From Order to CAD Chaos, Part 1

24 Aug, 2011 By: Robert Green

It doesn't take long for a well-regulated workplace to slip into disorder in the absence of proper CAD management. Here are some tips on recognizing trouble — and fighting back.

In the previous installment of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I lamented how hard it is to find the time to perform CAD management duties in the current economic environment. In this edition, I will turn my attention to dealing with the chaos that inevitably rears its ugly head when CAD management and order are ignored.

I’ll endeavor to show you how to spot problems before they become chronic, how to use the occurrence of these problems to illustrate the importance of CAD management, and finally, how to make your senior management understand it all. Here goes.

Recognize the Problems

To start the discussion, let me list the types of trouble I encounter most often in offices where CAD management is not a priority. You may not see all of these problems in your environment, but my bet is you’ve noticed at least a few of them:

  • "Just get it done" trumps "do it right"
  • Basic file management problems proliferate
  • Standards are disregarded
  • Software configurations devolve
  • Pre-project coordination is lacking
  • It's more difficult to generate output plots, PDFs, etc.
  • Processes that used to "just work" no longer do.

I’ll expand on the most egregious topics in this edition, and provide my conclusions and recommendations along the way. In the next issue, I'll cover more of this list.

Just Get It Done

CAD management is, at its core, an organizational undertaking. The entire justification behind CAD management can be summed up this way: By thinking about how we work and devising ways to work better, we can coordinate our environment, reduce errors, and make every project flow more smoothly through our company. As CAD processes become better standardized, the error rate will drop even further, enabling the company to do more projects faster than before.

When CAD management is ignored, there is no longer a unifying effort to coordinate and optimize work processes, and a "just get it done" mentality takes hold. As this mindset becomes entrenched, all manner of problems will crop up — almost all of them avoidable. Make no mistake, these errors cost your company money, in the form of schedule delays and the time required to fix problems that never should have occurred.

Have you observed this attitude developing in your company? If so, try this tip:

Tip: Tell your senior management team that you see the "just get it done" mentality appearing among your users, and it concerns you greatly because you don’t want to see expensive mistakes pop up in projects. Be proactive, be positive, and stay focused on getting work done quickly and accurately. Do not whine during this conversation; simply convey your concern. There’s no guarantee that management will listen until they see the mistakes themselves, but at least you’ll build credibility by sounding the alarm early.

File Management Problems

One of the first problems I notice as the "just get it done" attitude takes hold is a lack of basic file management. The first tip-off will be server drive space filling up as project folders are crowded with redundant directories of models, drawings, and project documentation. For example, I’ve seen many companies with five or six folders that all contain the same drawings lumped under a single project directory.

Why does this happen? It stems from a lack of coordination and oversight. Typically the problem starts because one department doesn’t know what another department is doing, so they figure, "Why don’t we just make a copy of all these files and work on the copies so we don’t have to worry about anyone saving over our work?" As this thinking propagates between departments, more copies are generated, and pretty soon nobody knows who has the latest version of anything. Two-dimensional files generated from building models can become unsynchronized so drawings no longer represent an accurate floor plan, wrong versions of mechanical parts get sent to the shop floor, etc.

You probably have a standard project directory structure which should be followed, but with a lack of CAD management oversight the "just get it done" philosophy leads to filing anarchy. Have you seen this happen at your company? If so, try this tip:

Tip: Keep an eye on project directories and look for redundant copies of files that could be problematic. When you see the problem pop up, create a listing of all the files in all the project folders and highlight the duplicated files. Circulate this listing to all project team members and managers and call the problem to their attention with a request that the offending departments resolve the filing issues. If you receive follow-up questioning about why this problem has developed, calmly explain that the lack of CAD coordination/management has allowed everyone to go in their own direction without regard to project filing procedures.

Abandoned Standards

As goes filing, so goes CAD standards compliance. As work teams take matters into their own hands, standards are deemed optional; as a result, errors (which may not be immediately obvious) start to accumulate.

Why does this happen? Because users see standards as obstacles that slow them down. Their logic is, "Why shouldn’t I do this in a way that makes sense to me?" or "Why should I worry about how people in other departments are working?" As this non-standard paradigm spreads, you’ll begin to see drawings not plotting properly, xrefs not resolving correctly, components in mechanical assemblies not lining up, and even systems inside of buildings not connecting as they should.

Standards are no longer standard if users can simply choose to ignore them! Have you had this problem? If so, try this tip:

Tip: The moment you are asked to solve a problem that is due to lack of standards adherence, bring this to the project manager's attention. Take care not to explode, but rather be calm and simply say, "This is what happens when users don't follow the procedures we have in place." Then ask for help in urging users to follow standards to cut down on errors and rework. The goal is to appeal to management on an efficiency platform. Every time a "lack of standards" error is noted, repeat this process. Eventually people will realize that you are right, and they will re-embrace standards simply because CAD systems work better when standards are followed.

Summing Up

If the chaos-from-order theme is already familiar, then you probably know all too well what happens when CAD management takes a back seat to "just getting it done." I hope the tips I’ve given you will help you draw attention to the problems, and to have the CAD management conversation with your senior and project management teams as they come up. I'll continue this topic in the next edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, so please contact me via my web site to send me your own chaos stories! Until next time.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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