CAD Management as Overhead

23 Jun, 2010 By: Robert Green

Not everyone agreed with the advice on how to bill CAD management duties during this economy.

In the last issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I shared my findings that CAD managers who have high rates of overhead (those who are not project-billable) are much more likely to be laid off. I recommended the following coping strategies, loosely paraphrased here, for increasing your billable hours and lowering overhead:

  • CAD standards formulation and creation should be billed to the job you're working on.
  • Training users in job-specific standards or procedures should be billed to job kickoff.
  • Efficiency-increasing tasks, such as customization, should be billed to the jobs that benefit from the increased efficiency.

In this issue, I'd like to expand on this topic a bit and share some feedback from a reader who took issue with my recommendations. Here goes.

Scathing Reader Feedback

"C.M.," a project manager from Kansas, took me to task for the advice I offered in the previous newsletter. I'll present all of the feedback first, then respond to the various concerns.

"In this last article, I read this: Need to revise CAD standards? Bill the hours to the job you're working on. Need to train users on how to use your standards? Bill the training time to job kickoff. As a project manager, I would fire you on the spot for padding time on a job. CAD management is overhead, and it is dispensable overhead at that.

"Just as a personal opinion, I get the feeling from your articles [during] the last year or so, that you are getting out of touch with what today's workplace is actually like. It isn't about cracking down on people for using the company computer for personal reasons; it is about encouraging those same people to use the creativity to come up with good, solid solutions on projects."

Billing to Projects

I replied to C.M., explaining that there's no way I would ever advocate charging hours to a job without the approval of the project manager, and that I should have been more clear in my instructions. Now, I'd like to amend my advice about remaining billable and lowering your overhead.

CAD managers must work with their project management teams to ensure that project managers see CAD management as a tool that helps their projects run better. I've always advocated making processes faster and cheaper, and this is exactly what project managers want as well; thus project management and CAD management should overlap in a very symbiotic manner. The CAD manager simply needs to perform his or her tasks in a way that provides productivity to the job, and the project manager should consequently be willing to absorb CAD management as a job-related cost.

So to keep CAD management billable, I'll offer the following tips in a way that I hope project managers can agree with:

CAD standards. Will the project you're working on require revisions or additions to CAD standards in order to make the job run better? If so, go to your project management team; make them aware of the changes and make sure they understand their project will run better — and require less rework — if they allow you to become proactively involved with the project early on. At this point it is perfectly reasonable to ask for your time to be covered by the project, because the CAD standards work you're doing is directly aiding it.

Training. Will the CAD users in your company perform more efficiently on a given project if you conduct project kickoff or standards training? Will the rate of errors drop if you conduct this type of training? If so, the training should be conducted using actual project standards (title frames, default parts/families, using real filing standards, etc). If you can make training project-specific and enhance user productivity enough to make a difference in the financial performance of the project then, again, it is reasonable to expect that your CAD management time would be project-billable.

Is CAD Management Expendable?

When I read C.M.'s assertion that "CAD management is overhead, and it is dispensable overhead at that," I had to fight back some anger before responding. My belief has always been that CAD management — good CAD management, at any rate — helps a project get done with fewer man-hours and less overhead.

Companies that treat CAD management as dispensable very often wind up with big problems down the road, precisely because nobody actually knows what is happening.

Perhaps C.M. has never worked with a really good CAD manager, or maybe he's never been burned as a result of not managing CAD processes — I don't know. I do know that the CAD manager at C.M.'s company hasn't done a good job of demonstrating CAD management's value!

Have you ever heard the project managers at your company talk like C.M.? If so, what are you doing to change their minds?

Motivating Workers

I had to think a bit about the following statement: "It isn't about cracking down on people for using the company computer for personal reasons; it is about encouraging those same people to use the creativity to come up with good, solid solutions on projects."

My first reaction to this is that I've never advocated burdening CAD managers with enforcing IT department policies about computer use. Obviously, C.M. has had a negative experience with an IT department at some point in his career.

