The Amazing Billable CAD Manager

29 Nov, 2012 By: Robert Green

Tie your time to projects and reduce your overhead.

We all know the drill: You're expected to perform all CAD-management tasks while billing your time to projects rather than overhead. Sound familiar? If it seems impossible to get it all done, that's because it very nearly is!


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In this edition of "CAD Manager," I offer an approach that can help you stay billable as you perform CAD-management tasks. Turn yourself into a CAD-management consultant inside your own company! You will find that you can bill far more CAD-management tasks than you ever thought possible. Here goes.


Update Your Attitude

First things first: Think about how various CAD management tasks support project work, then move those activities to the top of your work list while pushing the lower-value tasks to the bottom. To help gauge the priority of a given task, ask yourself the following questions:

  • If I do this, will projects go out better and/or faster?


  • If I do this, will project managers thank me?

If you answer "Yes" to these questions, then it's likely that the work you are performing is project-related and therefore billable. If you answer "No," then the task will probably be categorized as overhead, because no particular project benefits from the work. The goal here is to get you to rethink how CAD management supports project completion. Once you adopt this perspective, you'll be amazed by how differently you view your job.

Get Ready to Sell

Now that you are thinking about linking CAD management to project completion, you must get your senior and project management teams thinking the same way. This requires some evangelism on your part, so put on your marketing hat! Adapt these conversation starters to your own circumstances, then approach the powers-that-be.

  • "When we create CAD standards and conduct training at project startup, we have far fewer errors and rework as the project moves to completion. In fact, the eight hours I spent supporting the project startup will save us about 40 hours' worth of errors, based on past experience. The CAD-management time we invest in these activities really should be a part of every project we do, and be billed to that particular job."


  • "The custom PDF-generating software we integrated for our massive new electrical retrofit project saved us at least 200 hours of labor on the project. It seems reasonable that the 20 hours I spent installing and configuring it should be billed to the project."

    I suspect you see where I'm going with these arguments. Even though they make sense, project managers rarely want CAD-management hours billed to their projects. The burden is on the CAD manager to make the argument that CAD management pays for itself.

Task Justifications

Here are examples of CAD-management tasks and justifications I've used to make those tasks billable, broken down by task type. These will get you started, but you should also think through your own tasks and how to justify them, and add those to the list.

Project-specific tasks and training. At the start of nearly any new project, you perform activities that help get that project off the ground — for example, creating project CAD standards or setting up AutoCAD title sheets and templates, new families in your building information modeling (BIM) software, or new parts in your mechanical CAD software.

Any project-specific training that you perform is an investment in the completion of the project, and should be billable as well. Project kickoffs are not general overhead CAD management, but rather an integral part of project flow. Don't forget about those tasks that come at the end of a given project, either, such as auditing for project compliance and the like.

Justification: If you didn't have the project, you wouldn't be performing these activities, so these activities are project-billable, not overhead.

CAD customization. If you customize programs or use utilities for your CAD users, how can you tailor those utilities to work for various departments? As an example, I once heard an electrical engineering manager complain about how much time his people spent putting together 11" x 17" schematic books because of the plotting, collation, and handling time involved. When I told him I could create a utility that worked in conjunction with batch plotting to automate the process, he said, "Really, how long would that take?"

When I told him it would be about four hours, he said, "Here's a charge number; bill it to my project." This is a perfect illustration of how you can turn a support task into an opportunity to create a productivity utility and bill it to a job.

Justification: If customization work gets a project done faster or saves labor time, project managers should be begging you to work on their jobs — and paying for it.


Ongoing CAD training. If you conduct ongoing CAD training, are you teaching users how to apply your standards to save time and money? I hope you answer "Yes," because that would mean you understand that training is integral to executing projects. In fact, if your training program isn't supporting faster project completion, you may want to rethink your training program.

Justification: If training cuts hours spent on a project, then training time should be allocated as a shared expense among all ongoing projects. After all, if projects weren't ongoing, you wouldn't be training people, would you?

IT issues. Do you ever spend time fixing computers, updating drivers, removing malware, or installing new monitors? Sometimes IT is overhead, other times it is project related, but no matter what, it isn't CAD management. If you spend time on IT, make sure it gets charged to IT.

Justification: CAD management can assist with IT tasks, but that doesn't mean CAD management should absorb the associated overhead.

Say No — Politely

So, how do you handle cases where multiple people want you to perform various tasks and each person feels his or her task is the most important? How do you decide which task to prioritize, and how will you handle the person whose task comes second or third? These are good questions that require carefully considered, tactful answers. Here's a plan for handling this situation:

Assess the tasks. Which are project-related (billable) and which aren't?

Prioritize. Project-related, billable tasks should take priority over nonrelated tasks. Project-related tasks are then prioritized based on their relationship to project due dates.

Inform. Keep all parties apprised of your task load, project timeline pressures, and resulting prioritization of tasks. Clearly list which project tasks are on your to-do list and in which order, so no one is surprised when their task is delayed or deleted. I like to list my tasks in a prioritized spreadsheet with any project deadlines noted in a column, and print out or e-mail my list to all project managers on a weekly basis. The key is to communicate that you aren't favoring any one person or project, but rather structuring your workload to support everyone's deadlines.

Wait and work. If any squabbling occurs, it will likely be between project managers trying to change your priority list. If this happens, continue to work according to your list, changing priorities only if a direct supervisor tells you to do so. If you've prioritized tasks based on project completion, you'll likely be insulated from a lot of arguing.

Handling Objections

What if someone in your organization complains that you're paying too much attention to project-billable tasks and not enough to general IT or other nonbillable tasks? To deal with these objections, I suggest using the following approach.

State the obvious. Explain that you've been directed to cut your overhead and stay billable. To do otherwise would be ignoring instructions from your direct supervisor.

Redirect. If anyone asks you to work on nonbillable tasks, ask them to request permission from your boss. This puts the burden of being nonbillable on someone other than you.

Emphasize production. At all times, make sure everyone knows your focus is on getting jobs out the door on time and as efficiently as possible. Tell everyone that the only way you can do this and meet your instruction to reduce overhead is to work on project-billable activities.

This strategy works so well that I almost hope you have to use it! After all, when else will you get the chance to advertise how much value CAD management adds to project execution?

Summing Up

Now that you know how to make your job more billable and reduce your overhead, it's time to do your homework. Start by listing all your tasks. Next, go through the prioritization and justification concepts I've outlined and start selling the approach to all the project and senior managers in your company. Should you have to defend your logic, you can always use my bulletproof objection-handling approach, which is sure to make you look like a hero.

Now, go get billable!

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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