I used to remind my students that the biggest mistake they can make as a construction manager is to formally submit a problem or question from the jobsite without having any idea about what to do for a solution.  As such, their question remains open-ended, and more importantly, the answer to the problem waits for the unexpected.

Leading questions
Construction managers should control the process.  And just like the carefully practiced “closing statements” sales people are trained to use in product pitches, the only way to seal a deal and keep things moving along is to ask definitive and leading questions.  Preferably with a yes or no answer.

Insitebuilders-ChangingMindsSalePitches Insitebuilders-LeadingWithQuestions

For old timers, this was tough.  Few had time to sit down and type out a detailed description of the problem, let alone think about offering a solution.  And even fewer could support their submittals with drawings and estimates to illustrate the best possible direction.

Instead, most construction managers were forced to “work around” the problem while they waited for further instructions – often disrupting the schedule, adding to potential delays and overruns, while control drifted away from construction managers to others who may be less familiar with conditions on the jobsite.


Visual explanations
Of course, the best way to keep a project on schedule is to know exactly how you plan to maintain its paths and dependencies.  That requires practical explanations and detailed directions.  And the best way to clearly explain a solution to a problem is with an illustration.  After all, most solutions eventually return to the jobsite as a detailed drawing anyway.

At the same time, only a few construction managers are trained to draft or draw.  And even when they are, as in one of my graphic communications classes, only a handful are really interested in perfecting their “artistic” techniques.

Automated drawings
But now, with free and simple modeling programs like Google SketchUp, construction managers are able to use 3D models to illustrate their own ideas.  For them, it’s easier to build than to draw and there’s something about putting pieces together to build a drawing, even in a virtualized 3D world, that speaks to many contemporary constructors.


And as it turns out, even architects and engineers use 3D models to draft their drawings.  Designers now extract plans, sections, and details from three-dimensional building information models (BIMs).  This means where 2D CAD programs once replaced hand-drafting, we now see these BIM models replacing computer drafting.

2D from 3D
BIMs are not as simple as they’re sold, but they are changing the way 2D drawings are produced.  Gone are the days when it took a great deal of skill to meticulously craft a 2D drawing.  Instead, designers now struggle with obscure codes and menu selections to generate complicated layers of information that go well beyond simple explanations, way too much trouble for most constructors.

Instead, with easy to learn 3D modelers like Google SketchUp, multiple solutions and detailed illustrations can be quickly assembled and exported as scenes from a simple construction model.

Insitebuilders-BonnieRoskesLayout3 Insitebuilders-BonnieRoskesLayout3

For example, Bonnie Roskes’ updated book combines Google Sketchup with Layout 3 to show how 3D models can be quickly converted into two-dimensional illustrations.

Though the content of Bonnie’s book goes well beyond extracting drawings, the method is almost exactly the same as taking a photograph on a virtual jobsite and attaching the image to the submittal with a paper clip.

  1. Start by building the 3D model,
  2. Use camera tools to position a point of view,
  3. Click to export the image for annotation
  4. Print or cut and paste the result.

Leading illustrations

This means anyone, even a hands-on-died-in-the-wool contractor can quickly illustrate any number of ideas and present them as suggested solutions in support of a leading question.

Even more important is that construction models used to stage these illustrations are piece-based assemblies of the suggested solution.  The model therefore represents an embedded process.  It can be deconstructed, reconstructed, and even animated to simulate the operational conditions that can lead the project team to a timely solution.


After all, even a rejected solution is a management tool.  As value engineers from many different industries remind us, in a “systematic and structured functional analysis, rejected ideas generate alternatives and new directions.”  It’s called brainstorming.

Visual construction management
In the end, visually supported explanations support a higher and more proactive level of competitive construction management.  Where once a manager might avoid taking this level of control of their projects, many are beginning to understand that with an open and transparent communications based economy, they can bring definitive technical insight and expertise to a team of like-minded project professionals.

Insitebuilders-Visual Construction Management

And their message becomes especially powerful when they can represent their ideas with graphical skills that were once reserved for designers.  A new generation of constructors now manage their projects with clearly illustrated leading questions that best serve their commitment to maintaining control of the project schedule.



