From Order to CAD Chaos, Part 2

14 Sep, 2011 By: Robert Green

Has your company's disregard for standards become pervasive? Try these tips to get back to an orderly, productive workplace.

In the previous installment of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I began exploring what happens when a company allows its CAD management protocols to lapse and descends from order into chaos.

In this edition I'll conclude my examination by pointing out more warning signs, corrective actions, and management communication tips you can use, in hopes that you can prevent these problems from happening to your company — or at least reverse them once they do occur. Here goes.

Root Causes

Last time, I explained that the symptoms of chaos usually included the following:

  • "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.

The first three issues — which I discussed previously — usually surface first; they are typically the root causes of chaos I see in the companies I work with. The remaining four issues usually take a little longer to appear, since they arise as a result of the first three. So to examine the latter four, we'll assume that chaos has set in, and now you're trying to stop the chaos and reverse the damage.

A Potpourri of Software Configurations

When users are permitted to "just get it done," they will often rearrange their CAD software's desktop look and feel and craft their own time-saving shortcuts by creating their own libraries (of details, parts, components, families, etc.). I have also observed that many users create plotting standards that bear little to no resemblance to how other users work. In short, users set things up in a way that makes sense to them, with no thought as to how these ad hoc changes will impact other users.

If you've ever received a vendor DWG file with nonstandard layers, a subcontractor's mechanical assembly with a nonstandard coordinate system setup, or an architect's BIM project that uses nonstandard families, you know it takes countless hours to rectify those files before you can work with them. Now, think about what happens when this level of chaos permeates your organization to the extent that your departments can't even communicate with each other. The mental picture that emerges isn't pretty.

From a technical support point of view, it becomes almost impossible for the CAD manager to assist with software configuration, because each machine is constantly devolving to an unknown state of disrepair. Simply put, it is very hard to work on workstations when you have no clue about how their CAD applications are set up.

To quantify these types of impacts, ask yourself these questions:

  • What does it cost the company to deal with nonstandard software use between users? Between departments? Between clients and suppliers?
  • What type of project delays and errors might we anticipate as nonstandard software configurations breed problems that slip through the cracks during the life cycle of a project?
  • What does it cost the company in CAD support to keep all these dissimilar workstations debugged and working properly, given the lack of standard configurations?

Have you seen these types of problems at your company? If so, you have deeply rooted chaos that needs to be challenged and uprooted as soon as possible. Try this tip:

Tip: Every time you have to address a problem of this nature, note how much time it takes, then record it on your time sheet using an NS (needless support) code. I used to use codes NS-P (plotting), NS-C (configuration), NS-S (standards), etc. When I would submit my time sheet my boss would always ask me about the codes and I'd reply, "The NS-S hours are because I had to rework 20 sheets that the CAD designer simply didn't follow procedures on. It isn't overhead time or me just noodling around with CAD stuff — I only had to spend the time because the user refused to follow the rules."

Key: The key thing you must communicate is that chaos costs time, and time is money. Once management learns how much time is wasted on these types of issues, they will start to see things your way.

Uncoordinated Project Launches

Once the "just get it done" philosophy is cemented in place, there will no longer be any time allocated for project kickoff coordination. After all, why worry about coordinating anything when you're so focused on just getting it done? CAD managers know that starting a project correctly means fewer errors as the project progresses, and they rightfully hate the lack of pre-project coordination.

How can you fight this trend? Try this tip:

Tip: Organize those users who do understand the value of CAD standards into an alliance; they can communicate with each other as the new project begins. While this level of communication is less formal than a proper project startup, it is still much better than no communication. Publish your proposed project standards to everyone in the company and make the case that everyone will be better served by using them. Talk up the idea of project standards with project managers, and ask them to help you get project standards in place because it is in their best interest to do so. And as the members of your alliance get great results, be sure to compliment how well they are moving the project along!

Key: The key is to win project managers over by showing them that "just getting it done" often leads to redoing a lot of work. You can use metaphors like "keeping everyone on the same page" or "singing from the same sheet of music" so the idea of CAD management remains conceptual and clear. Do not descend into CAD babble; be managerial

Difficulty Generating Output

Of course, every CAD project must eventually be constructed, fabricated, or installed, so plotting or output creation inevitably comes into play. And, of course, the reward for ignoring standards and jettisoning consistency will be problematic plotting. Of course, by the time you notice that plotting isn't working, it is already too late to enforce standards. Your only option is to fix your problems so you can get the plots done and complete your project.

If you've experienced this problem and are now fighting through the frustration of fixing problems you know could have been prevented, try this tip:

Tip: Say "I told you so" — in a nice way! — to project managers, users, and anyone else who complains about how laborious the plotting process has become. Assuming that you've alerted your management team (in writing) to all the warning signs we've already listed and have still arrived at this point, I see no reason why you should not point out how right you've been and how wrongheaded the "just get it done" approach is.

Key: The key in saying "I told you so" is not to make it personal, but rather to express a sense of regret that the process wasn't handled better and that CAD management could have made things so much more productive.

Smooth Processes Get Rough

As CAD management standards and procedures go out the window, a chaotic work process quickly emerges, and you'll find that formerly automated processes will stop functioning. A few examples I've seen:

  • Plotting scripts stop working as layer/color compliance is lost.
  • Customers start to reject drawings/models as they receive more and more files that no longer conform to prior data standards.
  • Standard libraries of details/parts/families are no longer standard, as users file away their own rogue copies.
  • Project documentation gets out of sync as users copy files to their own C drives for editing. The list could go on and on, but you get the point.

Standardization and management are the glue that makes all your automated CAD routines work, so the lack of that glue foretells a collapse into chaos.

Summing Up

I hope this series about CAD chaos has helped you analyze your own CAD management environment to see if the danger signs exist. If they don't, then congratulations on a job well done! But if they do, use the tips discussed here to take control of the situation before the chaos completely consumes your company's productivity. I'd love to hear some of your chaos stories! Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: From Order to CAD Chaos, Part 2
by: Misteracad
September 15, 2011 - 11:23am
Robert, great article as always! Just wanted to say how much I love your tip on tracking "Needless Support!" If that doesn't get the boss' attention, nothing will lol! Also, regarding "A Potpourri of Software Configurations." When I was supporting 200+ users, I used to let them know that if they customized the software and something went wrong, I wouldn't waste my time trying to troubleshoot and fix it for them...not enough time in the day for that! Instead I would just "reset" it back to the OOTB configuration and get them going again as quickly as possible. To help aleviate this situation, my suggestion to them was to never customize the OOTB settings, but to always create a copy (of the Profile, Workspace, etc.) and modify it instead. That way if they experience a problem w/ the custom settings, they could always get the OOTB settings back...w/o bothering me lol ;)
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