Last edited 08 Jul 2016

Plain language questions PLQ

See also our Step-by-step guide to using BIM on projects supported by more than 100 linked articles.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a very broad term that describes the process of creating and managing digital information about a built asset. In the UK, the Government Construction Strategy published in May 2011, stated that the '...Government will require fully collaborative 3D BIM (with all project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic) as a minimum by 2016'. This represents a minimum requirement for Level 2 BIM on centrally-procured public projects.

Projects that incorporate Level 2 BIM identify the decisions and information deliverables required at each stage of the project. This ensures that appropriate information is created and shared in a suitable format at the right time so that better decisions can be made throughout the delivery and operation of built assets.

The information that is needed to make these decisions is set out in the Employer's Information Requirements (EIR). The EIR can be seen as a parallel document to the project brief. The project brief defines the physical requirements for the built asset, whilst the EIR defines the information requirements.

The EIR may be developed based around a series of simple 'plain language questions' (PLQ), that the employer will wish to answer at specific stages to assess whether the project is developing as required, and whether it should proceed to the next stage. Specific information will be required at particular times, in certain formats and to a certain level of detail to allow the employer to answer those questions effectively and efficiently. This is the information that the employer needs to procure.

In developing appropriate plain language questions, the employer may begin with very broad, outline questions, and then break these down into more detailed component questions.

For example, the employer is likely to need to know whether the project is affordable. To answer this outline question, they will need a budget and a cost plan.

However, as the project develops, it may be possible to break down this question into a series of more detailed plain language questions. For example, what are the:

The employer will need to obtain information from a number of sources to be able to answer these questions and to know the answer to the question 'is the project affordable?'.

Detailed plain language questions may be broken down further to allow better decisions to be made. For example, the construction costs may be broken down into elements calculated in a way that allows them to be benchmarked against similar projects to assess whether they are good value for money, or if there are unusual or abnormal costs that should be investigated further.

Where possible, 'actual digital question' (ADQ) should be identified that can be answered with a specific piece of digital information and which in some cases may be possible to answer automatically, for example, "do the areas on the schedule of accommodation meet the requirements of the brief ?"

The use of BIM can allow the automatic generation of this information and present decision makers with the very best information possible, in the shortest possible timescale.

Properly defining the employer's plain language questions, aligned to different stages of the project and expressed in a way that requires specific answers is a complicated and time consuming process, and there is some debate about how detailed questions should become. Procuring information for which there is no clear need is wasteful, both in terms of time and money, and being very prescriptive about how suppliers produce information can be a hindrance to their normal operations. Getting the balance right is difficult and can benefit from the appointment of an employer's BIM adviser with experience of creating EIR, who may have templates of plain language questions that can be adapted to suit a specific project.

The BIM Task Group has made available a set of plain language questions developed for a Ministry of Justice project. See nbs, Plain language questions.

In addition, nbs has set out the information requirements for a series of objects that would be required to answer specific plain language questions at different stages of a project. See Nbs, Information Requirements. The objects each have their own table, listing their information requirements, and clicking on those requirements shows a reference to the plain language question to which the information relates.

A model information requirements process map is available on Designing Buildings Wiki that lists outline plain language questions for different stages of a project and the information that might be required to answer those questions.

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