We just finished an update to our classic book, 3D Construction Modeling.

The new book was written for project managers who want to learn first hand how to build their own piece based construction models.  A construction model is a process model, built to communicate ideas and illustrate details using a deconstructable assembly of accurately scaled groups and components.

In other words, a construction model is specifically built to be assembled, disassembled, and staged to communicate the means and methods of a construction.  As such, it is not a design tool, it is a communications tool.

So simple a child can do it

The key to fast and simple construction modeling is an open-source 3D program like Google SketchUp.  As advertised, the software is so easy that a child can use it.  And though that’s a true statement, most of us know that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be easy for a project manager to learn to use the program in the real-world of construction.

Mastering the Art of 3D Construction Modeling

But all it really takes to master the art of construction modeling are a few tips and tricks, a little practice, and the motivation to put the program to work.

That’s the objective of this book:

  1. Pass on tips and tricks collected over almost a decade of construction modeling
  2. Animate the modeling process with a series of short video tutorials
  3. Demonstrate what models can do for professional construction communication

Graphical indexes

The book blends annotated illustrations, short videos, models, and tips and tricks into a series of graphical indexes.

Mastering the Art of 3D Construction Modeling

First as a content page that looks a lot like a standard work breakdown structure (WBS) with eight construction phases.

Mastering the Art of 3D Construction Modeling

The WBS thumbnails link to a series of video indexes on the book’s CD and are included in the book’s table of contents as an overview of each chapter.  These chapter indexes link to a series of 74 short video explanations of the virtual construction.

Mastering the Art of 3D Construction Modeling

The chapters themselves include 54 quick tips and tricks to support the video tutorials.  The tips and tricks are simple techniques that help to speed model construction.

Mastering the Art of 3D Construction Modeling

The pages of the book act as a graphical index of the tutorials.  As such they illustrate the content of each of the video tutorials, introducing techniques that may already be understood, leaving the user to decide the relevance of each step in the modeling method and the corresponding tutorial, based on their experience with the program.

The video pages linked from the graphical index on the book’s CD include embedded YouTube links and full size Flash animations that cover the details of the printed illustrations.  We include these videos on the CD as pop-ups along with resources and cross references to the programs, tutorials, checklists, models, and files used for each phase of the construction model.

Mastering the Art of 3D Construction Modeling

The book’s CD also includes all the models used to illustrate the book, plus the Insitebuilders Shortcuts data file, Insitebuilders Template file, and 154 components taken from the much larger Insitebuilders Component Library.  The rest of our collection can be found in the models included with our other books (Building SIMPLE, Being SUSTAINABLE, How a House is Built, and How to Plan, Permit, and Pay for a Small Home of Your Own).

Mastering the Art of 3D Construction Modeling

Components are an important part of fast-track construction modeling.  No piece of a construction model needs to be built or supply-sourced more than once.  Just like the real world, each model draws on the experience and resources that worked on a previous project and every new construction begins with a collection of components that have been built before.

This means a construction model is no more than a quick assembly from a known collection of prefabricated parts.  The tutorials in this book demonstrate this collective method of modeling using a combination of a fast fabrication technique to build and update new components.

This includes a detailed look at the Outliner and how it keeps the pieces of the model organized, making it possible to stage illustrations, organize deconstructions, and animate sequences of production.  The Outliner also formats components so that they can be quantified and linked to cloud sourced documents like spreadsheets, slide presentations, and reports.

At the center of a cloud

The book therefore mixes digitally printed illustrations and annotated graphics captured from SketchUp, video explanations and sample models, along with YouTube and Flash videos, pop-ups, web pages, checklists, spreadsheets, slide shows, and text based PDFs.

Mastering the Art of 3D Construction Modeling

Most important, the entire book was produced using a combination of open-source and freely available programs downloaded from a cloud of similar programs, including Google SketchUp, Earth, Maps, Docs, PickPic, KompoZer, VirtualDub, FastStone, PDF Fill, Scribus, and the Wink animator.

For more details on all our books, visit our website at www.insitebuilders.com.