Management

Take this time to organize

1 Aug, 2001 By: Michael Dakan


With an economic downturn in sight, many design firms will go through a slowdown in work. CAD managers may have some time to catch their breath and catch up with projects that have been put on the back burner. In the past few years, most design organizations have been exceptionally busy. Everyone has concentrated on the immediate daily needs of the firm in full production mode. It's been difficult to hire new employees in many parts of the United States, and CAD managers have been busy making sure their CAD staff functions with maximum efficiency and productivity.

There never seems to be enough time during busy periods to complete the management and administrative tasks that can make a long-term difference in your CAD operation.

This month, I talk about the best use of a CAD manager's time during slow production periods and how to plan for the next upturn in workload. You, no doubt, have your own to-do list of major and minor CAD system needs. But it can be difficult to get approval and support for those projects without some good planning and organizing. This should remind you of typical things you can do to keep valued employees busy and productive when project production needs slack off.

Implement CAD standards and procedures

A slow period is a good time to fine-tune, update, and even implement CAD standards. Perhaps you can plug layer and text standards into your CAD automation software or create custom routines that automate CAD standards to the greatest extent possible. You can also make your CAD hardware as consistent as possible throughout the office. This can reduce the amount of time needed to troubleshoot system and network problems.

Install and implement new software

A slow period is probably not a good time to ask your company for new hardware and software purchases, but it can be a good time to fully analyze and implement tools you've already budgeted for or purchased. Now's the time to grab that software sitting on the shelf, test it, install it, and implement it office-wide. In addition, go through your current software to investigate new features. This is a perfect time to experiment with new features and capabilities. Some firms have yet to fully use tools such as xreferences and paper space in AutoCAD—even when they know the new features exist in the software—just because it's difficult to change long-standing procedures during busy times.

Customization
Of course, software programming and customization almost always have to wait for slower periods. This is a good time to create, or purchase and install, a custom routine to automate a particularly tedious or time-consuming task that your users often face.

Documentation

Documentation of standards, procedures, and custom programming is always put off, but it is an important aspect of efficient CAD use. Along with documenting standards and procedures, give some thought to the best method of disseminating the information to the people who need it. Hard-copy documentation is fine and is usually the place to start, but for efficient daily reference by staff members, an online resource often works much better than the traditional three-ring binder on a shelf. Windows Help files can provide very quick access to information, or you can place your CAD standards on an intranet site.

Training

Staff training often falls by the wayside when everyone is needed for full-time production work. Consequently, people struggle with learning and using CAD software on their own without getting maximum use and efficiency out of it.

A good training program involves planning a curriculum tailored to your office's specific needs and typical workflow. To get started, you might want outside assistance with training needs assessment and curriculum planning. It might be difficult to get approval for major expenditures for outside resources during slow periods, but if you aren't used to training, outside help can be invaluable.

Assess and refine project procedures

Post-production assessment often takes a back seat. It's helpful to assess how a given project went and glean lessons and ideas to apply to the next project. If project procedures that work are already in place, it's easy to set up and produce a new project the same way as the last one, but during slow times you may be able to reassess and improve project setup procedures.

Mine and organize data

There's no question that the most efficient use of CAD is to avoid drawing something if it's already been drawn for a previous project. Most firms take advantage of standardized conditions and details, but many do so only on an ad hoc, project-by-project basis. Someone remembers that a similar condition existed on a previous project, and they go back and recover the solution from that project's files.

Now is your chance to set up a more rigorous and systematic way to harvest and organize this information. A drawing management database lets you collect large amounts of information and drawings from previous projects, organize it, and find what you need for a new project quickly and efficiently. Don't limit the information that you capture and save for future use to construction details. Also include design solutions such as typical exit stair and elevator layouts, code-compliant restroom facilities, and other design elements of your particular practice specialty.

Ideally, at the end of every project, assign someone to filter through the electronic files to recover and save elements for the future. This process might involve cleanup—you may remove project-specific notes and references from construction details to make them more general to serve as a starting point for future projects. A slow time lets you dedicate some resources to this task that will pay off several times over during the next few years.

Plan the work

Plan ahead and be proactive with what needs to be done. Get management approval and support for CAD system improvement projects ahead of time rather than waiting until people are sitting around with little to do. You must prioritize your to-do list to place the greatest emphasis on improvements that will have the best impact on your CAD operation and those that require the least amount of time and cost to finish.

You may find that it's easier to get approval for this overhead activity if you treat it much the same as any other CAD project. Establish a budget and time frame for the tasks, along with an estimate of the payback.

Workload slowdowns that you anticipate might be short-lived, or perhaps your firm will experience very little reduced workload because of where you are located or your type of work. It's always a good idea to plan ahead and be ready to take maximum advantage of the slow periods when they do occur, even if they are short and infrequent in your organization.

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