International Influencers: Dr. Marzia Bolpagni

Bolpagni outlines why all perspectives need to be heard to truly drive standardization and maximize project communication
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Factoring the human element into the BIM approach for project standardization adds a complex layer to project management. No one understands this more than Marzia Bolpagni, an architectural engineer who serves as BIM Advisor at Mace and has completed a Ph.D. at Politecnico di Milano. She believes all perspectives need to be heard to truly drive standardization and maximize project communication.

“Don’t be a follower; be a protagonist,” said Bolpagni at an event for the Institution of Civil Engineering in London. Project standardization has long been a passion for Bolpagni, having worked with the UK Ministry of Justice and the Massachusetts Port Authority while collecting research for her Ph.D. thesis on managing and controlling public works through innovative digital approaches. “I think that it’s really important to change the way we procure and the way we pick different types of contracts that enable collaboration,” explained Bolpagni. For her, collaboration is paramount because working together allows all potential input or concerns to be factored into processes and ultimately, project execution. This empowers workers on all levels to step up and provide their own input, as opposed to just “following orders.”

“Working in Massport, with Massachusetts Port Authority was important to me as I saw how they were able to integrate BIM and lean together, because sometimes the integration between the two is not so common. I understood how it makes you start with the end in mind,” explained Bolpagni. “For example, model use helps you to understand what information you will need to define your requirements. Another important aspect is to think about the entire [project] lifecycle, so how you will then maintain the information that you require during the design and construction. Then you can also promote the collaboration between different project partners, and given the level of contractor involvement, you can try and bring everyone to the same table.”

‘We speak a lot about BIM from the technology point of view, but the human part to the process is really important.’

Marzia Bolpagni

Having all project partners and teams working together is a crucial piece of Bolpagni’s vision for construction success. In her view, perspective is everything, and making sure all ideas are seen and heard is the key. She has been on both sides of this situation in her career; she knows what it is like to not have her perspective valued. “When I was a student, I had the possibility to work in Finland for the Technical Research Center (VTT). It was a great opportunity because for the first time as a student, I was asked my opinion about the subject that I was working on. It was important, and I felt like part of the project since I had an opportunity to express what I was working on. I could be the expert on the topic at that time.” Unfortunately, jobsite politics can often stifle younger voices who may have revolutionary ideas for process improvement and standardization. “I really think it is important to engage with the younger generations, not because they are at the beginning of their career or they are just starting to investigate, but to ask for their opinion. I think that then you can receive new thinking and maybe new ideas that you were not aware of. To be a critical thinker, that is very important.”

Filling the Gap Between Research and Industry

“It’s crucial to link the research and the academia, as well as the university with industry because there is a lot of value,” said Bolpagni. Having been on the research side of construction projects and then making the transition to serving as an engineer on projects gives Bolpagni an even greater appreciation for improving processes, as she was able to apply what she had learned as a researcher to the jobsite. It also gave her a chance to emphasize the value of the human approach to project communications. “In the future, I would like to try to fill the gap between the research and the industry. There are a lot of good projects that I’m working on; especially the BIM Dictionary, for example. This is a tool that is available online for free that translates in 17 languages, and by the end of the year, it will be translated in another six languages. It’s a way to know and share knowledge,” explained Bolpagni. “I would also continue working on a European level to standardize some concepts and try to make sure that everybody’s on the same page when discussing these new topics. Sometimes I have the feeling that we are trying to improve our industry, but we are not speaking about the same thing. It’s good to understand that if we can standardize some concepts to be able to establish a better industry. It could be from the technological point of view, but also from a standards and policies standpoint, to improve the entire process.”

About Marzia Bolpagni:

Developing and implementing digital construction strategies for international clients is Bolpagni’s specialty. In 2017, the Italian Engineer Association gave her the Woman Ingenious Award for her work on BIM at international level. She has presented her work in 12 countries including BIMForum in the US, WBC16 in Finland, buildingSMART in France, MIBA in Hungary, BIMLUX in Luxembourg, Digital Construction Brussels in Belgium, ICE BIM in the UK, BIM Aarhus in Denmark and BIMTECNIA in Spain. In addition, Bolpagni is a member of the BIM Excellence Initiative, Assistant Editor and Italian Language Editor of the BIM Dictionary, a member of the Italian Organisation for Standardization (UNI) CT 033/GL 05 and the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) TC 442 working groups on Building Information Modeling, UK BIM Alliance and mentor at the BILT Academy. Currently, she is also the leader of the Task Group on LOD at the European Committee for Standardization CEN TC 442 WG2 coordinating experts from 11 countries.