and internal process change.

Take software, which is considered relatively immature. “Lack of scalability, interoperability and support for remote collaboration remain three of the biggest constraints to mainstream adoption of BIM,” says Ken Sanders, managing director of application support for architect Gensler, San Francisco.

“Content created by manufacturers tends to contain an inappropriate level of detail, and content posted to family-sharing sites cannot be trusted in terms of quality,” adds Rick Thoman, BIM/integrated practice coordinator for architect SmithGroup, San Francisco.

Engineers report similar headaches. “BIM is as strong as its weakest link, so minimal fault in the software can impede workflow tremendously,” says Daniel Faraone, BIM coordinator for Wexler Associates, a New York City-based structural engineer.

“Some of the programs have inefficient internal structures that require users to split large models into pieces and reassemble them regularly for coordination,” adds Dan Brodkin, a principal in the New York City...