There's truth in the second part of the statement: Motivating people to find solutions should be what we're all about as CAD managers. However, there's an implication in C.M.'s statement that CAD management imposes stupid rules on CAD users who would obviously be more productive if not managed. The really good CAD managers I know sell the value of standards and procedures to all users by explaining that everyone's life will be easier if all the users can plot quickly, find their files reliably, and have their software correctly configured. Anyone who's ever worked in a company with 20 CAD users working on a project in 20 different ways has seen firsthand that CAD management can actually raise — not lower — employee morale and productivity.

Finally, who says that CAD managers can't come up with "good, solid solutions on projects" themselves? Most good CAD managers are doing just that! And when they do so they should be seen as project team members — not overhead.

Summing Up

I hope this look at CAD management from a project manager's viewpoint has served as a wake-up call for you, as it has for me. All CAD managers should take the initiative to make sure the work teams we support understand the value of CAD management in helping them stay productive and reach their fullest potential. If you're not selling the concept of CAD management, you may be viewed as "overhead, and expendable overhead at that," as C.M. put it.

I'd like to thank C.M. for allowing me to use his letter as a springboard into this discussion. I am taking some of his suggestions into consideration for future issues of the newsletter.

Over the remainder of the summer, the CAD Manager's Newsletter will be focusing on technology topics like cloud computing, computer-based training, wide-area networks, and, of course, how all these trends could affect your career as a CAD manager. Until next time.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: CAD Management as Overhead
by: Fillmore
June 23, 2010 - 2:50pm

First thing is that the "project" pays the wages of the CAD manager, overhead and others. Where do these people thing the money comes from. So if the CAD manager is billable to a project, then the overhead will be down, which means the company billable rate is lower. Our billing rate is based on wages, overhead (vacation, sick, supplies, office staff, standby time, etc), profit and income. I have work where ever person (include accounting) is billable to a project. The houraly billing rate was very low. last, it the person, CADD manager or ?? is not a benifit (make money) to the company/project, then why do you have this person.

Re: CAD Management as Overhead
by: Hugh_T
July 1, 2010 - 7:51am

When I read C.M.'s assertion that "CAD management is overhead, and it is dispensable overhead at that," I had to fight back some anger before responding." When I read this my immediate thought was why you would get angry! What C.M states is in fact the reality in some companies. The perception of Cad management and its position in the hierarchy of company/project cost varies considerably. I once managed a project with over 300 cad users in 3 different countries with 6 different cad systems and I was fortunate to have all my hours allocated to the project.

But beyond that for all other projects it was quite different, as allocated hours for a project were at the discretion of the project manager or client, the rest of my time was allocated to overheads. Occasionally my actual hours on a project were in excess of allocated hours, but that was considered normal. The client also has a say in this and ultimately his/her idea of acceptable "support" hours on their project ultimately has an impact.

I agree that good Cad Management helps a project get done with fewer man-hours and less overhead. You also mentioned demonstrating cad management value, I really think that the majority of project managers are aware of this. I cant possibly count the number of times a technical glitch has arisen just when there is a milestone deliverable or an important meeting or review and only saved by the intervention of the Cad manager to resolve the problem. A further example; on one project the client was adamant that he was not going to pay for cad management hours on his project and yet the project manager knew he needed this the man-hours were added to the other disciplines for the estimate and then redirected to cad support for the duration of the project.

Having worked in a number of companies it is quite clear that perceptions of Cad management vary considerably. There is an ideal of what Cad Management should be and how it should be perceived but the reality is quite different. One thing I used to do at the end of each project was to do a lessons learned post project, explaining where we had problems and how they were resolved, demonstrating new ideas to improve and an assessment of how the Cad Management helped the project through the adoption of standards and administration. Your statement "Finally, who says that CAD managers can't come up with "good, solid solutions on projects" themselves?".....This was perhaps one of the highlights of my career by doing exactly this, I developed a cad strategy that reduced the average design time on a project from 3 months to 6 days...surprisingly it actually had little to do with Cad!!

Just some thoughts on paper. Robert I enjoy reading your articles which are very informative and cover a wide spectrum of what Cad Management is all about.

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