Virtual Reality in Project Management

Author: Alina Contreras

Between a global pandemic and civil unrest, 2020 will forever change us – and how we do business. The ability to work remotely has proven to be an operational necessity and means of survival for many companies and individuals. Until now, integrating technology has been an organic adoption process, driven mainly by efficiency and cost savings, perhaps even a desire to be “innovative”. Those were fun times. Now everyone, including us at Motive Power and our essential partners in the utility sector, must collaborate and adapt to working at least six feet apart, or in quarantine, in forced remote extremism. For the lay business person or project manager without an IT background, the topic of virtual reality is usually opined as cutting edge but too complex to fully grasp. Incorporate existing building information modeling (BIM) software into the conversation and eyes begin to glaze over. This post is for those who see the value virtual reality, when integrated with BIM technology, can contribute to project management, but wish to understand how in a digestible way.


First, theory: Milgram’s Reality-Virtuality Continuum. Developed by Paul Milgram in 1994, this linear model identifies the varying degrees of reality – virtuality. They are as follows:

  1. Reality – The tangible world
  2. Augmented Reality – Virtual data augments the real world. Think Snapchat filters & Pokémon Go.
  3. Augmented Virtuality – Real content augments a virtual world. A little less intuitive, imagine performing a virtual walk down with VR glasses but still having the ability to look down and see your hands and keyboard, tricky.
  4. Virtual Reality – Complete digitally manufactured world. The cool stuff. Rift, HTC Vive, HoloLens2 etc.

Anything along this spectrum is considered a mixed reality –  A term used most interchangeably with augmented reality and virtuality. 

Techniques: Building Information Modeling

Second, BIM methodology and technology. Building information modeling is divided into dimensions of project data ranging from 1D to 10D, similar to the original dimensions we are all familiar with. The beginning dimensions are defined as: 

  • 1D Research and Existing Conditions 
  • 2D Drawings and Plans 
  • 3D Rendering and Detailed Design 
  • 4D Production Scheduling and Phasing 

The dimensions are taken a step further to 5D Production Cost, 6D Sustainability and Energy Efficiency, and 7D Facilities Management. Dimensions 8-10 ultimately lead to lean construction and improvement in every step of the production cycle. As more data is tied to a project, a more comprehensive understanding is created for its construction and maintenance.

Separate from dimensions, are BIM maturity levels that range from zero to three and measure collaboration between team members. Zero maturity would demonstrate no collaboration with 2D CAD drawings only and limited distribution. Level One maturity moves towards partial collaboration with 2D drafting and 3D CAD models that are shared between project team members in a common data environment (CDE) such as an extranet. Level Two Maturity represents full collaboration with the introduction of 4D and 5D data shared in a common file type in a common environment. Most projects today are managed at a Level 2 maturity. Level Three BIM or iBIM is future state, incorporates 6D data and above and is stored in the cloud.


Third, moving past theories and methodologies we bring VR and BIM integration full circle. As technology advances, so will the degree of integration, but for now, let’s focus on 4D construction planning and 7D facilities management. Virtual Reality can provide a working model and virtual experience prior to construction. Project teams can perform constructability reviews and walkdowns in the planning phase remotely to identify design conflicts. Iterations are not limited due to the low cost to modify the design digitally, thereby reducing re-work and procurement issues during construction. During construction, crews can use augmented reality to overlay the design onto the building or equipment, allowing for easier and more accurate quality control. An example would be the partnership developed between Trimble Connect and HoloLens.

Post-construction facilities management inspections can be overlaid with augmented reality data providing behind-the-scenes information on site. Modeling can track the useful life of components within the structure and provide full cost and scheduling information for replacement. Also, remote site visits or dangerous to reach location can be managed via VR. Take a look at HTC Vive and Revit to better visualize this type of modeling.


As with everything, there are obstacles to adopting VR. Primarily, VR technology is rapidly evolving. Costs to set up VR programs for companies is costly and changing a program that doesn’t quite fit needs is cost-prohibitive. More education is required at colleges and universities to provide the industry with VR-fluent professionals. Also, companies must determine how to incorporate VR and BIM into existing project management methodologies such as Agile and Waterfall.

To better visualize VR in action, we recommend venturing down the YouTube rabbit hole. Additional integration could include mobile device applications, rather than VR glasses or headsets. This kind of innovation in project management is still in development but worth investigating especially during these unusual times!