Back-to-Basics Boot Camp: The Lowly Kickoff Meeting8 Feb, 2023 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager’s Column: Every new project should start with a kickoff meeting to set expectations for your project from start to finish for every team member.
I’m often asked what are the basic, simple actions a CAD manager can take to get better results. Of course, that question has any number of answers and is why I started my occasional Back-to-Basics Boot Camp series. Sometimes it seems like the most basic solutions are the ones first forgotten.
As an example, as CAD/BIM managers have become more concerned with new technology challenges facing them, it seems they’ve forgotten that secret weapon that can tip the managerial balance back in their favor — the project kickoff meeting. So, in this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll focus on how you can use this classic technique in new ways to help manage even tough new challenges in your environment. Here goes.
Image source: Mihai/stock.adobe.com.
Too Busy to be Organized?
There’s an old question that asks, “Why do we have time to do things twice but not right the first time?” As a CAD manager I’d like to rewrite the question like this, “Why do we always start new projects by copying old screwed up projects and fix them later rather than starting fresh with the correct files in the first place?”
Well, the project kickoff meeting is how you, “Do things right the first time,” and how to prevent bad project data from infecting new projects. It used to be that the CAD tools we used were known and it was simply a matter of getting users to agree to project standards, but now we have to think about much more, including:
- Remote office file synchronization,
- Travelling/remote workers,
- Cloud-based IT permissions issues,
- File format and versioning issues,
- Deliverable formats for clients,
- and more.
Why Kickoffs are So Important
In recent years, I’ve come to embrace project kickoffs more than ever for the following reasons:
Viral propagation of bad data. Given that new technology allows more people to copy more bad data faster than ever, the need for proper project kickoff is as much damage control as it is solid management.
More variables mean more errors. There are a lot more variables involved with executing a CAD/BIM project than there were even a few years ago, so starting out organized is more crucial than ever.
Error = Rework = Cost. Put financially, the price we’ll pay for being disorganized on a given project causes more rework and higher costs.
I hate fixing bad work. Selfishly speaking, I hate fixing things that should have been right in the first place, so why not get it right up front?
Proper Project Kickoffs — Completion Backward
Whether the project kickoff meeting is conducted by an architectural or engineering project manager (with you attending as the “CAD/BIM representative) or whether you run your own kickoff meeting, the goal is still the same — to understand how the project will work from a CAD point of view.
Whenever I attend a kickoff meeting, I always ask the following questions — which you’ll note are in backwards order from how a project normally runs — and strive to have them answered at the end of the meeting:
- What will the CAD/BIM deliverables be?
- What project tools do we need to meet deliverable requirements?
- Who’s on the team and what training do they need?
- Who’s in charge: CAD Manager, PM’s, or senior management?
- What is the timeline?
My reasoning for insisting on a kickoff meeting using completion backward-thinking is not just to get the above parameters defined, but also to get everybody thinking about the project workflow. It’s better to start a project in an organized way and move forward than it is to start with anarchy and try to organize it later.
The Detailed Breakdown
As the kickoff meeting unfolds, here are the detailed questions that I ask for each section outlined above:
Deliverables. What software will be used and which version? Will a filing structure (parts to assemblies, BIM discipline coordination strategies, XREFs to master drawings) be used? What will the 2D geometry and plotting formats be (DWG, DGN, PDF, hard copy, etc.)? How will we track who has what file version?
Tools. For the most part, the deliverables defined above will dictate the tools to be used on the project.
Team. Who is involved with the production of the deliverables in your company and the client’s company (if applicable)? Who will need training on specific tools? Will everyone in the internal team have the same project manager? Who will receive and validate work product at the client company?
Who’s in charge. Should things go wrong, who has the authority to make the fixes required?
Timeline. Based on everything above, what is a reasonable timeline for completion?
These questions allow me to establish the ground rules for the project. And, again, note that the order of these questions matter as each topic of discussion leads logically into the next.
At the conclusion of this kickoff meeting, everyone should be in agreement as to how the project will be conducted, right? If not, you need to have further discussions until consensus is reached!
But, assuming that there is agreement on project CAD/BIM procedures, you now have a very powerful piece of leverage in your possession: Managerial approval! Now anyone who tries to deviate from project procedures is not just making your CAD management job tougher, they are actually trying to rewrite management’s approved approach for the project — thus potentially compromising deadlines or causing unforeseen technical issues.
Here are a few examples of problems and suggested solutions:
Problem 1: Engineer A wants to use the a new iPad app they’ve found called “ElectricCAD” to edit project electrical diagrams files even though the project instructions clearly state that AutoCAD Electrical is the software required for client deliverables.
Problem 2: Architect B wants to use his personal DropBox folder to share BIM files with other branch offices even though project instructions clearly state that all work files must be stored on secure company servers.
Problem 3: Project Manager C is in a hurry to get something sent to a contractor and instructs the CAD personnel to “Forget doing this in BIM — just do it in AutoCAD, so we can get it done now,” even though other project team members are designing exclusively in BIM tools.
The solution to all these problems? Restate how project deliverables and standards were defined at the kickoff meeting and point out that all these proposed changes deviate from them. I would also make the following things clear for each potential problem:
Problem 1: We don’t know that changes made in “ElectricCAD” will be compatible with our component databases in AutoCAD Electrical nor do we know what the filing format is from a version control standpoint.
Problem 2: We should never have project data floating around on unsecured personal accounts — ever! This constitutes a danger of exposing client information for which we could be held financially liable.
Problem 3: While “just getting things done” is understandable sometimes, bypassing our BIM tools opens the door to coordination problems and simple errors that would otherwise be caught in a coordinated BIM environment.
I think you can see my approach: Use the agreed upon project standards derived in the kickoff meeting to keep your project on track, eliminate deviations, and assure consistent use of project tools.
As technology and tools change, executing a CAD/BIM project can seem like utter chaos, but using a project kickoff can really give you and your team a sense of order. So, remember the secret weapon — the project kickoff meeting — and use it for every significant project you start. Until next time.