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Thinking in New Formats – Professional Education Programs Go Digital!

Training a group of executives on complex matters without actually seeing them or physically interacting with them – how could that be possible? What changes would have to be made to guarantee a successful outcome? What tools should be incorporated to make the educational content more graspable? And how do you keep everybody’s attention span up for a multi-day period of time? TUM School of Management’s BIM Program Manager, Ariane Mackenzie, suddenly had all these questions on her mind when adapting her latest Professional Education Program to be held remotely due to the Corona situation. Its goal: To create awareness, share knowledge and ultimately enable the program’s participants to educate other coworkers on BIM, the Building Information Modeling – in this particular case specifically applied to the engineering, procurement, and construction business in the energy sector. The challenge: Certifying 25 employees of Siemens Energy with different levels of knowledge around the topic as BIM Professionals, while taking part remotely and using only digital tools and web-based platforms to get the message across. Certainly a tough task – but unusual times and challenges often bring out the best in us. Here is how it went.

First of all: The Building Information Modeling (BIM) approach consists of an innovative method to handle the planning, construction, and operation of buildings and industrial plants, including power plants and energy transmission facilities. The focus is on a digital 3D model that optimizes cooperation between different project participants in the various phases of the life cycle of a building or plant.

Siegfried Fischer, Project Manager for the introduction of BIM in the Generation Solutions section at Siemens Energy, had a vision for what he wanted to accomplish with his team during the course of the program: “My main goal was to get the basic philosophy of BIM across and to shine a light on the concept: Which software and which applications are being used? And which companies are already working with them? Ideally, after attending and participating in the Professional Education Program and graduating with a “BIM Professional”- TUM certificate, all participants should now be able to share that knowledge with their coworkers and act as multipliers for promoting this revolutionary approach. And I think we have created the basis for that to happen.”

Of course, prior to the dramatic spread of COVID-19 and the resulting contact restrictions, Mr. Fischer and his coworkers at Siemens Energy wouldn’t have considered doing a complex Professional Education Program like that virtually. “To be quite honest, I initially thought of it as a workaround solution”, Mr. Fischer admits. “What kept me optimistic, though, was the TUM School of Management’s overall reputation, especially in regards to their Professional Education Programs, as well as the fact that all participants knew each other and were already used to collaborating remotely with colleagues, partners and clients across the globe.”

To his delight, that remote working experience and professionalism of the team paid off during the nine eight-hour sessions. “Everybody was incredibly disciplined and eager to learn”, TUM program manager Ariane Mackenzie states. In order to keep the focus and enthusiasm up for all sessions, the TUM School of Management reacted with flexibility and speed to adapt the program from its original format to a new format. In order to keep the focus and enthusiasm high, the team decided to move away from the regular three-to-four-days-in-a-row schedule and stretched the program out to eight weeks instead. Siegfried Fischer applauded that decision: “Past experiences have shown us that virtual meetings, workshops and lectures are indeed more exhausting than their physical pendants. That’s why I think it was crucial to stick to one day per week.”

To also enable smaller group discussions between participants, the latest BIM Professional Program featured virtual breakout rooms for smaller group discussions while using the tool Circuit. “I’m sure we’ll include opportunities like that even more when doing Professional Education Programs remotely in the future. By splitting participants into groups of 4-5 people and assigning them their own chat retreats we encouraged those valuable, vivid discussions that always happen during course breaks as well as before and after meetings”, Mackenzie confirms.

Ultimately, what stuck most with all participants was the TUM´s evidence-based management approach, presented through real life cases by company representatives. “Real industry stories are the perfect way to access an innovative and rather complex topic”, Siegfried Fischer emphasizes. “By showing and explaining the method while sharing thought processes as well as personal success stories, the TUM speakers inspired us to keep going in that direction.”

Would he choose the virtual way of learning and training again? Putting the coronavirus aside for a moment, Mr. Fischer does see some clear-cut advantages: “To be honest, the financial and ecological benefits of doing programs like that remotely are definitely worth considering, as traveling costs and time would be drastically reduced. On the other hand, discussions between participants and speakers, afterwork get-together opportunities and other team-bonding activities are limited to an extent. Going forward, I could definitely imagine a mixed solution where the first and the last meeting take place onsite while all the sessions in between are carried out virtually. I’m sure we’ll see more of that in the near future.”

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